Can You 3D Print Rubber Parts? How to 3D Print Rubber Tires


Many people wonder whether they can 3D print rubber parts on a 3D printer like an Ender 3, so I decided to write an article answering this question.

Keep on reading for more details about 3D printing rubber parts. I’ll talk about whether you can 3D print certain 3D prints, then talk about 3D printing rubber tires.

Can You 3D Print Rubber Parts?

Yes, you can 3D print rubber parts using materials like TPU, TPE, and even flexible resins. These are more so rubber-like parts but not made from actual rubber. Many people have 3D printed rubber-like parts like phone cases, handles, rubber bearings, holders, shoes, gaskets, door stops, and much more.

One user whose kitchen drawers wouldn’t close properly after 20 years of use found that the rubber bearings had disintegrated. He managed to 3D print some replacement rubber bearings with flexible filament and they work well.

If he had paid the price for replacement sliders, it would have been $40 each, versus a few cents of filament and just 10 minutes of printing time.

Another user even 3D printed a replacement handle for his suitcase. The modeling did take a while though because of all of the curves, saying it was about 15 hours or so. He found it to be a fun project to do so decided the time investment was worth it in the end.

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Can You 3D Print Rubber Stamps

Yes, you can 3D print rubber stamps using flexible filaments like TPU. Users recommend using NinjaTek NinjaFlex TPU Filament to 3D print rubber stamps and similar items. You can use the ironing setting in your slicer to improve the top surfaces of your rubber stamps. You can emboss objects nicely with these stamps.

One user of NinjaFlex filament said they are a great replacement for rubber parts. The good thing about TPU filament is how it’s not too hygroscopic so it doesn’t absorb water from the environment easily, though it can still be worth drying it for the best results.

Another user said he prints roll after roll of this filament for a production run of small rubber parts. He’s used around 40 rolls of this filament in the past 2 months without complaints.

Check out the video below to see some cool 3D printed rubber stamps that were printed with NinjaFlex TPU.

Can You 3D Print Rubber Gaskets

Yes, you can 3D print rubber gaskets successfully.  Many users have tested making rubber gaskets with TPU and had no problems with its heat resistance and overall durability. They say there isn’t a reaction between gasoline and TPU so it may be able to really work as a long-term replacement.

You can see some great examples in the pictures below.

Testing 3D printed TPU gaskets from 3Dprinting

You can also check the video below for a nice explanation and visual of the process by the same user.

Can You 3D Print a Rubber Band Gun

Yes, you can 3D print a rubber band gun. To 3D print a rubber band gun, all you need are the 3D files of its parts and a 3D printer. After 3D printing the parts, you can assemble them to form the rubber band gun.

Check out the video below to see a 3D printed WW3D 1911R Rubber Band Gun (purchasable from Cults3D), with no need to assemble parts before use. I’d suggest 3D printing a rubber band gun in bright colors such as orange or neon, to avoid them being mistaken for real guns.

You can also get a free version like this 3D Printed Rubber Band Gun from Thingiverse, but this one does require assembly. There’s also a video to go long with it if you want to check that out.

Can You 3D Print Silicone on an Ender 3?

No, you cannot 3D print silicone on an Ender 3. Silicone 3D printing is still in its infancy and some specialized machines have the capabilities, but not the Ender 3. You can 3D print silicone mold casts on an Ender 3 though.

How to 3D Print Rubber Tires – RC Tires

To 3D print rubber tires, you will need:

  1. STL file of a tire
  2. TPU filament
  3. 3D printer

You should consider getting NinjaTek NinjaFlex TPU filaments for printing rubber tires as they are flexible, durable, don’t require a high bed temperature, and are generally easier to print compared to other flexible filaments.

You should also take note that a 3D printer with a direct drive extruder is generally preferred over one with a Bowden drive extruder when printing with flexible filaments since there is less movement needed to get to the nozzle.

Here are the steps for 3D printing rubber tires:

  1. Download the 3D file for the tire
  2. Insert your flexible TPU filament
  3. Import the tire 3D file to your chosen slicer
  4. Input slicer settings
  5. Slice and export the file to your USB stick
  6. Insert the USB into your 3D printer and begin the print
  7. Remove the print and do post-processing

1. Download or Design STL File for the Tire

You can download the 3D file of the model. There are many free resources on the internet where you can get free 3D files of tires. You can check out these tire STL files:

Check out the video below to see a visual of 3D printing custom wheels and tires. He used this great collection from SlowlysModels on Cults3D.

