How to 3D Print Polycarbonate Like A Pro – Ultimate Guide & FAQ

Polycarbonate filaments are the top choice for 3D printing enthusiasts who need that extra strength and performance from their prints. However, printing with Polycarbonate filaments can be quite tricky for most users, especially beginners.

If you’re one of those users, don’t worry, I’m here to help. All you have to do is follow my tips, and with some practice, you’ll be on your way to getting top-notch prints.

To print Polycarbonate, you should use a nozzle temperature between 260-310⁰C, while using a bed temperature between 90-120⁰C. You’ll also want to print it nice and slow at a speed of about 20-40mm/s.

In addition to all these, you’ll need an enclosed build space. The build space should be capable of maintaining a temperature of about 60-70⁰C during printing.

That’s just the short answer. In this article, I’ve written a more in-depth guide on how to print Polycarbonate filament. I’ve also answered some of the most common questions asked by users about the process.

So, stick around, and you’ll be printing Polycarbonate models like a pro in no time at all.

What is Polycarbonate Filament?

Polycarbonate is a popular family of high-performance thermoplastic polymers, well known for their durability and toughness. They are also renowned for properties such as their lightweight structure, heat resistance, transparency, and dimensional stability, to mention a few.

In addition, they are also a favorite of manufacturers because they are relatively cheap and easy to form. Thanks to these attributes, we can find several uses of Polycarbonates in many industries.

Popular polycarbonate applications include simple household products like water dispensers, phone cases, and food containers. In addition, they are also found in high-strength products like safety glasses, car body parts, and even bulletproof glass.

Although Polycarbonate 3D filaments contain some additives, they still retain the impressive properties Polycarbonates are known for. These additives enable them to be printed on desktop printers at a lower temperature.

3D printed Polycarbonate models have a high glass transition temperature of 150⁰C and are also heat-resistant up to temperatures of 115⁰C.

Although this opens up many new applications for 3D printed polycarbonate parts, it also results in a relatively high printing temperature.

Furthermore, the filaments are also hygroscopic, which means they can absorb water from the atmosphere. The moisture can ruin the filaments’ performance and mechanical strength, sometimes rendering it useless for its intended application.

To avoid this, Polycarbonate filament needs to be kept in airtight, moisture-free environments before and during printing.

What Temperature Does Polycarbonate Filament Print At?

Printing temperatures for Polycarbonate filament usually fall between the 260-310⁰C range. You’ll also need a print bed capable of reaching temperatures of around 90 – 120⁰C. Depending on what brand you have, you’ll need may need a high-temperature all-metal hot end, as well as heated enclosure, and heated print bed.

In addition, printing Polycarbonates will also require an enclosed build space temperature between 60 -70⁰C. The build space isn’t compulsory for tiny models, it’s only needed when printing medium to large models.

Some users recommend ensuring that your bed and heat chamber is kept heated for around 10-20 minutes before beginning to print Polycarbonate, depending on the brand.

Polycarbonate filament takes a long time to melt, so it needs these high temperatures to maintain flow. However, if the nozzle temperature is too high, you can have problems controlling the flow which can lead to stringing and oozing.

More commonly, if the printing temperature is too low, you can also have quality issues while printing. These issues include layer separation, cracks in the print, warping, etc.

To get the optimum bed and nozzle temperatures for Polycarbonate filaments, a good place to start is the manufacturer’s specifications.

Here are some of the more popular filament brands on the market and their temperature specifications.

Polymaker’s Polymax Polycarbonate Filament

  • Nozzle Temperature: 250-270 °C
  • Print Bed Temperature: 90-105 °C

Hatchbox PC Filament

  • Nozzle Temperature: 240-250°C
  • Print Bed Temperature: 90-105°C

 3DXMax PC Filament

  • Nozzle Temperature: 280-310°C
  • Print Bed Temperature: 110-120°C

Alternatively, if you’re up for a little trial and error, you can also try using a Temperature Tower from Thingiverse. With this, you can easily figure out the optimal temperature range settings for any filament.

What Print Speed Should You Use for Polycarbonate Filament?

For Polycarbonate filament, a print speed of 20-40mm/s works pretty well to optimize quality and print timing. Generally speaking, Polycarbonate filaments print better when done at a slower speed. It has a high glass transition temperature, so higher print speeds require higher hot end temperatures.

