The Complete Guide to 3D Printer Materials

As a veteran 3D printing enthusiast, I’ve experimented with just about every material there is for FDM and SLA printing. The world of 3D printer material keeps expanding, so it can be tricky to know where to start.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk through the most common 3D printing materials used, their properties, best uses, and printing tips. Whether you’re printing functional prototypes or decorative models, I’ll help you select the ideal material.

FDM 3d printer material

Fused deposition modeling (FDM) printers work by heating plastic filament and extruding it layer by layer to build an object. The most common desktop FDM materials are:

PLA Filament

PLA (polylactic acid) is the go-to material for beginner FDM printing. Derived from corn starch, it’s biodegradable and emits less fumes.

  • Properties: Rigid but brittle, low heat resistance, matte surface finish
  • Best Uses: Basic prototypes, models, hobby prints, education
  • Printing Tips: Print at 190-230°C. Uses low bed adhesion. Minimal warping.

ABS Filament

ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is a strong, durable plastic used across industries. It’s less prone to snapping than PLA.

  • Properties: Stronger than PLA, good heat/chemical resistance, glossy finish
  • Best Uses: Functional 3d printed parts, automotive, mechanical, electronics
  • Printing Tips: Print at 210-250°C. Prone to warping. Uses higher bed adhesion.

PETG Filament

PETG (polyethylene terephthalate glycol-modified) strikes a balance between PLA and ABS properties.

  • Properties: Strong yet flexible, good layer adhesion, weather/UV resistant
  • Best Uses: Outdoor prints, tools, mechanical parts, drone frames
  • Printing Tips: Print at 220-250°C. Lower warping than ABS. Good bed adhesion.

Nylon Filament

Nylon filament is extremely strong, durable, and flexible. But it’s one of the hardest materials to print.

  • Properties: Toughness, high impact energy, machinability, low friction
  • Best Uses: Functional parts, living hinges, bearings, gears, fluid/gas interfaces
  • Printing Tips: Print at 240-280°C in an enclosure. Excellent bed adhesion needed. Significant warping.

Flexible Filament (TPU, TPE)

Flexible filaments contain elastomers that allow them to bend and compress without breaking.

  • Properties: Stretchable, rubbery, impact resistant, durable
  • Best Uses: Phone cases, grips, gaskets, shoes, prosthetics
  • Printing Tips: Print at 210-230°C with direct drive extruder. Slower print speeds. No heated bed.

Composite Filaments

Composite filaments contain additives like wood, understanding metal printer processes, carbon fiber, and glow-in-the-dark powders.

  • Properties: Varies. Combination of plastic properties and additive properties.
  • Best Uses: Models, decorative prints, enhanced strength/texture prints
  • Printing Tips: Follow recommended settings for base plastic. Lower nozzle temperature. Slower print speed.

Soluble Filament

Soluble filaments dissolve in water to remove support material after printing complex geometries.

  • Properties: High solubility, low water absorption, stable dimensionally
  • Best Uses: Dissolvable supports for complex prints, hollow parts
  • Printing Tips: Print at 185-220°C. Check optimal dissolve temperature.

SLA 3D Printing Resins

SLA 3D Printing Resins

Stereolithography (SLA) printers use UV lasers to selectively cure liquid photopolymer resin layer by layer. Common types of 3d printing resins include:

Standard Resin

The standard resin offers an affordable starting point for resin printing.

  • Properties: Moderate tensile strength, good detail resolution, smooth surface finish
  • Best Uses: Basic prototypes, models, miniatures, game assets
  • Printing Tips: Need supports to prevent deformation. Cure fully after printing.

Tough Resin

Tough resins have enhanced mechanical properties for durable functional prints.

  • Properties: High tensile strength and elongation, thermal/moisture resistance, opaque colors
  • Best Uses: Functional prototypes, tooling, end-use parts, high stress areas
  • Printing Tips: Supports still required during printing. Longer exposure times.

Dental Resin

Dental resins excel at fine detail needed for oral surgical guides and dentistry.

  • Properties: Biocompatible, accurate, thin layers
  • Best Uses: Dental surgical guides, night guards, dentures, orthodontics
  • Printing Tips: Optimized for Formlabs Dental printers. High precision required.

