Since the inception of additive manufacturing, it has seen rapid growth due to the massive demand in the small, medium, and large businesses.

As the demand increases, newer types of 3D printing devices are developed to utilize different materials such as plastic, ceramic, metals, and composites to make 3D printing parts.

The global additive manufacturing and material market were valued at $8.42 billion in 2017, and it is expected to reach $35.10 billion by 2023.

In industrial additive manufacturing, the materials are carefully selected for each type of manufacturing process. These materials have their own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Each manufacturing process transforms the material through a different process. Picking up the right material for the right process comes down to several factors, such as material type, texture, cost, printing technology. It can be a daunting task!

Below we have highlighted the top 10 materials that are often used in additive manufacturing.

Nylon

Nylon or Polyamide is a synthetic thermoplastic material, commonly known as plastic. It was initially created as a replacement material for silk. Nylon is inexpensive and considered as one of the strongest thermoplastic materials in the world. It is used to create very complex geometrical structures.

Due to the high flexibility, durability, low-friction, and corrosion-resistance features, Nylon is widely used in different additives manufacturing projects such as prototyping, modeling, and even footwear and accessories.

Nylon requires a high temperature to print, and it is harder to get Nylon to stick to the print bed compared to other materials. Nylon is primarily used in Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) or Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) and Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) printers.

Advantage:

  • Nylon is highly durable and flexible.
  • Good replacement for injection molding applications
  • Nylon has great mechanical properties and can be used for a range of applications.
  • Nylon can be easily colored, dyed, tumbled and smoothed.

Disadvantages:

  • Due to the temperature difference, there can be some shrinkage in the material.
  • Post-processing can be challenging for SLS parts if you’re not familiar with the correct steps
  • Long cool down cycles limit the productivity
  • FDM & FFF nylon filament requires proper drying to achieve the best results.

ABS

ABS filament is one of the most common filaments used in 3D printers. It contains elastomers, which makes the material more flexible and shock-resistant. ABS is most used in car bodyworks, home appliances, and mobile phone cases.

ABS is a durable material and can withstand the temperature between -4°F to 176°F. Along with the high strength, it is a recyclable material and can be used in chemical processes.

However, ABS is not a biodegradable material and can shrink in contact with moist air. It cannot be used in open platform 3D printers; the Printing platform must be closed and heated to prevent warping and shrinkage.

Advantages

  • Most readily available and low-cost material
  • ABS has a longer lifecycle compared to Nylon
  • ABS comes in different colors.
  • ABS is highly efficient in creating prototypes and models.

Disadvantage

  • Need a closed platform to prevent warping.
  • ABS is non-biodegradable. So, it is challenging to get rid of.
  • ABS releases toxic fumes and smell at high temperature.

Photopolymer Resin

Resin is one of the most popular 3D printing material out there. Resins are UV light-sensitive, and they work by using a light source or laser to solidify the resins. Photopolymer resins are used in technologies like SLA, DLP, multijet, and CLIP technologies.  Resins are used in creating intricate details with smoother surfaces.

The difference between FDM filament and resins is that you cannot mix different resins to get different results.

There are different types of resins for different needs. More durable resins are used in engineering applications, flexible resins are used in footwear, etc.

Advantages

  • Resin can be used in a multitude of applications
  • It doesn’t shrink like other polymer materials
  • Resins have high chemical resistances
  • Resin can be used to produce intricate designs and a smoother surface finish.

Disadvantage

  • Resins can be expensive
  • Resins are photo-reactive. So, you have to be careful when storing resins
  • High heat can cause premature polymerization.

Polylactic Acid (PLA)

PLA, also known as polylactic acid, is a biodegradable material. It is created using organic raw material like corn starch. PLA is one of the easiest 3D printing material as it doesn’t need any heated platform to print, and PLA also prints at a lower temperature than ABS.

With a high cooling and solidification speed, it’s difficult to manipulate with the design. Also, the PLA models can deteriorate if it comes in contact with water. The simplicity, the variation of colors, and the properties of PLA make it the best material to use in FLA 3D printing.

Advantages

  • PLA is easier to print
  • PLA is available in a wide range of colors
  • PLA can be used to print sharp aged designs.

