What Materials Can be 3D Printed?

Emily Engle January 15, 2021 5 min read

Using the right material for your 3D printed project can make or break a product. This article covers what materials you can 3d print.

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Over the years, 3D printing has become increasingly common. This technology (also known as additive manufacturing) is now readily available — many public libraries and schools offer 3D printing services at no charge, and 3D printing materials can be easily found. From the automotive and aerospace industries to medicine and food safety, supporting material is either soluble and insoluble, and 3D printing processes are everywhere. But what materials can be 3D printed? Let’s take a look at the various options available. 

Many 3D printers rely on Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). This helps product prototypes by layering from the bottom up with heat and thermoplastic filaments. These machines use a variety of materials, both expensive and affordable.

Stereolithography (SLA) is another method of 3D printing, which relies on a UV laser that cures layers in a photo-reactive epoxy resin. It’s more accurate than FDM and is an excellent choice for engineers who need small features or other detailed work. 

In Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printing, a high-power laser fuses tiny polymer powder particles. Though we will not be discussing this 3d printing method, it’s important to emphasize that various materials exist for all types of additive manufacturing.

Back to Basics with Thermoplastics

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There are many options to choose from when looking to 3D print something using plastic, which is likely the most common material used. Plastic is utilized for its versatility and can be applied to various projects, offering anything from shiny and matte textures to projects with unique colors. The post-processing step for 3D printed plastics may be more robust. Still, the affordability and potential strength often outweigh the minor downfalls. Items 3D printed with plastic are created layer by layer with thermoplastic filaments, which include plastic made from: 

3D Printing with Metal

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Metal is the second most popular 3D printing material. Commonly used in additive manufacturing, metal adds speed to the 3D printing process while maintaining an aesthetic nice enough for high-quality jewelry and has a strong enough foundation for industrial applications. When used as a 3D printed material, metal is in dust form. Many kinds of metal can be utilized in 3D printing (well beyond those listed here), including: 

A Wide Assortment of Materials

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Many materials are used for additive manufacturing. While some might be more common than others, they are all worth mentioning. The right material can make or break your product. You owe it to yourself to explore many of them. Here are a few you may not be familiar with: 

Polymers for High Heat Applications

For high heat applications, there are a few polymers that can be used. These polymers are durable and easy to 3D print with:

The 3D printing process can vary significantly based on your desired outcomes. That said, there’s support material for any project imaginable. Though all require some degree of post-processing, this can vary by material and may be an essential consideration. While this list addresses many, there are endless possibilities that will make a product soar. We hope this blog post has given you a stronger understanding of what materials can be 3D printed.

With digital 3D design and modeling tools, 3D printing is easier than ever before. Autodesk’s Fusion 360 provides flexible 3D CAD software that encourages creativity and allows for multiple design iterations.

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