5.6 Use of materials

Table of Contents

There are a lot of different materials you can 3D print with. In this article we will focus on materials that can be printed using FDM printers. Depending on the specific requirements or purpose of the 3D model, some materials will be better suited to the job than others. If these materials don’t fit your specific needs, you might want to explore other methods of 3D printing and their respective materials.

Not all FDM 3D printers can (successfully) print all the materials that are discussed within this article. The maximum printer temperature, a heated bed and the material some of the components are made of will dictate its material options. Some standard FDM 3D printers can be upgraded to print a wider selection of materials.

Each material has its own set of characteristics with pros and cons. We will look at a variety of materials and will list their pros and cons and in which situations they work best. Besides the material, the way a model is designed and sliced is also an important factor to consider.

Standard materials


Polylactic Acid (commonly known as PLA) is one of the most popular materials for 3D printing. It is very easy to print thanks to its low printing temperature and you don’t need a heated bed. It is also very cheap to buy and can be used for a lot of different purposes. It works well for models used in classrooms or for prototyping. If the robustness of the printed model is important, there is a variant, Tough PLA, which is more expensive, but is more durable. PLA is available in a wide range of colours, and luminescent variants are also available. Sometimes the filaments in different colours have different printing properties despite being the same filament type, which is why it makes sense to use materials for which the manufacturer provides printing profiles.


  • Easy to print
  • Great accuracy in prints
  • Low cost
  • Long shelf life


  • Low heat resistance
  • Can’t be used outdoors due to sunlight exposure. Material will become brittle and degrade over time.
  • Can get brittle over time and break


ABS is a material that is used in lots of different everyday products. It has been around for a long time and was there at the beginning of 3D printing. It remains popular due to its low cost, durability, and strength. It prints at a higher temperature than PLA, and is also more heat resistant. One of the downsides is the odour it gives off while printing. The fumes also aren’t healthy to inhale, which should be taken into consideration. The material also shrinks a bit when cooling down, making models vulnerable to warping. This can also affect the accuracy of the model. Using acetone (vapour) ABS can be smoothed for a better finish or welded together. For more information check out article 7.1


  • Low cost
  • Durability and strength
  • Heat resistance
  • Can be post-processed with acetone


  • Smell during printing
  • Warping
  • Reduced accuracy due to shrinking
  • Needs heated bed


People will be familiar with PET from the plastic bottles most drinks are sold in. It’s a fairly strong material printed at a higher temperature. Using it on a glass build plate requires using a glue stick as it tends to stick too much which may damage your build plate. It is very suited to outdoor use due to its heat resistance, though it is prone to wear. It prints fairly easily but can cause stringing. PETG can be sanded down with good results.


  • Smooth surface finish
  • Can be sanded
  • No smell during printing
  • Sticks to build plate very well


  • Stringing
  • Poor bridging between objects
  • Can produce thin strands while printing

GreenTEC Pro

GreenTEC has been specially developed for ultra high performance applications. The material has a heat deflection temperature of 160°C and is optimised for high stiffness and flexural strength. At the same time, the material offers a high-quality semi-matte feel. It is therefore also suitable for thermoforming applications. In addition, the raw material has food approval (FDA).

For Supports


PVA is a material specifically for use in supports. The main reason for this is it dissolves in water. When printing complex models that require a lot of support in a lot of different places, using PVA makes it very easy to remove them. Just immerse the models in warm water and let them sit for a few hours and the supports simply disappear in the water. It’s rather expensive but provides possibilities for complex models that aren’t possible with regular materials.


  • Support material that dissolves in water
  • No special solvents required
  • No extra hardware required


  • Expensive
  • Sensative to moisture
  • Airtight storage required


Ultimaker Breakaway can be used similarly to PVA. It is easier to store and print because you don’t need a special nozzle for it. The disadvantage is that it can only be developed mechanically.


HIPS is a dissolvable support material mostly used in combination with ABS. It can be dissolved in D-limonene, a liquid commonly used as a cleaning solvent. It has very similar properties to ABS, which is why they work well together. It can also be used to create models as a lighter alternative to ABS.


  • Cheap
  • Impact and water resistant
  • Dissolvable
  • Light


  • Heated bed and chamber required
  • Needs a specific solvent
  • Ventilation required

Extra Strength


Nylon is also known as polyamide. It is very strong with some flexibility. It does however need a high temperature for printing – around 250 degrees Celsius. Modern printers can reach these temperatures, but older ones might not be able to. Using nylon might require an upgrade to a newer model of printer. Storing nylon in a water- and airtight container is also very important as it very easily draws in moisture, making it difficult to print and reducing quality.


  • Very tough
  • Very durable and strong
  • No smell while printing


  • Warps easily
  • Sensitive to moisture and needs airtight storage


Polycarbonate (also known as PC) is a very strong material. It’s mostly used in models that need to be very durable and resist high temperatures (110°C) or impact. It will also bend before breaking, which is unique compared to the other materials which are more brittle. PC used in 3D printing contains additives to allow it to be printed at temperatures reachable by 3D printers. Always check what is added to PC before using to know its capabilities. This makes it harder to print than other materials. The high heat means a closed printer is also required.


  • Very strong
  • Transparent
  • Bends before breaking


  • Very high printing temperature
  • Absorbs moisture easily
  • Difficult to print


The two most common flexible filaments are TPE and TPU. They are a combination of plastic and rubber making the material more elastic. It can be flexed and stretched fairly easily. It is important to think about your design to optimise these capabilities. Creating a 100% filled cube still results in a rather hard model, while creating a hollow cube results in a softer model that can be pressed down a bit. There are a lot of different recipes for flexible filament which vary based on the supplier. Some are more flexible or bendy than others, depending on the mix of ingredients. TPU can be hard to print depending on your setup. A direct extruder makes the material easier to print since there is less room to stretch compared to a Bowden tube setup. Always check the recommended settings provided by the manufacturer before printing.


  • Flexible and can stretch
  • Feels soft
  • Dampens vibrations in models and models make less sound
  • Long shelf life


  • Difficult to print
  • Poor bridging