3D printing offers a lot of options. You can use it for prototyping your invention. Or for manufacturing it once you’re ready to go to market. You can create custom items, such as gifts or architectural models.
There are also a lot of materials and printing processes to choose from. In 3D printing, all objects are built with layers. How these layers are created depends on the process and material being used.
Plastics are the most versatile materials available for 3D printing at this time (that may change in the future as technology develops). Most plastic materials for 3D printing are available in one of the following formulations:
- Filaments (long, thin strings of material stored on a spool)
Types of Plastics
- ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene)
- Digital ABS
- PLA (polylactide)
Not every type of polymer is appropriate for each process, but a number of printing processes can use plastics:
- Laser sintering/laser melting
- Extrusion (also known as fused deposition modeling or fused filament fabrication)
- Digital light processing
- Material jetting
Some materials take color better than others. The printing process used determines whether materials are colored during printing or after. Some materials are clear or cloudy, while others are completely opaque.
Costs for printing with plastics vary widely depending on the type of polymer being used. For example, PLA is one of the most inexpensive 3D printing materials – less than $0.50 per cm. However, acrylic is around $3.00 per cm and others are more expensive.
You’ll find plastics in these industries:
Metal materials are usually found in powdered form. Common metals used include:
- Stainless steel
Metal is the more limited than plastics in terms of both materials and processes. Most companies use laser sintering/melting, though Arcam developed another process called electron beam melting.
Costs for metal varies widely depending on the material and process used. Precious metals and titanium are more expensive than other metals.
Gypsum is the most limited in terms of materials and processes. Sandstone is the 3D printing material made from powdered gypsum, so you can only print sandstone on printers that work with powders.
Colors and Costs
Sandstone takes color well during printing. The processes used also make it easy to use multiple colors during printing. It’s in the middle of the range in terms of cost.
Gypsum materials are often found in industries where the vibrant color of sandstone is beneficial, such as:
Determining the Method to Use
When deciding what material and printing process to use, consider your:
- Durability needed in the final product (is it going to be handled often?)
- Number of small/thin pieces or overhangs your design requires
It’s a good idea to consult with a 3D printing company. They’ll be able to explain all of the processes and materials available in detail. It’s also a good way to determine what processes are available to you – each process requires a specialized machine.