Using support material for your 3D prints is a great way to improve your capabilities, but many people wonder what the best support materials are for 3D printing. I wrote this article to provide people with some simple answers to help you understand it better.
For the best soluble support materials, you want to be using either PVA filament or HIPS filament. PVA dissolves in water and is usually used with filament like PLA, PETG & TPU. HIPS dissolves in D-Limonene and is usually used with filament like ABS & Nylon.
Keep on reading for some of the best support materials, how to use them properly like the professionals, and other important information.
Best Soluble Support Materials for 3D Printing
PVA Filament for Support Materials
PVA or Polyvinyl Alcohol is a filament widely used for support materials to accompany other filaments like PLA and PETG.
This is a support material which is popular in the 3D printing community because it easily dissolves in water, and works great with PLA.
The reason why these soluble support materials are used is mainly because with some objects, it’s almost impossible to remove supports manually due to the the complex geometry and inner design of an object.
For example, if you are printing some kind of curved tubing or double-helix shape, there needs to be supports inside the tube, but removing supports from a curved tube would be very hard to do.
This is where your soluble supports come in, which can be left in a liquid over time, then when you come back to it, you have a 3D print which has its supports removed cleanly.
Supports that use the same material, like PLA supports for a PLA print would simply clog up the model. Using no supports whatsoever would lead to heavy sagging and drooping of the print.
HIPS Filament for Support Materials
HIPS or High-Impact Polystyrene is a filament which is used for higher temperature filaments like ABS and Nylon to produce support materials with dual extruder 3D printers.
Rather than dissolve in water like PVA, HIPS dissolves with a chemical called D-Limonene
When you have ABS prints that have complex structures, HIPS is a great combination to go with it.
Some people still use HIPS for PLA in some cases with a bed temperature of around 60°C, though it doesn’t adhere as well as with ABS so you are more likely to run into printing issues.
The main reason why people don’t usually use HIPS for PLA is because of the temperature differential.
The problem is that PVA is pretty expensive compared to your regular filament like PLA or ABS, coming in at around $80/Kg, but HIPS comes in at a more reasonable price of around $20-$25/Kg, similar to PLA and ABS.
The great thing about HIPS that people don’t realize is just how lightweight of a material is, meaning you are getting more for your money when you look at it in terms of weight.
HIPS is a pretty stiff material and can be used for normal 3D printed objects. Some people even take it as an alternative to materials like PETG or PLA, and another great thing is how it can be smoothed with D-Limonene, similar to ABS smoothing.
In terms of moisture absorption, or being hygroscopic, HIPS isn’t as hygroscopic as PVA, meaning it lasts longer when you remove it from the vacuum-sealed packaging for 3D printing.
- Best Support Material for PLA – PVA
- Best Support Material for ABS – HIPS
- Best Support Material for PETG – PVA
- Best Support Material for TPU – PVA
- Best Support Material for Nylon – HIPS
Best PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol) Filament for Supports
If you are looking for some of the best PVA filament out there for your supports, you’ll want to go for the AnKun PVA Filament 0.5KG Spool from Amazon.
The best thing about this is the high performance that you’ll get due to the clog-free and bubble-free attributes that you can expect. It is tightly wound, leading to a smooth feeding through to your 3D printer.
Each spool of filament comes vacuum sealed with desiccant to remove any moisture from within the packaging, since wet filament doesn’t print very good.
For this PVA, you’ll want to use a printing temperature of around 160-180°C and a bed temperature of 50-80°C
One user mentioned how it dissolves a lot better than other brands of PVA they have tried out, and comes off cleaner also.
PVA goes in perfect combination with PLA since it adheres very well to it, but not with ABS filament.
Fused Materials is a lesser known brand but comes out with quality filament that you can 3D print with nicely.
As you know, it’s a water-soluble filament that you can easily use with a good dual extruder 3D printer to provide a nice foundation for support structures. This filament has a good dimensional accuracy of ±0.03mm.
It’s optimal for your PLA material, but it can also work with a variety of other materials. PVA prints at a pretty low temperature at around 190-220°C and a bed temperature of 60℃.
You usually want to print at a speed of around 30mm/s, a flow rate of 110%, whichever fan speed you use for your PLA, and a zero Z-gap within Cura. Make sure your PVA storage is not in a humid environment because it can absorb water quickly.
A great storage solution for your PVA filament is the SUNLU Dry Box Filament, something that can hold your filament and dry it while it’s printing. It’s also great to dry your other filaments when they have collected moisture over time.
They are becoming really popular nowadays, so pick up your own from Amazon!
How Do You Use & Dissolve PVA Filament?
