If you’ve just bought yourself an FDM 3D printer, then you’re almost ready to start printing to your heart’s content – you just need the materials. These 3D printer filament materials are simply melted and extruded from your 3D printer’s extruder, and then printed to create your chosen model. But which material should you use, and which material is best for you?
What is 3D printer filament?
Filaments come on spools, making them easy to feed into your 3D printer. Filaments are plastic materials in spaghetti-like strands that are melted and extruded onto your printer’s print bed to make your 3D model according to the specs you chose in your 3D software. These filaments are for used in fused deposition modeling, and cannot be used in any other 3D printing technology.
3D Printer Filament Types
There are two main types:
- 1.75mm filament: the 1.75mm size is by far the most common, and is the smaller diameter of filament available.
- 2.85mm filament: sometimes referred to as 3mm filament, 2.85mm filament appears to be going increasingly out of fashion with makers drawn to 1.75mm filament instead. However, some printers including BCN3D Sigma printers and Ultimaker’s range of 3D printers take 2.85mm filament, including the Ultimaker 3, S3 and S5.
What is the best 3D printer filament?
Well, it depends. If you’re a beginner to 3D printing, then ABS or PLA are your best bet, with PLA considered the easiest filament to 3D print with overall. PETG is considered a good middle ground between ABS and PLA, which is explained in more detail in each 3D printer filament type section below.
If you’re looking to print crazy models with interesting characteristics, such as glow-in-the-dark, clear or conductive models, there are PLA blends with all of these attributes. PLA is considered the most versatile filament, and clear PLA filament, conductive PLA filaments and others are commonly used for specialized projects.
For those looking to print flexible parts, TPU, TPE and other flexible filaments exist for these uses. These are explained in more depth in their flexible filament section within this filament guide.
For experts looking to print with the strongest 3D printer filaments, PC, Nylon, Carbon fiber-filled, or even PEEK may be more appropriate — though tougher filaments typically cost more.
Cheap vs expensive filaments
PLA and ABS are the cheapest 3D printer filaments, starting at around $20 per kilo. PETG is only marginally more expensive, costing around $25 per kilo, and is more durable than PLA.
Tougher materials like Nylon start to get more expensive, while the most expensive 3D printer filaments such as PEEK filament can set you back hundreds of dollars per kilo. This is due to its strength, heat resistance and industrial use, which we’ll explain further later on.
Every 3D printer filament explained
PLA filament (Polylactic Acid)
- PLA 3D printing temperature: 190-220C
- Heated bed: optional
- Heated chamber: not required
- PLA glass transition temperature: 60-65C
Now probably the most widely used filament for makers worldwide, PLA is a product of the RepRap movement, with co-creator Vik Olliver discovering the material’s potential for 3D printing while trying to unearth a good filament for the first RepRap machines. 15 years later, PLA is used by millions worldwide to 3D print all types of models, and is known for being a very cheap filament as well as for being the only biodegradable filament.
Unlike ABS, PLA does not require a heated bed when 3D printing filament, but we still recommend using one for the best results. You don’t need a heated chamber or enclosed build area, making it a favorite of DIY 3D printer owners which typically have open print areas.
- We have a more in-depth guide focused on PLA filament.
Whereas 3D printer filaments like ABS and ASA are made of plastic compounds, PLA is made from renewable and biodegradable crops like corn starch. This makes PLA the undisputed eco-warrior favorite, and also means that when printing there is no foul smell or toxic fumes, unlike ABS.
PLA is also fairly easy to print, as it doesn’t warp and rarely creates problems that cause a print to fail. It can ooze and string, but if this occurs it can be minimized by optimizing your 3D slicer settings.
PLA is also extremely versatile, with a huge number of different filament blends available. Common blends include wood filaments, as well as copper PLA and carbon fiber filament — you can even get glow in the dark PLA for nighttime projects.
However, PLA melts at far lower temperatures than filaments like ABS, making PLA parts far less suited to high temperature applications. PLA is also brittle, and if enough pressure is placed on a PLA part it can snap. It can’t be acetone-smoothed like ABS, though it is very easy to paint your finished parts, and gluing multiple PLA parts together is also no problem.
For our full guide to PLA 3D printing:
ABS filament (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)
- ABS 3D printing temperature: 220-250C
- Heated bed: required, recommended temperature 95-110C
- Heated chamber: highly advised
- ABS glass transition temperature: around 105C
ABS is one of the two most commonly used 3D printer filaments as well as one of the first to be used industrially. ABS is known for having good mechanical properties, being both tough and possessing good impact resistance, and generally being durable. It is also cheap, costing around $20 per kilo, and as a result is commonly used for rapid prototyping.
