If you are wondering whether the Ender 3 or other 3D printers can 3D print metal or wood, you are not alone. This is a question that several people wonder after getting more interested in the field, which I decided to answer in this article.
The Ender 3 can’t print pure wood or metal, but wood & metal-infused PLA is a widely used material that can be 3D printed on the Ender 3. They are not substitutes. There are 3D printers that specialize in 3D printing metal, but these are a lot more expensive and can cost $10,000 – $40,000.
The rest of this article will go into some more details about 3D printing metal & wood-infused filament, as well as some info on metal 3D printers, so stick around until the end.
Can 3D Printers & the Ender 3 3D Print Metal & Wood?
Specialized 3D printers can print metal with a technology called Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), but this doesn’t include the Ender 3. No 3D printers can currently 3D print pure wood, though there are hybrids of PLA that are mixed with wood grains, giving the look and even smell of wood when 3D printed.
In order to get a 3D printer to print with metal, you’re going to need to spend a good amount of money on an SLS 3D printer, a budget one usually being in the price range of $10,000-$40,000.
You’ll then need to learn how to properly operate the printer and purchase other parts, as well as the material itself which is a metal powder. It can get pretty expensive and definitely not recommended for the average hobbyists at home.
The Sinterit Lisa on 3DPrima costs around $12,000 and has a build volume of just 150 x 200 x 150mm. It provides users a way of producing truly functional parts with great dimensional accuracy and amazing detail.
Another part called the Sandblaster is designed for cleaning, polishing, and finishing the prints from an SLS 3D printer. It uses abrasive material and compressed air to penetrate the exterior of your model to really bring out the details.
The powder looks like it goes for around $165 per kg, according to the prices on 3DPrima, coming in 2 kg batches.
If you want a better idea on what SLS is and how it works, I’ll link a video further below under the Cheapest Metal 3D Printer heading.
Moving on to wood, we can’t 3D print pure wood due to the way wood reacts to those high heats needed to extrude it, since it would burn rather than melt.
There are special composite filaments though that actually have PLA plastic mixed with wood grains, known as wood-infused PLA.
They have many properties similar to wood such as the looks, and even the smell, but with close inspection you can sometimes tell that it’s not pure wood. The models I’ve seen printed in wood look fantastic though.
In the next section, we will discover essential information about Metal-Infused & Wood-Infused PLA Filament.
What is Metal-Infused & Wood-Infused PLA Filament?
Metal-infused filament is a hybrid of PLA and metal powder usually in the form of carbon, stainless steel or copper. Carbon fiber PLA is very popular due to its durability and strength. Wood-infused filament is a hybrid of PLA and wood powder, and looks a lot like wood.
These metal and wood-infused PLA filaments are usually more expensive than your regular PLA, coming in at maybe a 25% increase or more in the price. Regular PLA goes for around $20 per kg, while these hybrids go for $25 and upwards for 1 kg.
These filaments can get quite abrasive to your standard brass nozzles, especially carbon fiber filament, so it’s a good idea to invest in a set of hardened steel nozzles.
I wrote an article you can check out called 3D Printer Nozzle – Brass Vs Stainless Steel Vs Hardened Steel which gives a good insight into the differences between the three main nozzle types.
MGChemicals Wood 3D Printer Filament is a great choice for getting some high quality wood filament, which can be bought from Amazon at a respectable price.
It is a blend of Polylactic Acid (PLA) and wood particles, having a blend of 80% PLA and 20% wood according to the MSDS.
Wood filament has mixes anywhere from 10% wood up to 40% wood, though the higher percentages are likely to give more problems such as clogging and stringing, so that 20% mark is a great point to be at.
Some wood filament actually has a slight wood burning smell while printing! Post-processing your wood prints is a great idea, where you can stain it just like pure wood, making it really look the part.
Now let’s look at some Carbon Fiber filament that is popular in the 3D printing community.
A great Carbon Fiber filament to go for is the PRILINE Carbon Fiber Polycarbonate Filament, which is a blend of Polycarbonate filament (very strong) and Carbon Fiber.
Although this filament is more expensive than usual, if you ever desired a really strong 3D print that can hold up against a lot of impact and damage, this is an amazing choice. It reportedly has an estimated 5-10% of Carbon Fiber strands throughout, not powder like other hybrids.
