The type of filament you choose affects the quality of your 3D prints. However, with several filament options in the market, it isn’t easy to pick the right one. I wrote this article to walk you through selecting the best filament for your 3D printer.
To choose filament for your 3D printer, you need to learn the types available, figure out what filament your 3D printer can handle, and determine which one will be easier to print. After that, choose a reputable filament/brand for quality and explore the color options available.
This is just an overview of what you need to do to choose filament for your 3D printer. Stick around as I dive into the details.
How to Choose Filament for a 3D Printer
Here are the main things you should do when choosing a suitable filament for your 3D printer.
- Learn about the available filament types and their material properties
- Figure out which filaments your 3D printer can print
- Determine which filament will be easier to print
- Choose a reputable filament/ brand for quality
- Weigh the prices of different filaments against your budget
- Explore the different color options
1. Learn About the Available Filament Types and Their Material Properties
The first thing you need to do is learn about the filament types available in the market. Some include PLA, PETG, ABS, TPU, and nylon.
All these filaments differ in strength, flexibility, heat resistance, UV resistance, durability, and other material properties.
One user said he wanted to know the properties of different materials from someone with hands-on filaments experience. Another user gave this detailed breakdown:
This filament is great for things that need to look good and bad for structural/functional parts. It can easily deform when left in a hot car. Its properties include:
- Stiff but brittle and performs well when loaded constantly.
- Shatters when it breaks
- Prints easily
- Doesn’t warp as much as some filaments
- Has low printing temperatures
- Poor heat resistance
These materials print just as nicely as PLA, although they are still not as good as PETG when it comes to making functional parts. Its properties include:
- More resilient than regular PLA
- Higher impact resistance
- Higher heat resistance than regular PLA
This filament is good for functional parts and rarely sags or deforms when left in a hot car. It was the user’s personal favorite material. Its properties include:
- Less stiff
- Bends/ deforms when it breaks
- More impact resistance
- Good chemical resistance
Although this material is a bit better than PETG in terms of functional properties, it is harder to print and requires an enclosure. Its properties include:
- More impact resistance than PETG
- Stronger than PETG
- More heat resistant
It is also important to consider the project you want to undertake and if the material properties of the filament you choose will satisfy its needs. Some examples of projects and the filaments that would be suitable based on their material properties include:
- Mechanical parts or functional prototypes: You will need a filament with good strength, temperature resistance, and durability. In such a case, materials such as ABS and nylon may be more suitable due to their good resistance to wear and tear.
- Artistic projects: PLA may be more suitable because it is easy to print and is available in a wide range of vibrant colors. Some models that PLA would work great for include sculptures and figurines.
- Wearable Accessories: TPU filaments are soft and flexible, making them suitable for wearable accessories that come into contact with the skin.
- Outdoor Signage: You might require ASA as it can withstand exposure to sunlight and heat without degrading significantly.
Another user gave this table as his go-to resource when choosing between different types of filament based on their material properties and intended use: Prusa Material Table.
This video by CNC Kitchen compares different 3D printing materials based on their properties.
2. Figure Out Which Filaments Your 3D Printer Can Print
After learning about the different filament types, you should determine which filament your printer is compatible with. This is because different filament sizes are available in the market, mainly 1.75mm and 2.85mm (3mm).
You should ensure that the filament you pick has a diameter that matches the size of your 3D printer’s nozzle. Using a filament size incompatible with your nozzle can lead to poor extrusion, ruining the quality of your prints.
Check your manufacturer’s guidelines or ask around in 3D printing communities for information on whether the filament you want to buy is compatible with the specific 3D printer model that you own.
Additionally, some 3D printers may require extra modifications and components to print certain types of filament, which can drive up your 3D printing costs. In such cases, you may opt for a filament that prints easier.
One user said that the Jarees PLA+ had been killing it in two of his Ender 3s with very little stringing and great adhesion to his glass bed and PEI metal sheet. He printed at 220°C with both 0.4mm and 0.6mm nozzles with no issue.
Another user who planned to buy his first 3D printer, an Ender 3, wanted to know which filament to start with. Somebody advised him to research if his printer could print certain materials because some filaments are more abrasive.
A good example is filaments with additive particles (glow-in-the-dark, wood, carbon fiber, etc.), which works better with a hardened steel nozzle.
Another user said that some filaments, e.g., PEEK, require very high temperatures, a temperature-controlled, heated enclosure, and a printer with components that can withstand high temperatures to print.
He added that printing flexible filaments like TPU would be better with a direct drive extruder for correct handling. For example, printing with TPU on an Ender 3 can be tricky unless you upgrade to a Direct Drive extruder from the stock Bowden extruders.
This Creality Ender 3 Direct Drive Extruder is available on Amazon.
Check out this video by Technivorous 3d Printing that explains the different types of filaments and what they are suited for.
3. Determine Which Filament Will Be Easier to Print
When choosing filament, it is important to consider the ease of use. This is because all filaments have different printing requirements. Some may require fewer adjustments to the printer settings and configurations.
PLA, for example, doesn’t warp easily, meaning it won’t detach from the print bed, leading to more successful prints. Additionally, it doesn’t require a heated bed.
Others, like ABS, may require a heated enclosure and a heated bed to print successfully. PETG, on the other hand, may require you to increase retraction and dry the filament to reduce stringing.