- We also have a full, in-depth guide dedicated to ABS filament.
As well as being one of the most widely used 3D printer filaments, it’s also one of the most versatile, available in many different colors and sizes — you can even buy clear ABS to paint after printing. ABS also has good heat resistance, with a glass transition temperature of around 105C — far higher than filaments like PLA (60-65C).
ABS filament requires a heated bed, and preferably a heated chamber — so RepRap 3D printers and 3D printer kits may struggle. Without a heated chamber ABS may warp and pull upward at the corners, and the midsection may even crack if the warping pulls two areas apart. It can also smell bad when printing, with pungent odors that can cause nausea — so it is best to 3D print ABS filament in a room you don’t need to use.
However, for the price there aren’t any stronger filaments or more durable filaments than ABS. Nylon is tough but more expensive, and PEEK is more than 10x pricier. Therefore, ABS is perfect for anyone looking to create sturdy and high-quality parts without breaking the bank.
For a more in-depth guide to ABS 3D printing:
PETG filament (Polyethylene Terephthalate with added Glycol)
- PETG 3D printing temperature: 230-250C
- Heated bed: optional but recommended, at 75-90C
- PETG glass transition temperature: around 80C
PETG is PET with added glycol in order to improve its 3D printing characteristics. PET is widely used to make water bottles as well as in injection molding, with glycol added to make it less brittle and improve improve impact resistance and durability.
The main advantages of PETG filament are that it has good impact resistance and fantastic thermal characteristics, but without the problems with warping associated with ABS or brittleness associated with PLA. For these reasons, PETG is considered a stellar third option for those deciding between PLA and ABS, and is becoming an increasingly popular filament.
Possibly the main advantage of PETG however is how great layer adhesion is during 3D printing. It’s natural stickiness makes for fantastic layer adhesion, leading to strong and durable parts that do not warp — this makes PETG one of the best 3D printer filaments for long and thin parts that are a nightmare for ABS.
- We have a specialized article focusing on PETG for those who want to find out more about PETG filament.
However, PETG’s softer surface makes it prone to wear and tear from general scratching, and is therefore not an ideal material for any application that involves heavy use or that needs to retain a certain surface finish.
Additionally, PETG’s great layer adhesion has some downsides. It sticks so well that it is a poor option for printing supports, bridges, and other structures. For this reason, PETG is less of an attractive option unless you have a dual extruder 3D printer and can print a better support filament such as PVA or PLA. You should also be wary of stringing, and correct your 3D slicer settings if you notice excessive oozing.
For a more in-depth guide to PETG 3D printing:
Nylon filament (Polyamide)
- Nylon 3D printing temperature: 220-260C, generally around 250C
- Nylon heated bed temperature: 70-90C, but some go 100C+
- Does Nylon require a heated chamber: Yes
Nylon is a form of Polyamide, with Nylon filament known for being very tough, heat and impact resistant, and difficult to scratch or wear down. As a result, not only is Nylon filament used in some maker projects, but is used heavily in industrial 3D printing situations for rapid prototyping and other uses, and Nylon PA12 powder is also used in SLS 3D printers and in MJF.
Nylon is more expensive than consumer filaments like PLA, with high-quality filaments starting at around $50 per kilo. There are several different Nylon filament types, including NylonX, which is mixed with carbon fiber, and NylonG, which is mixed with glass fibers. Both blends give Nylon added strength.
Nylon is considered tougher than even ABS, owing to its higher impact resistance from its flexibility. Unlike ABS, it also does not create bad odors during 3D printing. It is mainly used for its fantastic strength, impact resistance and flexibility.
You will absolutely need a heated bed as well as a heated chamber to 3D print Nylon filament. Without these additions, Nylon will warp and parts will be rendered useless. Therefore, use a heated bed at between 70-90C, as well as an enclosure or heated chamber to keep a steady temperature maintained, further preventing curling or warping. Additionally, use the correct build surface for Nylon filament, such as an adhesive like glue stick, or PEI sheets or Kapton tape.
However, Nylon’s proneness to warping and curling mean you must be very careful when 3D printing. Keep precise print settings to ensure your print doesn’t warp and fail, and do not attempt to 3D print Nylon without a good heated bed and chamber. Additionally, Nylon is very hygroscopic and requires airtight storage in a dry place or its 3D printing characteristics will drastically worsen.