Getting the best material flow out the nozzle becomes more difficult with these high temperature filaments.

To avoid temperature problems and still get decent print quality, it’s best to print Polycarbonate filament at a low speed.

You can also experiment with the speed settings to find out just how fast your printer can print Polycarbonate. The speed supplied by the manufacturer is a usually good starting point.

Does Polycarbonate Need Cooling to Print?

Polycarbonate does not need cooling to print. Even if cooling is going to be used during printing, the fan speed should be kept very low from around 5% to a maximum of 30% or 40%. Polycarbonate 3D filament is prone to curling, warping, and shrinkage, especially if you are not using a heated enclosure.

Using a high level of cooling will only make these problems worse. A high fan speed can even introduce cracks in the print as it cools faster than usual.

So, it’s best not to use cooling with Polycarbonate. And even if you need to use it for features like overhangs, make sure you keep it low and use a heated chamber.

What Retraction Settings Should You Use for Polycarbonate?

Some users have great results using minimal retraction settings such as 0.75mm retraction distance at a 30mm/s retraction speed on a direct drive setup. Bowden setups require increased retractions such as a 2.5-5mm distance and 50-80mm/s speed. The brand of Polycarbonate makes significant differences.

There are some brands of Polycarbonate such as Polymaker PolyMax PC where a few people couldn’t stop the stringing regardless of temperature and retraction settings, though this could have been from the filament absorbing moisture.

Other users have had successful results simply using default retraction settings within their slicers.

Polycarbonate is a material that flows easily because of the high printing temperatures. Because of this, it is very prone to stringing and oozing when it travels from one point to another on the print.

A high retraction speed and distance prevent the material from oozing as it moves throughout the print. Just be careful not to set the retraction speed above 10mm to avoid clogs, jams, and filament grinding.

I’d highly recommend taking your specific Polycarbonate filament through a Cura Retraction Settings test, shown in the video below by CHEP. It’s a great way to figure out the best settings for any filament and 3D printer combination.

What is the Best Polycarbonate Filament?

Out of several Polycarbonate filaments on the market, the Polymaker Polymax Polycarbonate is one of the best out there. It is a very tough and durable material, and it is also easy to print.

Surprised at the amount of strength it provides for their 3D prints, many customers have written rave reviews about the product. Even notable industry critics have written good things about the filament.

So, if you are looking for good quality filament for a pocket friendly price, the Polymaker Polymax is the way to go. It is available on Amazon in two colors – black and white.

To round things up, I’ve searched for some of the most asked questions about Polycarbonate filament and answered them as simply as possible.

Here are the questions:

Do You Need an Enclosure to Print Polycarbonate?

You don’t need an enclosure to print Polycarbonate depending on the brand of filament. Some Polycarbonate filament such as Polymaker PC can print successfully without an enclosure by using a low layer height, low or disabled cooling, and printing close to the bed. You also want to keep the PC filament dry.

Having a heated enclosure is necessary for other brands of Polycarbonate, so the material can properly adhere to each layer. Smaller Polycarbonate 3D prints are an exception since they are closer to the build plate.

Using an enclosure is necessary for large prints.

The heated enclosure provides a uniformly heated environment for the model, which is the optimal condition for Polycarbonate.

Models can cool slowly without developing internal stresses that can cause warping or cracking. For larger models, you’ll definitely want a heated enclosure or a heated chamber.

Is It Safe to 3D Print Polycarbonate?

3D printing Polycarbonate is relatively safe as long as you follow safety standards such as printing in a well-ventilated environment to reduce your exposure to gases and fumes emitted from this high temperature filament. In terms of odor, it is not as bad as ABS, but still not odorless. 

Printing polycarbonates is quite safe. As long as you follow all the standard 3D printing safety procedures, you should have no problems printing it.

One important safety procedure that stands out is to always print Polycarbonates in a well-ventilated environment. This prevents a build-up of toxic particles and gases in the printing environment.

How Hard is it to Print Polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate filament can be hard to 3D print with depending on your setup. If you have a standard 3D printer like an Ender 3, you’ll want to make modifications such as having an enclosed chamber, a hotend that is high quality, and settings that have been dialed in. High-end enclosed 3D printers makes things easier.

Printing Polycarbonate filaments can be quite challenging, especially for novices. Some 3D printers are built to 3D print Polycarbonate right out of the box without modifications such as the Qidi Tech X-Max which is an enclosed printer.