This filament has many benefits such as:
- Great dimensional accuracy and warp-free printing
- Excellent layer adhesion
- Easy support removal
- Really high heat tolerance, great for functional outdoor prints
- Very high strength-to-weight ratio.
Can You 3D Print Metal From Home?
You can definitely 3D print metal from home, but you’ll have to spend a lot of money, not only on the SLS 3D printer, but the accessories that it requires, as well as the expensive 3D printing metal powders. Metal 3D printing usually requires printing, washing, then sintering which means more machines.
There are actually many types of metal 3D printing technologies out there, each having their own unique requirements, characteristics, and functionalities.
PBF or Powder Bed Fusion is a metal 3D printing technology which lays out the metal powder layer by layer, then fuses it together with an extremely hot source of heat.
The main type of metal 3D printing is a complicated process that requires a gas supply system which has integrated nitrogen or argon in the print chamber to get rid of atmospheric air.
An oxygen free environment allows you to use many of the SLS powders out there on the market such as Onyx PA 11 Polyamide, a better alternative to the standard PA 12.
One Click Metal is a company working on affordable metal 3D printers which don’t require the three machines, and can work with just one.
You can use the 3D prints straight out of the 3D printer without the need for sintering or debinding after the process. It’s a very large machine as you can see, so it’s not exactly going to be able to fit in a regular office, but it’s definitely possible.
The way technology has been developing recently means that we are getting closer and closer to a metal 3D printing solution, though many patents and other obstacles have been getting in the way of this.
As demand for metal 3D printing rises, we will start to see more manufacturers getting into the market, resulting in cheaper metal printers that we can make use of.
What is the Cheapest Metal 3D Printer?
One of the cheapest metal 3D printers out on the market is the iRo3d which goes for around $7,000 for the Model C, using a Selective Powder Deposition technology (SPD). It can produce several types of metal prints with a layer height of just 0.1mm and has a build volume of 280 x 275 x 110mm.
The video below is how it looks and operates, a really impressive creation.
You can purchase this 3D printer by going to their website and emailing iro3d for a direct order, though they have been looking for a manufacturer to produce and distribute this model.
This technology is amazing in the fact that it doesn’t reduce the strength of the metal in any way, has no shrinkage whatsoever, and can produce prints in around 24 hours.
The post-processing required can mean you need a kiln or furnace to bake the 3D print.
A new pottery kiln can cost you around $1,000 or even a used one can set you back a few hundred dollars. We would need to get up to temperatures of over 1,000°C, so it’s definitely not a simple project.
What Types of Metal Can Be 3D Printed?
The types of metal that can be 3D printed are:
- Tungsten Carbide
- Maraging Steel
- Boron Carbide
- Silicon Carbide
- Stainless Steel
- Cobalt Chrome
Stainless Steel has the properties of corrosion resistance and high strength. Many industries and manufacturers are using stainless Steel for 3D printing.
Stainless Steel is widely used in Medical, Aerospace, and Engineering applications, including prototypes, because of the hardness and strength it provides. They are also suitable for small series products and spare parts.
Cobalt Chrome is a temperature resistance and corrosion-resistant metal. It is mainly used for engineering applications like turbines, medical implants.
Maraging Steel is an easily machinable metal with good thermal conductivity. The effective use of Maraging Steel is for the series of injection molding, and Aluminum die casting.
Aluminum is a typical casting alloy that is of low weight and has good thermal properties in it. You can use Aluminum for Automotive purposes.
Nickel Alloy is a Heat and Corrosion Resistant metal and is widely used for turbines, Rockets, and Aerospace.
Is 3D Printed Metal Strong?
Metal parts that are 3D printed don’t usually lose their strength, especially with the Selective Powder Deposition technology. You can actually increase the strength of metal 3D printed parts by using unique inner cell wall structures down to the micron scale.
It works through a computer-controlled process and can result in preventing common issues like fractures. With the improvements in research and development into metal 3D printing, I’m sure 3D printed metal will only continue to get stronger.
You can even build strong metal parts by using chemistry as your strategy, using the right amount of oxygen in Titanium to improve the object with strength and impact-resistance.