For a more in-depth article into Nylon filament:
Flexible 3D printer filaments — TPU, TPE, TPC
- Recommended extruder temperature: 220-260C depending on the flexible filament type
- Heated bed: optional, recommended temperature 40-60C
TPE — or Thermoplastic Elastomers — blend plastics and rubber together to create this special type of flexible 3D printer filament. These filaments are flexible and elastic — far more so than other flexible 3D printer filaments like PP. Hence, these materials are used commonly to 3D print car tires, rubber bands, and also in the fashion industry.
- We have a specialized article focused on TPU if you want to find out more about TPU filament.
- For TPE and other flexible filaments, we have an article explaining every type of flexible filament.
There are several different types of TPE, the most popular being TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane). These flexible 3D printer filaments are great for absorbing shocks, as well as dampening vibrations. They also have very good heat resistance properties, making TPU and other flexible filaments perfect for creating less rigid tools that can withstand high temperatures. When printing with TPE or TPU, you’ll notice it has fairly similar characteristics to PLA.
However, TPE can be difficult to print, and considerable care must be taken to maintain precise print settings, or the print could fail. TPU and other flexibles are also prone to small imperfections on printed models through stringing and oozing. Additionally, extra care should be taken if using a Bowden extruder, as the longer feed lengths can create jams.
Because flexibles require very precise settings to print well, it is recommended to print these softer filaments at a far slower pace, usually at 20-30mm/s.
For a more in-depth guide to flexible filaments:
PC filament (Polycarbonate)
- Polycarbonate 3D printing temperature: 260-310C
- PC filament heated bed temperature: at least 90C, recommended 120C+
- Do you need a heated chamber or enclosure to 3D print polycarbonate? Yes.
- Polycarbonate glass transition temperature: 150C
Polycarbonate filament is extremely strong, can take powerful impacts, and withstand very high heats. It also has a transparent finish that looks great. PC is also lightweight, making it ideal for products that need to be clear, strong, resist heat, and light, and is a heavily used filament in engineering applications, as well as sunglasses and riot gear.
- We have a full guide to PC filament in our complete Polycarbonate filament guide.
Another interesting quality of Polycarbonate is that it is not strictly rigid but slightly bendy, meaning it can move flexibly without snapping or breaking with high tensile strength. This makes it useful in areas where flexibility is a necessity. Moreover, PC’s ability to retain its structure until around 150C makes it ideal for use where high temperatures are involved.
However, as a result of these strong heat properties, very high temperatures are required to print the 3D printer filament. As it is difficult to prevent the rapid cooling of the part from these high temperatures, PC is very prone to warping – from small temperature deviations, or in the event of too much cooling – therefore requiring a specialized cooling chamber with heated bed. Polycarbonate is also very hygroscopic and if not stored correctly will deteriorate as it absorbs moisture from the air. We explain how to store and dry affected filament in our PC filament guide.
For a more in-depth guide to Polycarbonate filament:
PEEK filament (Poly Ether Etherketone)
- PEEK 3D printing temperature: 360-450C
- Heated bed: 120-160C
- Do you need an enclosure or heated chamber when 3D printing PEEK? Yes.
- PEEK glass transition temperature: 143C
PEEK is a very strong plastic that, due to its phenomenal thermal resistance (melts at 343C), requires extremely high temperatures to print. It’s a high grade, industrial material that offers the same strength by volume as steel, despite being 80% lighter. As a result, PEEK is seeing increased use in aerospace and automotive parts to save weight.
In addition to its use in the aerospace industry, PEEK has uses in high fashion 3D printed shoes, as well as wide use in the medical sector to create dental instruments, lightweight prosthetics, and implants as an alternative to standard metal implants. This is because PEEK doesn’t react to boiling water or steam, making it an ideal filament for areas where sterilization is required.
Absolutely not a consumer 3D printer filament, PEEK is reserved for high value-added industrial applications — though if in future prices come down it could see more day-to-day use. It is favored for its extremely high strength, fantastic temperature and chemical resistance, and low weight.
However, these advantages don’t come cheap, and PEEK is certainly far from inexpensive. Expect to pay around $500/kg, sometimes up to even $700. Moreover, it requires these very high temperatures to print, meaning that only industrial 3D printers can print it effectively, no cheap DIY 3D printer kit machines are likely to cut it. Even small deviations in printing conditions can create imperfections in PEEK printed parts, so conditions must be kept very stable. Moreover, most desktop 3D printers do not come with hot ends that are able to 3D print PEEK, as they cannot handle the temperatures required.
