3D printed objects are used in all sorts of hobbies and locations, but one that people wonder about is with their aquariums around with fish.
You can print with all sorts of plastic, but just how safe are materials like PLA, ABS & PETG for fish or aquariums?
Whether you’re a pet owner, or you’re just using them for aesthetics, aquariums are very popular installations for living spaces. They offer a way to exhibit marine life in an artificial habitat.
Creating an aquarium requires just more than fishes. To make your tank awesome, you need to liven it up with various decorations like plants and other things.
3D printing offers an inexpensive way to design and build objects to spruce up the lacking areas of your tank. You can print anything from pump covers to decorative coral reefs with a 3D printer.
To answer this question, let’s take a look at some of the most popular materials used in 3D printing.
The video below is a cool illustration of creating floating aquarium platform 3D prints in Fusion 360.
Are 3D Printed PLA Objects Aquarium Safe?
PLA printed objects are aquarium safe. Their non-toxicity makes them an ideal choice for use in your aquarium. However, when using PLA filaments in your aquariums, there are some things you should know to avoid harming your marine life.
While PLA itself is not dangerous to marine life, during the manufacturing and printing process some dangerous additives can find their way into the mix. These additives can have a very adverse effect on the aquarium’s ecosystem.
To avoid PLA prints that leach dangerous chemicals into your aquarium. It is advisable to stick with pure PLA brands or food-safe brands when printing anything for your aquarium.
Avoid any composite filaments like flex PLA, glow-in-the dark, wood-fill and so on.
Decomposition is another issue to look out for when using PLA. PLA filaments are 100% biodegradable and when biodegradable objects absorb water, they begin to break down.
In a water-filled environment like an aquarium, especially in saltwater tanks, this is a problem.
To keep the 3D print from breaking down, you can apply special treatments like waterproofing. Post printing treatments like this help protect prints against decomposition and also gives them proper surface finishes.
We’ll talk more about these treatments later in the article.
Are 3D Printed ABS Objects Aquarium Safe?
3D printed ABS objects are somewhat of a mixed bag when it comes to aquariums. Most users have reported no harmful effects while using while some have recorded fatalities with it. Like most filaments, the safety of ABS objects depends on the type of filament used.
Let’s take you through some things to look out for.
ABS is a strong petroleum-based plastic material. It is a material that is very popular among plumbers. It ranks up there with PVC as a top material for making pipes and piping materials It is used in applications strength and flexibility are required.
It is often considered superior to PLA in this respect.
When selecting ABS filaments to print with for your aquarium, you need to exercise a lot of caution. There are a lot of brands out there that can leach dangerous chemicals into the water and harm your marine life.
Few filaments like natural “white” ABS have been deemed to be safe by aquarium enthusiasts. So, be sure to look out for those.
Also, another advantage ABS filaments have over PLA filaments is that they are not biodegradable. The most organic environment of the tank will not affect your 3D print one bit because it’s made up of petrochemicals.
But, objects printed with ABS filaments are not waterproof. So, post-processing treatments like vapor smoothing need to be applied to make them waterproof. We’ll go through more on that later in the article.
Are 3D Printed PETG Objects Aquarium Safe?
PETG printed objects are very safe for your aquarium. PETG and PET have long been the gold standard for non-toxicity in plastics. They offer a cross-section of safety and durability not seen in other filaments.
This makes them very popular in the consumer industry.
PETG filaments are made from the same popular PET plastics used in the consumer industry for things like soft drinks and food coverings. Almost all PETG brands are certified safe by the FDA.
But just to be sure of what you are buying, you should stick to the food safe brands or the pure clear brands. By nature, the clear variants are reputably safe for use with aquariums.
Structurally speaking, PETG filaments are some of the strongest filaments around. As a plus, they are also made from the same petrochemicals that are found in filaments like the ABS.
This makes them very resistant to decomposition and other environmental conditions
PETG printed objects are also hydrophobic by nature. This property is sort of like a natural waterproofing ability that will enable them to better resist moisture attacks.
Although, when printing with PETG filaments you have to be careful. PETG filaments are hygroscopic-they absorb water from the environment.
They have to be kept in a moisture-free environment otherwise they can absorb moisture which can ruin the 3D print.
What is the Best Aquarium Safe Filament for Fish?
We have gone through some of the more popular filament materials, but the question remains which filament brands are safe for aquariums.
To minimize the damage to your aquatic life, we’ve gone out and put together a list of some of the tried and trusted aquarium filaments available on the market.
Aquarium owners and enthusiasts use these 3D filaments to create 3D prints for their tanks to great success. You can go through them and select anyone that suits you.
Here are some of them and their prices on Amazon:
Aquarium Safe PETG Filament
When it comes to aquarium safe PETG, there are a few options that you can go with.
The eSun PETG (Black, White) from Amazon is a popular option that is used by thousands of users, some of which have aquariums and successfully used it in the past. It comes with a clear spool that allows you to easily see how much filament is left.
eSun has been manufacturing and delivering filament for several years now, and they have a brilliant reputation that you can trust.
Another great filament that you can use with your aquarium is 3D Solutech (Black) from Amazon. You’re getting a filament which is designed to have no bubbles or residues, doesn’t need a heated bed, has no odor, and prints “ultra smooth”.
Some people have even gone so far to say that this is the best PETG they have ever printed with. Another user says this is his go-to PETG after being on their fourth spool of it, so I would definitely look into trying this one out.