If you are a beginner, you should pick a filament like PLA, which is easier to print and more forgiving. After gaining some experience, you can begin experimenting with more filaments like ABS or TPU, which are more challenging to print and require more specific printer adjustments.
Several users regarded PLA as the easiest filament to work with and the most suitable for beginners because it prints at moderate temperatures and doesn’t always need a heated bed. On top of that, it doesn’t absorb moisture rapidly.
4. Choose a Reputable Filament/Brand for Quality
Another thing you want to do while choosing filament is to pick a 3D printer filament from a reputable brand. This will directly affect your print results and overall user experience.
Trusted brands are more likely to provide quality filament with fewer impurities and great performance. They also give you accurate information about their filaments and how to print them.
Additionally, choosing an established brand ensures you get great customer support and other online resources to make your 3D printing experience smoother.
Although low-quality filaments from no-name brands are cheaper and more readily available, they usually have a lot of impurities that can clog your nozzle and cause visible defects in your prints.
One user said there was no reason to be a devotee of any brand because many reputable brands produce quality products. Among them were:
He added that Printed Solid, Protopasta, and FormFutura were great brands. However, getting a local store that sells filament and allows you to see the colors and textures in person before you buy the roll would help you make a better buying decision.
Another user said that when picking a brand of filament, you should first consider if its supply is reliable. He couldn’t purchase Bambu or Sunlu at the time because their stores were often depleted in the EU.
Second, do they have enough choices for your need? For the user, he always went with eSUN when he wanted Matte or Silk PLA. This is because their range of colors and price combination suited him.
Whenever he wanted PETG, he checked Geeetech on AliExpress because it was cheap and rarely out of stock.
A user said that he uses Polyterra from Polymaker regularly since it was affordable, and had no issues with it. He also used eSUN and Sunlu with his P1P without issue. The only filament that had an issue on the initial layers was Elegoo Matte Black PLA because he messed up some settings.
5. Weigh the Prices of Different Filaments Against Your Budget
Before choosing a 3D printer filament, you should always have a budget beforehand. This is because filament prices vary widely based on the material type, brand, quality, and additional features.
Some filaments, such as PLA, are generally cheaper, making them a cost-effective option for people on a tight budget. On the other hand, specialty filaments such as carbon-fiber infused or conductive filaments of their special properties.
Although many people might opt for cheaper filaments, you should weigh between quality and price. Investing in a higher-priced filament from a reputable brand might be better for better print results.
One user said that when it came to the quality vs. price debate when picking filament to use, he would rather pay a bit more to get consistent print quality so he didn’t have to do a lot of calibration between rolls.
He added that he tried to stick to $25-35 per kg rolls and didn’t consider specialty filaments which cost $60 per kg, even though their quality was superb.
Additionally, he bought a few $15 or fewer rolls on the side for prints where quality wasn’t that important (likely in darker colors to hide imperfections). However, if these cheap filaments caused nozzle jams, he wouldn’t use them.
Another user said Geeetech PLA was your go-to brand if you wanted cheap filament.
You can easily find the Geeetech 1.75mm PLA on Amazon.
6. Explore the Different Color Options
Finally, it would be best to explore the different color options as it plays a big role in determining how your end product will look. The most common filament color options that are available across different filament types and brands include:
- White – White is used widely for different types of 3D prints, from artistic projects, prototypes to functional parts.
- Gray – Gray is a neutral option suitable for architectural models, mechanical parts, prototypes, and custom tools. Using gray filament lets you focus on the detail without being distracted by the color.
- Red – Red is a vibrant and attractive color often used for decorative prints.
- Black – Black is a versatile color that can be used for functional tools such as holders and brackets because its neutral color makes you focus on the tool’s usability.
- Blue – Another vibrant color that you can use for various projects, such as toys and prototypes, is blue.
- Green – Most people who use green filaments 3D print nature-inspired designs. Green is also a popular color for game accessories, plant vases, and other decorative pieces.
- Clear – Transparent filaments are mostly used for creating objects with a see-through or glass-like appearance.
Additionally, you have composite or blended filaments that combine different types of materials to create a unique visual appearance and properties.
These filaments are generally more expensive. Here are some examples:
- Wood-fill filament – This filament usually gives the printed object a wood-like appearance. You can use them for projects that require a natural or rustic look.
- Metal-fill filament – This filament gives the print a metallic finish. You can use it to create objects like jewelry and mechanical parts.
- Glow-in-the-dark filament – This filament contains material that absorbs light and emits it in the dark. It is great for creating objects for Halloween or objects that need to be visible in the dark.
One user wanted to know what filament to use with his new 3D printer. He was advised to buy 1kg of white and black spools and one crazy color like flashy green or blue for some variety.
This is because black and white spools are great for general uses around the house, while the crazy colors can create more artistic and attractive stuff.
The user then went for 1kg gray PLA and 0.5kg light blue spool. He said gray was great for unpainted stuff like minis and dungeon tiles and for painting over with a base coat. As for the light blue, he mostly used it for prototyping ideas and upgrading his 3D printer.
Another user said it was a good idea to choose a color like light yellow or orange for your first batch of filament. It becomes easier to spot any problems with first-layer adhesion because the first layer will usually be very slightly transparent.
In this video, WingMan_Nate discusses what he looks at before buying filament.