3D Printing Filament Explained - PLA, ABS, PETG, Nylon, TPE, TPU, PVA

One of the first questions people ask after getting a 3D printer is "What material do i print with?" There are lots of different filaments available and even more companies to buy it from.
3d printer filament, type, different, cheap, buy

Filament Explained - 3D Printing Materials


If you are just starting with 3D printing it can be daunting when you hear about all the different materials to print with. Everything from PLA, ABS, PET, TPE, Nylon, etc. It's important to understand what all of these materials are, how they print, settings required, and what types of prints you can make.
different types of 3d printing filament, what to print with
I'm going to try to explain good filaments for beginners, what are more advanced filaments, and some unusual filaments for printing specific things like gears, cell phone cases, support structure, etc. I will also explain the difficulties of printing with things like nylon, including temperatures you need to be able to print with just to consider buying nylon filament.
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Results from all the filament i tested in past reviews.
results of filament review, 3d printer filament

Another view.
results of 3d printer filament, types, different

Most printers will say in their specifications that their printable materials are PLA, ABS, ... If you are just starting out you will think "Great, i can print TPU...What the heck is TPU?" While doing my filament reviews i received samples from several different filament companies. One of the best info sheets that came with filament was from eSun. They included this with their roll:
esun table of filament, description, temp, settings

Filament, description, and uses.
3d printer filament, uses, cases, flexible, cost

More filament stacked up.
cheap 3d filament spool
This is great for quickly explaining the baseline settings for filament and an example of what each filament can print. As far as popularity, you can see that PLA and ABS make up the majority, but it is my opinion that PETG will only continue to grow.
most popular type of 3d printing filament

So going into more detail on each filament type:


This is by far the most popular filament people print with. It is easy to print with, forgiving, versatile and works under a wide range of settings. PLA is very rigid, it does not bend before it breaks, it just shatters. There are also PLA's with additives in it like carbon fiber, wood, steel. Although with some of those additives you need a special steel nozzle because it can wear out. Exteruder Temp = 190 - 220deg C Heated Bed Temp = none or 50deg C
PLA filament

Close up view.
close up view of pla filament

Shiny PLA filament
shiny pla plastic

Great for clean crisp parts like these structural 3D printer parts for a fan shroud.
how to 3d print with pla

Strong yet brittle.
printed pla part example


This is the second most popular filament that people use. Unlike PLA, ABS is more pliable. It will bend and deform before breaking. However there are some reports that printing with ABS produces hazardous gasses, because of the melting plastic. So it is recommended to use an enclosure and vent. Extruder Temp = 235 Heated Bed Temp = 90
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The most popular toy in history is made of ABS. It's injection molded but still the same material, which goes to show the strength of ABS plastic.
what are lego bricks made of , abs plastic


This is quickly becoming more popular because of its combination of features between PLA and ABS. PETG is the same material as plastic bottles. It has a great look when you buy a Clear colored filament. It is ductile like ABS but easy to print with like PLA. It can be very stringy though and printing can be a bit trickier with settings like reduced speed and increased retraction. This comes in several proprietary names like E3D's Edge filament, FormFutura's HDglass filament, ColorFabb's nGen filament... Extruder Temp = 230-250 Heated Bed Temp = 65-85
e3d edge filament, petg, copolyester, filament

Parts like this come out very clean yet incredibly strong.
best of pla and abs is petg

You can get great colors and shinyness with PETG, perfect for vases and decorative prints.
super shiny petg filament, vase

Again, very shiny and semi-transparent parts.
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Nylon / Nylon Bridge

Nylon is an extremely strong filament, probably twice as strong as any other filament in this list. However it is difficult to print with and not every printer is capable of printing nylon. That is because of the extremely high temps required. The extruder temperature needs to be up somewhere around 300deg C and most 3D printers max out at 250deg C. Another issue with nylon is that if it is left out it will absorb water and start popping while printing. Therefore you need to dry this filament out in the oven and keep it in a dry airtight place. Beyond that you will need to print at slow speeds, like 30mm/s, and only have the cooling fan on while trying to bridge. Extruder Temp = 250-300 Heated Bed Temp = 70
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Perfect for parts that require high strength or will experience heavy wear. Nylon is almost double the strength of other material in this list.
3d print nylon gears


This filament is specifically for bendable rubber-like parts. For example cell phone cases. It can be difficult to print with because it needs a large retraction to control the oozing. You will have to really experiment with the settings to get it to print without having it curl up and cover the nozzle. Extruder Temp = 220 Heated Bed Temp = 40

The most popular of this filament is NinjaFlex.
flexible filament, ninjaflex

It can be tricky to print with, requiring modifications to make a solid connection from your extruder to the hotend.
how to 3d print flexible filament

But perfect filament for printing things like cell phone cases, which need to bend and flex and absorb impact.
how to 3d print a cell phone case, flexible


PVA is specifically used for printing support for parts. It is used with printers that have dual extruders. The reason it is only used for support is because PVA dissolves in water. That means that you can print complex/elaborate parts like honeycomb cubes, which would be impossible to print without support. And if you used just 1 filament it would also be impossible to get in and remove the filament once it is printed. Extruder Temp = 180 Heated Bed Temp = 45
pva filament, dissolving filament

Here is an example where PVA is necessary.  This model requires support, but it would take forever to remove the support once it's printed.
how to print with dual extruders, dissolving

Several hours into it's water bath and the PVA is dissolving away.
dissolve 3d printing filament

Finished part with all support gone.
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Again, another print that would be impossible without support, but removing the support would destroy the print
3d print dissolving filament


This is similar to PVA in that it is used for support, but this dissolves in a limestone solvent. Extruder Temp = 220 Heated Bed Temp = 55

Felty / FeltLay

This filament is used when someone wants to print porous objects like filters and sponges. It is a 2 part material where one part is later dissolved. Extruder Temp = 230 Heated Bed Temp = 40
3d print felty, flexible foam

Foam / LayFomm

Again, similar to Felty, this is for printing porous objects, but this creates more of a rubbery sponge like object. Extruder Temp = 220 Heated Bed Temp = 50
how to 3d print foam, layfomm filament

Beyond all of these there are even more filaments that people print with such as resin, XT Copolyester, TPC, FPE, Jelly ...


3d print cheese wiz

Cheese and crackers in under 1 hour.
funny cheese wiz 3d print


Pour an entire house in a day.
3d print a house, concrete
So you can see that there's lots of different filaments for all sorts of uses, from bendable cell phone cases to very strong gear parts. Most people won't really care about the odd-ball stuff, but might be interested in trying.

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