3D Printer Nozzle – Brass Vs Stainless Steel Vs Hardened Steel


Your printer’s nozzle has started wearing out and negatively effective the quality of your prints, even to the point where your first layers won’t stick down properly.

Or you received your new 3D printer and don’t like the factory nozzle that comes with it. Now you want to replace your nozzle but have a choice of nozzles that you want to know works best.

This is why I’ve decided to write this article, to help you decide which nozzle to go for, and to explain the differences between the main choices. You have Brass, Stainless Steel & Brass nozzles.

The short answer here is, if you want the best quality nozzle for your prints, you will most likely get that with Brass if you are printing non-abrasive filaments. If you are want to print food-safe or medical grade parts, then Stainless Steel is the best option. If you want to print abrasive filament, Hardened Steel is the way to go.

Pro Tip: If you want a great 3D printer to use your nozzles with I’d recommend the Creality Ender 3 V2 (Amazon). It’s a great choice that is loved by many users. You can also get it cheaper from BangGood, but usually with a slightly longer delivery!

Brass

If you are after a brass nozzle to purchase quickly, I would recommend the LUTER 24-Piece Brass Nozzle Set. Not only are you getting a wide range of brass nozzles sizes with a storage box, it’s also the highest rated on Amazon, mainly because of the premium quality and the great price.

Compatible with MK8 extruders such as the Ender 3, Creality CR-10, MakerBot, Prusa I3 and many more.

Most 3D printers come with a brass nozzle and there’s a very good reason for it.

Brass has great thermal conductive properties meaning it transfers heat from your heater block to nozzle to filament much more efficiently than other nozzle materials.

Brass does however have it’s drawbacks which is why other nozzle materials have been introduced in the 3D printing field.

Brass happens to be a relatively soft metal meaning if it scrapes the bed surface or you print with abrasive filament, it can wear down and damage your nozzles.

A brass nozzle is usually fine when printing non-abrasive filament such as PLA and ABS without certain additives. When you have additives like glass, carbon fiber or metal particles it will increase it’s abrasiveness and be more likely to damage a brass nozzle.

The damage that tends to happen is grooves and ridges on the inner part of the nozzle, closing off the nozzle hole, or increasing the diameter of the hole making it unusable.

Not only are brass nozzles cheaper, they also are easier to machine and manufacture.

Practically speaking, there is no significant advantage you’ll gain by using a Stainless Steel nozzle unless you are printing abrasive filament.

Most people that 3D print are usually printing with PLA, ABS or similar materials that aren’t abrasive.

In these cases, a good quality brass nozzle will do more than fine, although you could do with an upgrade compared to some of the factory brass nozzles you get with your 3D printer.

Stainless Steel

If you are after a stainless steel nozzle to purchase quickly, I would recommend the POLISI3D Stainless Steel Nozzle. It comes with 4 nozzles with a 0.4mm diameter.

Stainless Steel is one of the other popular nozzle materials that you’ll see people using. It’s main benefit over the brass nozzles is it’s better wear-resistance.

Though it’s wear resistance is better, it isn’t the best out there.

Stainless Steel nozzles are great at fighting against abrasive filaments and not getting worn down.

They can be frustrating to print with due to their likelihood of heating poorly, reacting to retraction and cooling and may cause more clogging.

Check out my article on how to Unclog & Prevent Clogging in Your 3D Printer.

Usually if you tweak your settings to a good level, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

The main unique property of stainless steel nozzles is their ability to prevent filament covering the nozzle, so it stays cleaner than most other nozzles.

It may look nicer, but I wouldn’t consider a Stainless Steel nozzle as an upgrade unless it’s for abrasive filament.

You can use Stainless Steel nozzles for basically any material.

The other main benefits that Stainless Steel nozzles have over the other nozzles is it’s food-safe and medical-grade properties.

It can safely be used in applications where food will be involved as it has been accepted by the FDA of being food-safe. Other nozzles don’t share this same benefit.

That is it’s main use, it can print with abrasive materials but Hardened Steel is better suited to this.

Hardened Steel

Hardened Steel nozzles are the next step up in wear-resistance compared to Stainless Steel nozzles.

This is simple steel that has been specially treated to be extremely wear-resistant and can last users a year and beyond with heavy use.

You definitely want to be using hardened steel nozzles when you plan to print with abrasive filament.

The way nozzles are manufactured, it’s difficult to get a smooth interior finish, with metals that are harder.

It’s better to have a smooth interior to be able to extrude evenly. That’s where Hardened Steel falls short, but not so much that it won’t give you high quality prints because they definitely can.

Thermal Conductivity

So as previously mentioned, brass has the best thermal conductivity so it makes things easier to print with.

Brass nozzles have the ability to melt filament faster, and at a lower temperature because there is less of a difference in temperature between the nozzle and the thermistor.

The thermal conductivity of Stainless Steel and Hardened Steel isn’t bad, but you may have to adjust your temperature settings to get optimal results.

You can also decrease your cooling fans so your material can harden properly before the next layer is extruded.

After you have your ideal settings, it shouldn’t give you issues but it will take some trial and error.

For example, the Steel nozzles can have a hard time heating up as quickly or retaining the required heat that you want for certain materials.

It’s a good idea to use a highly thermal conductive metal to print higher temperature materials but it isn’t a requirement.

Stainless Steel nozzles fall short when it comes to heat conductivity, to the point where your printing may be affected. The level of abrasion resistance that you get some one of these nozzles is far higher than brass, but is still vulnerable to highly abrasive filaments like carbon fiber.

This is where you want to opt-in for a hardened steel nozzle at a minimum. Not only do they have far higher abrasion-resistance, they have better thermal conductivity too!

