What is 3D Printing?
3D printing is an additive manufacturing process for rapid prototyping and producing custom built parts. As the best option for a quick lead time at an affordable price or when the part geometry does not allow the use of traditional manufacturing technologies, 3D printing is a diversely adaptive manufacturing process. Rapid prototypes, mechanical parts, tools, cosplay costumes, game pieces, and jewelry can all be built using various 3D printing methods.
3D Printing Materials for Your Project
PLA, or Polylactic Acid, is the most commonly used 3D printing plastic due to its low cost and accurate detail. This biodegradable plastic derived from corn starch is also one of the most environmentally friendly 3D printing materials. Although PLA can show more detail than ABS, it is more brittle and is best for non-functional parts. PLA is not suitable for environments with temperatures higher than 80 ºC.
Common applications: cosplay props, models, desktop toys, and detail oriented parts.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, commonly known as ABS, is a popular 3D printing plastic that is cost-effective and tough. Compared to PLA, it has better heat resistance and is a better choice for outdoor applications.
Common applications: toy action figures, automotive accessories, cases, and project enclosures.
PETG is a durable material combing the useful characteristics of ABS with the ease of printing similar to PLA. With a high impact strength and an excellent resistance to chemicals and water, PETG can be used for a variety of functional applications. Since PETG can be sterilized, it is usually considered to be food safe.
Common applications: waterproof parts, water bottles, plant pots, vases, or snap-fit components.
TPU, or Thermoplastic Polyurethane, is commonly referred to as the bridge between rubbers and plastics. Its elasticity allows it to be extremely flexible, while still providing durability that makes it resistant to oil, grease, and abrasion.
Common applications: seals, automotive parts, and sporting goods.
Resin is a thermoset polymer that produces high-detail parts with a smooth surface finish. It is commonly used in 3D printing to produce detailed prints for plastic models and visual prototypes. As a more fragile or brittle material, resin is not ideal suited for functional parts.
Common applications: custom dental devices, jewelry molds, model figurines, and product prototypes.
Nylon is a popular material to 3D print with because of its durability and toughness. As a semi-flexible plastic with excellent mechanical properties, it has a high chemical and abrasion resistance which makes it ideal for functional parts.
Common applications: plastic gears, living hinges, cases, cable ties, and functional prototypes.
Stainless steel is a metal alloy with high ductility, wear and corrosion resistance that can be easily welded, polished, and machined. Like aluminum, stainless steel can be used to 3D print complex designs that are sometimes impossible to accomplish with traditional manufacturing techniques.
Common applications: tools, end use parts, jewelry, and decorative models.
Aluminium is a non-ferrous metal with an excellent strength-to-weight ratio, high electrical and thermal conductivity, and natural weather resistance. Aluminum is often used for fully functional parts, as one of the main advantages is that it does not rust.
Common applications: automotive and aerospace parts, tools, and complex geometry brackets.
Choosing The Right Method
FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling)
FDM is commonly used for low-cost rapid prototyping due to its high availability and quick lead time. 3D plastic objects are formed in layers by extruding a thermoplastic polymer filament through a computer-controlled printing head with a nozzle. Compared to other 3D printing technologies, FDM offers some of the largest build envelopes which allow for the printing of larger volume parts.
Strength: Low-cost, wide range of materials
Weakness: Limited dimensional precision, visible layer lines
Related Materials: PLA, ABS, PETG, TPU, Nylon
SLA / DLP / LCD (Stereolithography / Direct Light Processing / Liquid Crystal Display)
SLA, DLP, and LCD are similar processes ideal for visual applications with a high level of detail. All processes use an UV light source to solidify liquid resin in a vat layer-by-layer. SLA uses a single-point laser to solidify the resin, while DLP and LCD uses a digital light projector to flash a single image of each layer all at once.
Strength: Fine detail, smooth finish
Weakness: Brittle, longer post processing times
Related Materials: Dental Resin, Castable Resin, Tough Resin
SLS (Selective Laser Sintering)
SLS uses a high-power laser to fuse particles of powdered material on a build platform, mainly nylon or thermoplastic polyurethane, into solid parts. The SLS process is popular in the aerospace and medical device industries due its ability to produce low quantities, quickly, at mass production accuracy levels.
Strength: Self supporting build process, functional parts & prototypes, excellent mechanical properties
Weakness: Higher cost compared to FDM, grainy surface and porous
Related Materials: Nylon, TPU
DMLS / SLM (Direct Metal Laser Sintering / Selective Laser Melting)
DMLS/SLM is ideal for producing high performance, end-use metal 3D printed parts for automotive applications and other high-end engineering industries. It has the ability to produce metal parts with complex geometries that cannot be provided with traditional manufacturing methods.
Strength: Excellent mechanical properties, can produce complex geometries
Weakness: High cost, specialized CAD knowledge required, limited build capacity
Related Materials: Aluminum, Stainless Steel
How It Works
3D printing is simple with our easy 3 step process:
Upload your 3D printing files and get an instant quote.
Choose a Manufacturing Partner that meets your needs.
Arrange pickup or delivery right to your doorstep.