Castable Resin

Castable resins burn out cleanly to cast metal parts using lost-wax casting methods.

  • Properties: Low ash content, consistent burn out
  • Best Uses: Jewelry, metals manufacturing
  • Printing Tips: Must sprue and invest resin part properly for casting.

Flexible Resin

Flexible resins bend and compress for elastic printed parts.

  • Properties: Elongation, tear/abrasion resistance, rubbery feel
  • Best Uses: Gaskets, seals, overmolds, shoe soles, cushioning
  • Printing Tips: Adjust exposure times. Supports prevent deformation.

Composite Resin

Composite resins contain additives to enhance properties like heat resistance, strength, and aesthetics.

  • Properties: Varies by additive. Combination of resin and additive properties.
  • Best Uses: Functional prototypes, models, jewelry, enhanced resin prints
  • Printing Tips: Follow recommended exposure times. Settling can occur.

Material Selection Guidelines

3D Printer Material Selection

3D-printer material serves as the foundational substance for 3D printing processes. Different materials, such as PLA, ABS, and Resin, correspond to distinct printing methods like FDM, SLA, and SLS.

While PLA offers the advantage of being biodegradable, making it popular for eco-friendly projects, ABS provides strength and durability, often chosen for robust prototypes.

On the other hand, Resin is exclusive to SLA printers, delivering prints with exceptional resolution and detail. The choice of material not only dictates the quality and characteristics of the final product but also influences factors such as printing speed, post-processing needs, and overall costs.

How do you choose the right material in differences between traditional and 3d printing for your needs? Follow these general materials guide:

  • Functional prototypes – ABS, PETG, nylon, or tough resin
  • Parts for daily use – ABS, PETG, nylon, or composite filament
  • Outdoor use – PETG or composite filament
  • Flexible parts – Flexible/TPE filament or flexible resin
  • High detail/jewelry – Resin (standard, castable, composite)
  • Education/hobby – PLA, standard resin
  • Visual prototypes – Any material with desired appearance
  • Food safety – PLA, PETG, food-safe resin

Research the capabilities of your 3D printer to determine compatible materials. Consider part function, environmental factors, accuracy needed, and appearance.

Ask the manufacturer for technical data sheets if material properties are crucial. And don’t be afraid to run test prints before large jobs.

Key 3D Printing Material Takeaways

  • FDM materials: PLA, ABS, PETG, nylon, flexible, composite, soluble
  • SLA resins: Standard, tough, dental, castable, flexible, composite
  • FDM prints by melting plastic filament layer by layer to build parts
  • SLA cures liquid resin with UV lasers for high detail prints
  • Material properties like strength, flexibility, detail resolution vary widely
  • Choose material based on the functional requirements and printable properties
  • PLA is ideal for basic prototyping with its ease of printing
  • Functional parts demand higher strength – ABS, PETG, nylon, tough resin
  • Smooth resin is unmatched for jewelry, dental, and miniatures
  • Composite mixtures add properties like color, elasticity, strength
  • Research printer/material capabilities and ideal print settings
  • Fine-tune temperature, speeds, adhesion, supports for each material


PLA and PETG filaments are considered food safe for contact with eaten foods. Look for FDA food contact compliant resin if printing edible items with SLA.

Yes, wood composite PLA filament contains mixed wood pulp or saw dust. It has a woody color and textured finish but prints like regular PLA.

ABS, PETG, and nylon withstand higher temperatures better than PLA without deforming in hot environments like car dashboards.

No. Resin photochemistry varies across printer models. Always use the resin formulated for your printer make and model for proper curing.

Use a tough resin formulated for higher strength instead of standard resin. Or armor functional resin parts with an outer nylon or ABS shell printed on an FDM machine.

Desktop printers cannot print pure metal. But some filaments have fine metal powders, allowing metal polishing post-print. Or use castable resin then cast metal parts.

I hope this guide has simplified the wide world of 3D printing materials for you! Let me know if you have any other questions.

If you have any questions or would like to read more about harnessing 3D technology for instant printing, how to know ways for running a print-on-demand business, Kindly drop them at to get help. We’re happy to accompany all of you anytime you need.

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