With a little experimentation and practice, you’ll be able to learn how to produce professional-looking Polycarbonate prints. So, here are some tips on how to print Polycarbonate successfully:

  • Always buy high-quality filament from a reputable vendor.
  • Invest in a good 3D printer or modify your printer with the required parts, e.g. An all-metal hot end.
  • Always use a heated enclosure and a filament dryer box when printing polycarbonate.
  • It’s also good practice to preheat the nozzle, bed, and enclosure before printing starts for around 10 minutes before starting.

How Do You Store Polycarbonate Filament Properly?

To store Polycarbonate filament properly, you want to ensure it is in a dry environment that doesn’t allow moisture to easily access the filament. An airtight container with desiccants is an ideal way to store Polycarbonate filament. You can either use vacuum-sealed bags or a dedicated filament dryer box.

As I said earlier, Polycarbonate filament is hygroscopic. So, it must be stored properly before and during printing.

A good way of storing the filament is by using a filament dryer box. These enclosures will keep your filament warm and dry before and during printing. I wrote an article that details How to Store 3D Printer Filament Properly.

Alternatively, if you’re the DIY type (which I’m guessing you are), you can also create your own using a large plastic box and desiccants.

How Do You Get Polycarbonate to Stick? Bed Adhesion Tips

To get the model to stick to the build plate, first, make sure you’re using the correct printing surface. For it to be able to print Polycarbonate, the plate must be able to reach a temperature of at least 100⁰C. I recommend using a PEI sheet as it minimizes warping, and can handle high temperatures.

The PEI sheet minimizes warping, can handle high temperatures, and also separates from the model easily after printing. A great one to get for Polycarbonate filament is the Gizmo Dorks PEI Build Surface from Amazon.

It’s a great surface that can simply be installed quickly ontop of your existing surface such as a borosilicate glass bed with the 3M adhesive and tape that peels off.

Standard bed surfaces often produce less than stellar build plate adhesion when printing Polycarbonate. Even adhesive agents like glue evaporate when used with these materials because of the high heat.

Other good build plate materials for printing Polycarbonates include a polycarbonate sheet, borosilicate glass, and adhesives like Kapton tape.

Finally, when printing your first layer, lower the printer’s speed and switch off cooling completely. Also, increasing the layer’s height and width by about 50% should help with bed adhesion.

How Do You Stop Polycarbonate from Warping?

To stop polycarbonate from warping, you have to start at the base. Ensure that the build plate’s temperature is correctly set and that you are using a proper print bed material. Use a heated enclosure for larger prints since it helps with uneven cooling, a major cause of warping. Use low cooling settings.

Lastly, check your first layer settings and modify them appropriately to get a good bed adhesion. This will hopefully help reduce the print’s warping.

Is 3D Printed Polycarbonate Strong?

Yes, 3D printed Polycarbonate is strong. It is one of the toughest materials you can print on a desktop 3D printer. To put this in perspective, polycarbonate filaments on the market have a tensile strength of 65MPa, while an ABS filament has a tensile strength of about 32MPa.

The Polycarbonate filament has double the tensile strength, so yeah, 3D Printed Polycarbonate is strong.

Check the video below for a cool comparison of 3D printer parts with differing materials.

Is 3D Printed Polycarbonate Bullet Proof?

Although 3D-printed polycarbonate models are strong, there is no evidence suggesting they are bulletproof. The Polycarbonate used in making bulletproof “glass” is different from those sold commercially for 3D printing. So, no 3D printed Polycarbonate is not known to be bulletproof.

Can the Ender 3 Print Polycarbonate?

Yes, you can 3D print polycarbonate filament on an Ender 3 though, it is mostly going to have to be smaller 3D prints since it has a high presence of warping for larger objects without an enclosed build space. It’s definitely possible to add an enclosure and a space heater to achieve this.

Some brands of Polycarbonate can print at lower temperatures, so you may not have to make significant modifications like an all-metal hotend or a build plate upgrade.

For large prints, using a higher-end 3D printer like the Qidi Tech X-Max makes Polycarbonate printable from a machine without modifications. An Ender 3 with stock parts and no additions may have a hard time printing objects.

So, that’s it. I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on Polycarbonate filaments for you. Just remember, don’t be afraid to keep on experimenting until you find your perfect settings.

Good luck and happy printing.