3D printing is a manufacturing process where materials are joined together to make objects from 3D model data (CAD). Typically, 3D printing is a layer-by-layer process where part geometries are “grown,” fusing with the previous layer. 3D printing processes can build objects in plastics, photopolymers, reaction polymers, composites, metal, glass, and other materials.
FDM 3D Printing
Fused deposition modeling (FDM), also known as fused filament fabrication (FFF), is the most widely used form of 3D printing at the consumer level, fueled by the emergence of hobbyist 3D printers.
This technique is well-suited for basic proof-of-concept models, as well as quick and low-cost prototyping of simple parts, such as parts that might typically be machined.
Consumer level FDM has the lowest resolution and accuracy when compared to other plastic 3D printing processes and is not the best option for printing complex designs or parts with intricate features. Higher-quality finishes may be obtained through chemical and mechanical polishing processes. Industrial FDM 3D printers use soluble supports to mitigate some of these issues and offer a wider range of engineering thermoplastics or even composites, but they also come at a steep price.
As the melted filament forms each layer, sometimes voids can remain between layers when they don’t adhere fully. This results in anisotropic parts, which is important to consider when you are designing parts meant to bear load or resist pulling.
Popular FDM 3D Printing Materials
The most common FDM 3D printing materials are ABS, PLA, and their various blends. More advanced FDM printers can also print with other specialized materials that offer properties like higher heat resistance, impact resistance, chemical resistance, and rigidity.
|ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene)
|Tough and durable
Heat and impact resistant
Requires a heated bed to print
|PLA (polylactic acid)
|The easiest FDM materials to print
Rigid, strong, but brittle
Less resistant to heat and chemicals
|PETG (polyethylene terephthalate glycol)
|Compatible with lower printing temperatures for faster production
Humidity and chemical resistant
Can be food safe
|Strong, durable, and lightweight
Tough and partially flexible
Heat and impact resistant
Very complex to print on FDM
Wear resistant parts
|TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane)
|Flexible and stretchable
Excellent vibration dampening
|PVA (polyvinyl alcohol)
|Soluble support material
Dissolves in water
|HIPS (high impact polystyrene)
|Soluble support material most commonly used with ABS
Dissolves in chemical limonene
|Composites (carbon fiber, kevlar, fiberglass)
|Rigid, strong, or extremely tough
Compatibility limited to some expensive industrial FDM 3D printers
Jigs, fixtures, and tooling