The difference in price isn’t something that should put you off, so I would recommend going for a Hardened Steel Nozzle if you plan to print something more exotic, or an abrasive composite filament.

The reason why heat-breaks are made of steel is because of the same reason, steel conducts heat poorly compared to brass.

It basically means it takes longer for the nozzle to get to a high temperature and can have trouble maintaining that constant temperature, especially when you have high printing speeds and cooling fans.

You can sometimes compensate by printing slower, but you may see the negative effects of this lower thermal conductivity through the filament not flowing out as well. You ideally want to use Stainless and Hardened Steel nozzles when necessary rather than as a default.

Durability

When it comes to which nozzle material is the most durable and will last the longest, it goes in the order hardened steel, stainless steel then brass.

Some people have been printing exclusively with hardened steel nozzles and it easily lasts them over a year.

If you don’t like the hassle of constantly changing nozzles after printing with abrasive filaments, it’s definitely a smart move to change to Hardened Steel.

Some users have been using their Hardened Steel nozzle for several spools of Nylon X (very abrasive) and it’s still producing great results after months.

This just goes to show the wear-resistance and durability of these materials.

Just be aware of the possible sacrifices in print performance depending on what materials you are printing.

Typical Stainless Steel nozzles are harder than brass, but it’s much softer than Hardened Steel and more likely to last longer against abrasive filament.

Effects on Print Performance

Many people will assume that a Steel nozzle is going to be superior to a Brass nozzle because it’s a harder, more durable metal that is more commonly used.

If you look into the real reasons why Brass is used, and it’s beneficial properties, you’ll realise that this isn’t necessarily the case.

You do have to keep in mind the possible drop in performance of these nozzles due to the lower thermal conductivity. There is the possibility of a bottleneck where the melting and heating of the plastic inside the nozzle gets blocked up.

In terms of performance, if we compared each type of nozzle material, Brass would take the prize. Stainless Steel is fine when you are printing materials like ABS and PETG.

When comparing performance, it’s hard to say there is a definite benefit that Brass or Steel nozzles have over each other, but there are definitely important factors in play.

For example, when it comes to Steel nozzles you are more likely to get a lower printing speed than with brass because the heat conduction on brass means filament melts faster, meaning higher extrusion speeds.

What Materials You Should Print With

Brass

  • PLA
  • ABS
  • PETG
  • HIPS
  • Nylon
  • TPE

Basically all your normal filaments.

Stainless Steel

  • NylonX
  • Carbon fiber
  • Exotic filaments such as wood-filled, wax-filled or ceramic filled
  • Metal filaments such as steel-filled, iron-filled, or brass-filled
  • Glow-in-the-dark filaments
  • Metal filaments

Hardened Steel

  • Same as Stainless Steel nozzles but better

So Which Nozzle Should I Buy?

3D printer users usually go with brass for their normal activities, Hardened Steel or Plated Copper nozzles.

If you do choose a Hardened Steel nozzle, the last thing you want to do is go for a cheap, clone version. These steel nozzles are a lot more difficult to manufacture than your standard brass nozzles, which is why you have a difference in the price.

Don’t run into easily avoidable printing problems by going the cheap route, as these nozzles are more likely to be poorly manufactured with rough finishes and nozzle holes that aren’t drilled directly in the centre. To avoid the potential extrusion problems you want to opt-in for a genuine E3D nozzle or a well-known trustworthy supplier.

Hardened Steel Nozzle

For your Hardened Steel nozzles, I would recommend GO-3D Hardened Steel Nozzle from Amazon. It’s highly rated, has great quality control and simply gets the job done properly. Don’t waste time and effort trying out cheap, mass produced nozzles.

When it comes to 3D printing, high quality is essential for great, flawless printing, and to minimize frustrations and troubleshooting.

Plated Copper Nozzle

Now one of the nozzles that I haven’t talked about yet is the Geniuine E3D V6 Plated Copper Nozzle, a highly reliable product that does the job very well. With this nozzle you should notice a significant difference in your printing quality and ease of use.

Copper is used because of it’s amazing thermal conductivity, and thrives in events where maintaining a high temperature is essential.

Many people report not having anymore clogs with this nozzle and it comes at a competitive price. One of the best things is how materials are much less likely stick to the nozzle, meaning less maintenance and more time spent printing. It extrudes plastics smoother than your standard brass nozzles.

Micro Swiss Plated Brass Nozzle

A final option that I haven’t yet mentioned is the Micro Swiss Plated Brass Nozzle which is wear-resistant and another version of hardened steel. How this nozzle benefits you is it’s long nozzle life, very hard coating which creates a minimal friction nozzle, and thermal conductive properties from the brass. It’s basically a hybrid which works very well.

Since the surface is smoother on this nozzle, it causes less clogs because materials don’t stick to the surface or to small surface scratches on your nozzle. It’s both a smoother and harder surface which gives a great balance in terms of 3D printing.

Bonus: Tungsten Nozzle

If money isn’t a problem for you and you want to be able to sometimes print abrasive materials without having to switch out nozzles, a Tungsten Nozzle is the best option. The benefits of this nozzle are:

  • It’s long-lasting and very durable that stands up great to most abrasive materials
  • Slick design which significantly reduces wear and tear over time
  • Completely non-toxic and easy to replace current nozzle
  • Manufacturing based in the US
  • Heats up well compared to most hard nozzles and can last years if you print non-abrasive materials

As you can see, there are many choices to picking a nozzle for your 3D printer, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Some are used for specific materials, others are used as a general nozzle to print most materials. Once you have that figured out, picking a nozzle is pretty simple.

I hope you learned a good amount about the differences between these nozzle materials, enough to help you make a good choice about what to print with. If you’re interested in more information, check out this article about How Often You Should Change Your Nozzle or 25 Best 3D Printer Upgrades You Can Do.

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