Join Now

    3D Printing Materials Guide for Classrooms

    Donald Bell
    Published on - September 10, 2019 by Donald Bell

    Tips & Tricks, 3D Printing Materials

    Here at Tinkercad, we love hearing how educators in classrooms all over the world are bringing their student’s designs into reality with 3D printing. We believe that 3D printing (and digital fabrication in general) offers a profound opportunity for everyday people to design and shape their world. That said, we’ve also logged enough hours on our own equipment to know that 3D printing is a relatively slow and fickle process that can sometimes lead to disappointing results. 

    FMLQ5SVJ5CQ0IDV.LARGE

    To give you and your classroom the best chance at successful 3D printing, we’ve created this guide for understanding and choosing the best material (filament) to use for your circumstance. While it’s true that you need to understand the settings and capabilities of your specific 3D printer, the filament you feed it is an equally critical (and often overlooked) ingredient to a successful print. 

    The following guide takes a deliberately narrow look at the types of filaments we believe are worth using and understanding for in-class printing. For guidance on the wider world of filaments suitable for professionals and hobbyists, check out our recommended reading at the end of this post.

    Enjoy the guide, and be sure to share your successful prints with us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. 

    F7G58RQJ5CQ1DGF

    Photo by Page Russell on Instructables.

    PLA

    Ease of use: Easy

    Print temperature: 180°C – 230°C

    Print bed temperature: No heat required, 20°C – 60°C (optional)

    Pros: Relatively odorless, minimal warping or shrinkage, incredible number of filament variations (see Fun Options below), inexpensive, heated print bed not required, biodegradable (limited), recyclable (limited). 

    Cons: Brittle prints with relatively low mechanical strength compared to other materials, melts easily under high heat (though sometimes useful for deliberate annealing effects).

    petg by MatterHackersImage of transparent PETG courtesy of MatterHackers.

    PETG

    Ease of use: Medium

    Print temperature: 220°C – 250°C

    Print bed temperature: 50°C – 75°C

    Pros: Incredible print bed adhesion (sometimes too good), improved flexibility over PLA, high strength, minimal warping or shrinking, resulting prints are relatively heat-resistant compared to PLA, great layer adhesion.

    Cons: Some odor, filament will absorb moisture if stored in the open (leading to poor print performance), requires heated print bed, print bed separator recommended (painters tape or glue stick) to prevent permanent bond. Flexible build plates are the new hotness and everyone should have them regardless of what you print with!

    by UltimakerAn example of warping issues common to printing ABS. Photo courtesy of Ultimaker.

    ABS

    Ease of use: Expert

    Print temperature: 210°C – 250°C

    Print bed temperature: 80°C – 110°C

    Pros: High strength, better UV resistance for outdoor applications, commonly used in household goods (such as LEGO bricks), resulting prints are relatively heat-resistant compared to PLA, phenomenal layer adhesion. 

    Cons: Noticeable odor, requires venting while printing, considerable warping/shrinkage issues, heat bed required, concern over VOC emissions (especially for students with respiratory ailments), full enclosure needed for heat regulation and ensuring proper ventilation.

    Fun Options 

    Within these different formulations (though especially in PLA) you can find a number of novelty variations that students may find exciting. There are filaments that glow in the dark, or change color in hot or cold temperatures. 

    glow-1Image courtesy of MatterHackers.

    You can find clear filament, or colorful translucent filament. There are many filaments with metallic tones, or glittery sparkles.

    FKJAK97IOAATMCT.LARGE

    There’s also a relatively new trend of rainbow, or multi-color filaments where the color shifts throughout the reel. As each layer prints, the color slowly changes, resulting in a multi-hued, rainbow-like effect. 

    By DasMia2Images by DasMia on Instructables.

    Recycled Filament

    There are a growing number of partially or fully recycled filaments on the market. Currently, because sources for recycled ABS, PET, and Polystyrene are more abundant than PLA, there are fewer options for PLA-based recycled filaments. 

    Closed Loop PlasticsImage courtesy of Closed Loop Plastics.

    Though your mileage may vary, recycled filaments are by their very nature a less predictable product with a limited range of colors. For in-class use, where the consistency of your printer are prized attributes, recycled filaments may add unwanted unpredictability.

    Useful Tips

    FILPOLQJ9OWA5NG

    Photo by Page Russell on Instructables.

    Just like the ink in your computer printer, the filament you buy for your 3D printer is an ongoing expense. Protect your investment with these tips by Paige Russel on storing filament to extend its life. 

    When it comes to setting your print temperature, always look for the filament manufacturer’s recommended settings. These are often included with the filament or available on the manufacturer’s website. Different brands will often have slightly different formulations that with slightly higher or lower melting temperatures.

    But what about…?

    It's true that there are a large number of filament formulations we left off this list. Nylon, TPE, ASA, Polypropylene, HIPS, Flex, Polycarbonate, and others, are all options we’d recommend any hobbyist to explore. For a classroom environment, though, the expense, storage requirements, infrequency of use, printing requirements, or odor of these alternatives makes them difficult to recommend in most cases. 

    F0T13NPJ9OWA6J2.LARGE

    Photo by Page Russell on Instructables.

    That said, if you’re an educator who swears by a particular type or brand of filament that performs remarkably in your classroom, please mention it to us on social media to help inform future revisions of this guide. 

    It’s also worth mentioning that on-demand services such as Polar Cloud, Treatstock, iMaterialize, Shapeways, 3D Hubs, and Ponoko (for laser cutting) make it possible to experiment with a wide range of materials and processes, or even use exotic materials such as metal or carbon fiber. Some of these options are directly accessible from within Tinkercad’s Export menu.

    export2

    With these services, you simply upload your 3D model, select the material you’d like to use, and pay a fee to have it printed and shipped directly to your classroom. It can get quite expensive, but it may be worthwhile for a special case or year-end class project.

    We also encourage you to reach out to your local makerspace or public library to see if there are opportunities to work with volunteers to print out classroom designs using their facilities and equipment. It can be a huge advantage to have local expert staff to guide the process, offer their expertise, as well as considerable time savings to print on multiple machines. 

    by PrinteractionPhoto by Printeraction on Instructables.

    Further Reading

    While conducting our own research to create this guide, we found a number of outstanding resources that explore the topic of filament options at great length and incredible detail. For a hobbyist or professional user, online guides from All3DP, Prusa Research, and MatterHackers offer an inexhaustible amount of useful information on the subject, and were all used to inform our own guide here. 

    To learn more about filament VOCs and health effects, check out The Elephant in the Classroom by Mike Titsch on 3D Printer World and the references he cites.