For a more in-depth article on PEEK filament:
HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene)
- Recommended extruder temperature: 230-245C.
- Heated bed: required, recommended temperature 110-115C.
HIPS is a dissolvable material mostly used as a support material when printing with ABS. The main advantage of using HIPS with your ABS 3D printer filament is that after printing, simply leave your model in Limonene, and the supports will dissolve and leave you with an untarnished model with no evidence of supports, allowing you to print complex geometries with no imperfections.
Having similar properties to ABS, it’s perfect for use with a dual extruder 3D printer, and its light weight means it’s well suited to parts where cutting weight is the aim. Moreover, HIPS is cheap, and though dissolvable in Limonene, it is still water resistant. It’s stronger than standard polystyrene, and possesses good mechanical and strength characteristics, leading to its use in plastic signs and point of sale displays.
However, as with ABS, HIPS requires the use of a heated bed, with a high recommended temperature along with a heated chamber with ventilation. HIPS 3D printer filament is liable to warp, so careful monitoring of temperature is required to avoid visible and rough looking layers. Likewise, as with ABS it exudes strong fumes, and is guilty of clogging up the 3D printer nozzle which can waste time and material.
ASA (Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate)
- Recommended extruder temperature: 235-255C.
- Heated bed: required, recommended temperature 80-90C.
ASA is very similar in terms of properties to ABS, and was actually developed to be a more UV resistant version as it is made from slightly different materials. This improved UV resistance means it has applications in outdoors products such as sunglasses.
ASA is a 3D printer filament with good impact resistance as well as being resistant to heat and scratching. However, due to the different rubber material used to produce ASA, it is more expensive than standard 3D printer filaments.
In addition, this new material composition means it requires a high extruder temperature with recommended ventilation to counteract the fumes produced melting it. A heated bed is also highly recommended to prevent the warping that can be more unpredictable with ASA than some other filaments.
- Recommended extruder temperature: 220-250C.
- Heated bed: 85-95C.
PP is another semi flexible 3D printer filament like PC, and is very lightweight. It however lacks some of the strength of PC, and is therefore used mostly in low strength applications where its flexibility is needed, such as in making ropes, stationery, and in the automotive and textiles sectors. It is also a main material used in injection molding.
PP is useful in 3D printing as it is both impact resistant and fatigue resistant. This makes it perfect for parts that need to be able to absorb shocks, and its scratch resistance comes in handy here too.
However, PP lacks the strength necessary in many industries, ruling it out for many applications. It is also liable to warping during printing, and is also relatively expensive. Moreover, if you want to customize your model post print, PP is not a good option due to its low solubility for different colored dyes.
Carbon Fiber filled 3D printer filament
- Recommended extruder temperature: depends on main material.
Carbon fiber filled 3D printer filaments are those which contain short fibers infused into the original filament – such as PLA or ABS – to give it extra strength and hardiness. Other carbon fiber filled filaments exist, such as PETG, Nylon, and PC. Markforged, as well as releasing their first metal 3D printer recently, have pioneered FDM 3D printers which utilize these filaments.
These extremely strong fibers mean 3D printed parts will be stronger, retain their shape better (as the fibers prevent shrinking), and best of all, lighter.
However, the use of these carbon fibers within the 3D printer filaments can increase the chance of the printer nozzle clogging during printing. Moreover, the filament itself is not suitable for all printers due to its enhanced properties and toughness – basic RepRap 3D printers or cheap 3D printers may struggle. Lastly, the filament becomes slightly more brittle with its enhanced strength, which may not always be ideal.
PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol)
PVA is probably best known for its ability to be dissolved water, and it is therefore often used as a support material in geometrically complex prints.
It is perfect for these prints as its solubility means that leaving a print overnight in water completely removes the PVA supports, leaving no trace or blemishes that would otherwise affect the quality of the print.
If necessary, PVA can also be used to print models, rather than just as a support filament. It is however, not ideal for this, as like PC it absorbs moisture from there air, and any contact with water will spell doom for your model. It therefore requires 3D printer filament storage to retain its properties. Moreover, PVA is liable to clog the 3D printer’s nozzle when printing if left hot without extruding any 3D printer filament. It’s also expensive, which may be a barrier considering it cannot be used for any product intended to be taken outside.