One of the amazing things about 3D printers is the wide range of materials that they can use. Plastic, metal, resin, ceramic and many other materials can be used in 3D printing applications. While some printers support over 100 different materials, there are a select few that remain the most common. Listed below are some of the most common materials for 3D printing today.
Plastic is, by far, the most popular 3D printing material. The vast majority of home and desktop style printers create objects using plastic. Many systems use a technology known as fused filament fabrication, or FFF. Printers utilizing this technology can use various types of plastic, including:
- Polylactic acid (PLA), which is the easiest material to work with. It is biodegradable and easy to use.
- Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is also easy to work with. It is also very strong and widely used for things like kids’ toys and car bumpers.
- Polyvinyl alcohol plastic (PVA) is used in the popular Makerbot Replicator 2 printer and is very different from PVA glue.
Resin is sometimes used in 3D printing, but due to the structure needed to support objects during the printing process, design freedom is limited. There are a few types of resin that can be used in certain 3D printers.
- High detail resin
- Paintable resin
- Transparent resin
Each type has its own unique benefits. High detail resin, for example, is ideal in situations where very small and highly detailed models are needed, and transparent resin is ideal for models that require an exceptionally smooth surface.
Some high-end printers create 3D objects using powder-based materials. These materials may include:
- Polyamide, which is a flexible and durable material that creates very detailed models.
- Alumide, which is similar to Polyamide that is also strong and rigid.
- Multicolor, which, as the name suggests is a full color material.
Some types of metal are also being used in 3D printing. Objects printed using metal tend to be incredibly strong and have a multitude of applications. Some of the metals currently being used in 3D printing include:
- Stainless steel
Ceramic can be used in certain 3D printers to create tableware and home décor items. As a 3D printing material, ceramic is heat resistant, food safe and recyclable. It has a shiny appearance and can be sealed using porcelain and silica.
Some 3D printers are designed to work with food substances. The most common food used in 3D printing is chocolate, but there are also printers that work with sugar, and there have been developments in printers that use pasta and meat.
In the future, researchers hope to harness the power of 3D printing technology to even produce complete, balanced meals.
As 3D printing becomes increasingly common in both personal and professional applications, there is no doubt that the types of materials used will expand and evolve. With continuous research being conducted and new printers hitting the market almost constantly, one can only imagine what the future holds.