Choosing Filament

One of the biggest considerations to make when deciding on what printer to invest in in what you’re going to use to print with. The two most common plastic filaments used for 3D printing are called ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) and PLA (polylactic acid). These often come provided on spools that the filament gets pulled off of like thread in a sewing machine. Most filaments come in thicknesses of 1.75 mm, 2.85 mm, or 3.00 mm. The thickness of filament that you use will depend on the specifications of the printer. (3.00 mm filament wouldn’t fit into a printer that need 1.75 mm filament, for example.) By far the most common thickness of both printers and filaments is 1.75 mm, followed by 3.00 mm. Because of this, when choosing a printer I would recommend choosing one that takes 1.75 mm filament.

Filaments can come in many different colours.

Filaments can come in many different colours.

ABS is generally printed at higher temperatures than PLA is, but also ends up being considerably stronger, so for any time of important strength work, ABS is going to be the better choice over PLA. ABS generally prints best in a build space that is kept very hot (usually somewhere around 60C) and as such will generally require an enclosed build space, but PLA quite often prints best with cooling fans active and in a cool environment. When asking for advice between PLA and ABS online, many people will only use one type of filament or the other, but in general, PLA is considered easier to work with than ABS is. As a general rule of thumb, any printer should be able to print PLA, but not all will be able to reach the temperatures and other conditions necessary to successfully print ABS.

There are some other types of filaments as well: HIPS (high impact polystyrene) and PVA (polyvinyl alcohol) are examples of a filaments that are dissolvable in certain solutions, such as Limonen or water. Wood, ceramic, and metal filaments are also available but aren’t generally pure metal or wood. For example, a metal filament will probably contain tiny shards of copper or stainless steel suspended within PLA. The conditions for printing a given filament are usually addressed by the seller of the filament itself, but quite often a specialized filament will be printable on any machine that can print PLA. There also exist flexible, vinyl, polycarbonate, flexible, glow-in-the-dark, again, usually as PLA or ABS.

CopperFill and BronzeFill metal filaments from ColorFabb make for some really nice prints.

CopperFill and BronzeFill metal filaments from ColorFabb make for some really nice prints.

Most filaments purchased are usable on any printers, but there are some brands that monopolize their own market; for example, the Cubify brand of 3D printers has unique spool designs so that their filaments can’t be used on other printers and this also makes it very difficult to use non-Cubify filaments on Cubify printers.

One more thing to consider is that not all 3D printers use filament: many next-gen 3D printers are now printing with liquid resins that use combinations of light and oxygen to cure the resin where desired. As of right now, most resin printers on the market also count among the most expensive and the resins also tend to cost more than generic filament does. That being said, I’m watching the market because I anticipate that in a few years, the only 3D printers will be resin printers.

Where to Buy

Choosing where to buy your filament is a very important decision because chances are you’re not going to be able to waltz down to your local electronics stores and buy some there (unless you are able to do that). I understand that 3D printing supplies are much more readily available in the USA than they are in Canada and Europe, but even within the USA it seems like buying filament online is the less expensive way to go.

Just as with printer, it’s good to keep in mind that not all filaments are alike. It is very important to have quality filaments because if there are defects or imperfections then it can easily affect the quality of a print. Some things to watch out for are air bubbles within the filament, or discrepancies in the thickness of the filament.

I honestly can’t comment for other parts of the world, but since I live in Canada, I can fairly safely say that by far the best website to get filaments from is Filaments.ca. They have free shipping within Canada for orders over $125, and they offer a very wide selection of materials, brands, and colours to choose from in all sizes of filaments. I personally have never had any problem with their services or products.

I’ll update this section further in the future.