2. Insert Your Flexible TPU Filament

Attach the filament to a spool and mount it on the spool holder of your3D printer. If your filament has been left out, you might want to dry it using a filament dryer.

As some flexible filaments absorb moisture from the environment, dry the filament for 4-5 hours in a home oven set to 45°–60°C. This removal of moisture reduces stringing when printing with the filament.

I recommend going with the SUNLU Filament Dryer from Amazon. It has worked successfully for many users to dry their filament easily.

3. Import the Tire 3D File to Your Chosen Slicer

The next step is to import the STL file to your chosen slicer, whether it’s Cura, PrusaSlicer, or Lychee Slicer. These are what process your models so they can direct the 3D printer on what to do to create the model.

Importing a model into a slicer is a fairly easy process. To import the tire model into the Cura slicing software:

  1. Download Cura
  2. Click on “File” > “Open Files” or the folder icon located in the top-left corner of the slicer’s window.
  3. Select the tire STL file from your computer.
  4. Click “Open” and the file will be imported into the slicer

For most slicer, this process is often self indicative but you can check your slicer’s manual for more information.

4. Input Slicer Settings

  • Printing & Bed Temperature
  • Print Speed
  • Retraction Distance & Speed
  • Infill

Printing & Bed Temperature

Set the printing temperature of the imported tire model to a value between 225 and 250°C in the slicer’s print settings.

There is no single value for printing TPU as the printing temperature depends on the brand of TPU filament, your 3D printer, and printing environment.

For example, NinjaTek recommends a temperature range of 225–250°C for its NinjaFlex TPU, MatterHackers recommends a temperature range of 220–240°C for its Pro Series TPU, and Polymaker recommends a temperature range of 210–230°C for its PolyFlex TPU.

I always recommend users to 3D print a temperature tower to find out the optimal printing temperatures for your filaments. Check out the video below to learn how to do this.

Most TPU filaments can be printed without a bed temperature, but if you decide to use a bed temperature, choose a bed temperature between 30 and 60°C.

Print Speed

With TPU, it’s usually recommended to slow down the printing speed. It does depend on what 3D printer you have, as well as the type of TPU you are using but the usual print speed falls between 15-30mm/s.

Since TPU is an elastic material, it can get difficult to print it at higher speeds, especially when there are sudden changes in movement.

You can do some of your own testing to see what works, making sure to start at the low end of 15-20mm/s and working your way up.

Retraction Distance & Speed

It’s recommended that you start off printing TPU with the retraction setting disabled. After you dial in other settings such as print speed, flow rate and temperature, you can start to use small retractions to reduce stringing in your 3D prints.

The ideal retraction settings for TPU is usually between 0.5-2mm for Retraction Distance and 10-20mm/s for Retraction Speed.

You can even 3D print a Retraction Tower to see how different retraction settings help with stringing and print quality. Check out the video below to see how to create one in Cura.

Infill

The Gyroid infill pattern is usually recommended for 3D printing TPU parts because it has springy, wavy shape to it. Other popular choices are Cross and Cross3D since they absorb pressure equally and softly.

In terms of infill density, you can get some pretty cool models using a 0% infill. If the model does require infill to 3D print and support the inside, you can use 10-25% with success.

For a tire specifically, you might want to go with around 20% infill. Setting the infill high might make the tire too rigid.

The infill pattern does also come into play when deciding the infill percentage because it has an effect on how much infill will be inside.

Squishy TPU toy (0% infill) from 3Dprinting

 

5. Slice and Export the File to Your USB Stick

Once you have done all the settings and design, you can then slice the tire STL file into a file containing instructions that can be understood and interpreted by the 3D printer.

Simple click “Slice” on the bottom right of Cura and you’ll see a printing time estimate.

After slicing the 3D model file, simply save the file on your computer and copy it to a USB stick or memory card, or save it directly to the USB from the slicer by clicking “Save to removable drive”.

Remember to give the model a name you’ll recognize.

6. Insert the USB into Your 3D Printer and Begin the Print

Safely remove the USB from your computer and insert it into your 3D printer. Find the file name you save it as and start printing the model.

7. Remove the Print and Post-Process

Remove the model by either using a spatula, or flexing the build plate if you have that type of bed. You might have some strings on the tire model, so you can get rid of them using something like a hair dryer, or something that can heat up similarly.

Some people even recommend using a lighter or blow torch to do this. Trying to sand TPU models can be difficult since it is elastic in nature.

Check out this video where TPU tires were printed for remote controlled cars.

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