Disadvantages

  • PLA is vulnerable in high heat. It deforms when exposed to high temperature
  • The materials created with PLA are not sturdy.

PET/PETG

Polyethylene terephthalate or PET is commonly seen in disposable plastic bottles. Due to higher chemical resistance and rigid compositions, PET is used in manufacturing plastic containers used in packaging food. PET is a translucent filament with different variations such as PETG, PETT, and PETE. The general temperature of the printing PET is 167°-194°F.

PETG or glycolysis polyester is a variation of PET and the most commonly used PET in the additive manufacturing market.  It is an amorphous and recyclable plastic with the characteristics combined of PLA and ABS.

Advantage

  • PET is a strong, durable and recyclable material
  • It can be sterilized to use in the food packaging industry
  • Its temperature resistance and easy to print.

Disadvantage

  • The material reacts to UV light and may weaken the material
  • PET is prone to scratching.

Flexible Material (TPU)

Flexible filaments made out of TPU or thermoplastic polyurethane is also a very popular choice as a 3D printing material. TPU is characterized by high flexibility and durability, combining the properties of rubber and thermoplastics. Because of its chemical composition, TPU is a varied polymer and provides a wide range of use cases.

In the manufacturing industry, TPU is generally used to create footwear soles; in the automotive industry, it is used to create tires and shock absorbers. Also, TPU is widely used in mobile phone cases and protective covers for intricate devices.

Advantages

  • Allow manufacturers to create deformable objects
  • High impact strength and shock absorbant capabilities
  • Have rubber-like elasticity
  • Have resistance against oil, grease, abrasion

Disadvantages     

  • Some grades of TPU have a shorter shelf life
  • TPU is not as cost-effective as other options

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is known for its high strength and excellent corrosion resistance abilities. Stainless steel is used in various sectors, from manufacturing to assistive technologies.

The 3D printing technologies used to print stainless steel are fusion and laser sintering. Similar to gold and silver, DMLS or Direct Metal Laser Sintering and SML technologies are used in printing stainless steel.

Advantage

  • Stainless steel is corrosion resistive and high in strength.
  • Stainless steel has a high ductility.

Disadvantage

  • Printing with stainless steel is expensive.
  • It takes too much time to 3D print using stainless steel.

Titanium

Titanium is a strong, lightweight, heat, and chemical resistant material mainly used for high-performance applications, such as spaceships, aircraft, and the medical field.  Due to its high strength, it is incredibly challenging to the machine by tools. That makes it an excellent material for additive manufacturing.

Advantages

  • It can create sophisticated products.
  • It offers an industrial-grade precision in the design.
  • It’s biocompatible and corrosion-resistant

Disadvantages

  • Titanium is expensive, and the 3D printing process is costly as well

Alumide

Alumide is a 3D printing material made by mixing polyamide and aluminum powders using the SLS process. Alumide has a porous and metallic finish and has good mechanical strength and temperature resistance(up to 340 °F). And for these reasons, it’s used in the rapid prototyping and 3D printing industry.

It’s used in creating complex modeling, designing, or production of small functional models that need high rigidity. However, Alumide has some design limits.

Advantage

  • Alumide is abrasion resistant
  • It’s extremely detailed and clean to print
  • It features a high heat resistance and high breaking strength

Disadvantage

  • Very rough surface
  • Not waterproof
  • It has design limits.

High Impact Polystyrene

High impact polystyrene or high-density polyethylene is a lightweight and flexible material. It is widely used in making pipes and plastic bottles and packages due to its high molding ability.

HIPS is used as a replacement for ABS because it has high-temperature resistance, and it is resistant to most of the chemicals except limonene.

However, HIPS requires a heated printing bed to print, and it also shrinks when it cools down, leading to warpage.

Advantage

  • HIPS is excellent for making intricate designs
  • It’s water-resistant
  • It is inexpensive

Disadvantage

  • At high temperature, it produces strong fumes
  • It solidifies quickly and may clog the printer nozzle if there isn’t enough heat flow.

Industrial 3D printing is in a growing phase right now, and with the right knowledge and right materials, 3D printing can be the future of manufacturing. As the industry is growing rapidly, more and more materials are being used with 3D printing processes.

These materials will open up new applications for 3D printing, and the mainstream manufacturing process will start to adopt the new materials quickly.