Other tested aquarium safe PETG filament to try:
Aquarium Safe PLA Filament
Many PLA filaments have been tested by aquarium users that work really well.
Let’s start off this list with the HATCHBOX PLA Filament from Amazon. This is another very reputable company that take pride in delivery great quality filaments to its users.
Each spool of filament comes vacuum-sealed, packed with desiccant to absorb any moisture within the packaging, giving you a smooth printing experience right from day 1.
Performance includes minimal warping, no heated bed requirement, and little to no odor. This one is definitely work a try.
Another PLA filament that works well with aquariums is the 3D Solutech PLA Filament from Amazon, in the clear, green, and black colors. These are colors that have specifically been tried by users and work for their aquarium, so it doesn’t mean you have to avoid other colors.
At time of writing, there are over 2,000 ratings for this filament, a majority of which provide a positive experience (76% rate 4.0/5.0 or higher). People mention just how great the quality of this filament is.
Even at different speeds and temperatures, this filament seems to work really well for its users.
Other tested aquarium safe PLA filament to try:
Aquarium Safe ABS Filament
ABS can be a little harder to work with compared to PETG and PLA, but it has been tried and successfully tested in the aquariums of some users. The first ABS that users recommended is the Gizmo Dorks ABS Filament (Hot Pink).
This brightly colored filament can work really well for the look of your aquarium, especially if you have been longing for some color and contrast. Users love just how much this color stands out, though it can be difficult to print at times.
Once you have your setup fine-tuned, printing with ABS can be pretty simple.
Check out my article about ABS Prints Not Sticking to Bed? Quick Fixes for Adhesion which can assist you with printing ABS.
Coming back to this brand of filament, we have to include the Hatchbox ABS Filament (Black, Orange, Blue, Clear, White, Green) from Amazon. This very popular, and competitively-priced filament is also a great choice for aquarium safe 3D prints.
colorFabb nGen (White) Aquarium Safe Filament
The colorFabb nGen (White) has been tested and confirmed to work well with aquariums, though you might run into stock issues when trying to get the white. Check the link to see if the white color is in stock or thte 1.75mm filament.
You can check the colorFabb website for the nGen white filament as the stock levels look a lot better on there. nGen is a great all-round copolyester filament that provides glossy, high quality looking prints.
Best 3D Printed Aquarium Decorations
3D printing is already becoming very popular within the aquarium community. Aquarium owners are increasingly using the technology to print different decorations. There are many designs available online that you can choose from to make your tank come to life.
Here are some favorites from Thingiverse:
Every little mermaid needs a castle. This 3D printed Hideout should be perfect for your little fishes. Inside its high towers, your fish royalty should feel right at home.
You can also spice up the property by adding Driftwood or some Coral Reefs to add a bit of color castle. Rock Formations also add a very nice touch to your mermaid castle providing a shore for unlucky sailors to wash up on.
This one is for fans of Jack Sparrow and his merry gang of Pirates. Looking to replicate Davy Jones’ locker to boot with his henchmen guarding his Treasures against filthy landlubbers? Then this is perfect for you.
Add a little mystery lighting with some LED strips, and you’re ready to terrorize all who dare to enter the deep.
How Do I Waterproof 3D Printed Objects for Aquarium?
Waterproofing your 3D prints can be done with the help of some post-printing treatments. These treatments help seal up the porous spaces in the 3D print and also, they cover it with a protective barrier against chemical attacks.
Waterproofing 3D prints is easy and can be handled with some standard products that can be easily purchased online. Just note, you should be careful when using some of these chemicals as they can be toxic.
Let’s go through some of the methods we can use.
Spray on sealants are a great way to waterproof your 3D prints. These sealants provide a rubberized coating that seals up the porous spaces in the 3D print. This coating protects against moisture, air, and other chemical attacks.
Usually, when selecting a sealant for your print, commercial sealants used for wood are often enough.
The Zinsser Rust-Oleum 408 Bullseye Clear Spray from Amazon is a great product which is recommended by many toymakers because it is more natural compared to other similar sprays.
A light spray dries pretty quickly and gives your 3D prints a hard, smooth finish. It does take a little practice to not get the spray dripping from applying too much, and takes a short sprays while moving the can over the piece to do it properly.
Ensure that you spray outdoors, while wearing a mask so you don’t breathe in the fumes.
Many people love this product and use it for all sorts of applications, so I would try this out for your prints.
Another spray on sealant that is loved by many users is the Krylon Crystal Clear Acrylic Spray Paint from Amazon. This spray is a fast-drying, moisture-resistant, and smudge-proof.
You can use it for your 3D prints with ease, and it also extends to other objects like paper, wood, metal, ceramic, plastic, glass, and even fabric in some cases. It’s a really versatile product that works great.
One user mentioned just how well it works for their own 3D printed painted minis, providing a great coat to objects.
Epoxy Resin Coating
Using an epoxy resin to coat your 3D print is another great way of waterproofing it. Epoxy resins are very popular, especially among the DIY art community.
Coating your 3d print in epoxy seals all the cracks and grooves in the print. It also gives it a smooth glossy exterior that is waterproof and chemically resistant.
When selecting an epoxy, it’s always advisable to go for the food-safe brands. Most epoxies are notoriously toxic and the wrong brands can harm your fish, so it’s better to use food-safe brands like the MAX CLR Epoxy Resin from Amazon.
Also, always cure any resin-coated object for a sufficiently long period before putting it in your aquarium.