The first thing you’ll need to use PVA as a support material is a dual extruder 3D printer, and your chosen slicer software such as Cura or PrusaSlicer.
Many people wonder, does PVA stick to PLA? The general answer is that PVA sticks to PLA and many other filaments efficiently but it may cause problems when it comes to using ABS. HIPS filament is the best support material to be used with ABS filament.
PVA has the ability to provide supports starting from the bottom to each tiny part of the 3D model. The procedure to dissolve the PVA filament is as follows:
- Place your completed 3D print model in a container full of water.
- Once the PVA is dissolved completely in the water, take the model out.
- Rinse the model properly with fresh water to ensure that there is no PVA residue left behind.
- Before you move forward to the additional post-processing, ideally let your print model air dry.
- Dispose of the PVA dissolved water.
The best thing about dissolving PVA filament is that you don’t need any harmful chemicals for post-processing as the supports will be dissolved completely in simple tap water.
As the water doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals you can throw it without any hassle but it is recommended to review your local regulations.
To dispose of the water, simply pour the water into your drain and after that, run hot water for less than a minute.
Best HIPS (High-Impact Polystyrene) Filament for Supports
HIPS works very well with ABS since they have similar printing characteristics, as well as comparable strength and durability. You’ll want to go with the Gizmo Dorks HIPS Filament from Amazon for a great brand that delivers quality.
This filament requires a printing temperature of 230-250°C and a bed temperature of 110°C.
HIPS in general does tend to warp quite a bit so it’s probably best not to use it as a material by itself. Many users describe how well it works for providing a nice stable support which can later be dissolved.
The level of adhesion has mixed results, with some saying the adhesion is great, and others saying it’s kind of weak. In many cases, the supports break away cleanly, then you can remove the remnants by dissolving it with the correct liquid solution.
Another filament that people have had good success with is the KODAK HIPS Filament from Amazon. It has great customer satisfaction overall, where they make sure the filament is delivered with a vacuum resealable ziploc bag with silica gel.
This provides extra protection against humidity and dust. It’s compatible for most 3D printers out there and as a company, they provide onlinne support direct through Amazon or their support center.
You’re getting a filament with low-moisture, high dimensional accuracy, and low-clogging. One user mentioned that they are running prints lasting up to 120 hours at a time, and not experiencing any issues.
Some users have had issues but once you dial in your settings and level your bed, you should be good for printing successfully.
How Do You Use & Dissolve HIPS Filament?
In order to dissolve the HIPS supports from your print, you need Undiluted di-Limonene. It is recommended to read the instructions to handle the liquid and get the job done with complete safety. Wearing gloves should be your first step.
- Pour some Undiluted di-Limonene in a safe glass container.
- Put your 3D model in the container and let it sit in the liquid submerged until all supports are weakened or dissolved completely
- Take out your print from the container.
- Rinse the print thoroughly and let it sit to air dry.
- Dispose of the HIPS filament dissolved water as per the instructions written on the box of Undiluted di-Limonene box.
Since this stuff can be pretty expensive, it’s a good idea to put your 3D printed part in the D-Limonene long enough so the supports soften and you can pull away the supports afterwards.
Blubonic D-Limonene High Purity Solvent from Amazon is one of the best choices for your HIPS filament. It’s got great reviews, with a few people mentioning it’s use specifically for 3D printing.
They say that leaving the 3D prints in a D-Limonene bath will leave your 3D prints behind with just the main material that you printed with. It works well and also smells great!
When printing using an FDM 3D printer, sometimes there are issues with objects with large overhangs or bridging. This is where printing with a dissolvable material such as HIPS filament really shines.
Best Support Material Pattern for 3D Printing
Support patterns determine the strength and ease of removing the supports from the print model, once it is completed. The pattern should be done with a creative mind because this can make your printing and post-processing much easier.
In Cura, you have the option to choose the following support patterns:
You want to use a support material pattern like Lines, Triangles or Gyroid depending on the shape of your model. It’s important to view how your model’s supports look through the preview feature of your slicer.
The spacing of the supports is important, because the more space there is in between your supports, the easier it will be to remove afterwards.
The Gyroid support pattern should make things easier to remove, but you have to balance the amount of support it gives yout model. Generally speaking, the Gyroid pattern requires less of an infill density to work due to its 3D nature.
For complex models that require a good amount of support, the Triangles or Grid pattern can work well, but for simpler models, Lines or Gyroid at a lower Support Density percentage should work pretty well.
Using tree supports in the “Experimental” section of Cura can be really useful as a way to create easy-to-remove supports. Trial and error is going to be the best solution to get your settings just how you want them.