Good news: There’s now a huge range of 3D printer filaments, allowing hobbyists and professionals to create an almost unlimited variety of objects. That includes not just a vast range of colors, but also filaments that provide realistic simulations of stone, wood, and metal.
Without an understanding of the different 3D filament materials, results can be disappointing, so we’re taking an in-depth look at the pros and cons of the various types of 3D filament, and offering our suggestions for which are the best 3D printer filaments for a wide range of projects.
— Best Overall: Sunlu PLA 3D Filament
— Best Value: Overture PLA 3D Filament
— Best ABS: HATCHBOX ABS 3D Filament
— Best Carbon Fiber: Priline Carbon Fiber Polycarbonate 3D Filament
— Best Metal: CC3D Silk Metallic PLA 3D Filament
How We Picked the Best 3D Printer Filaments
We have examined the range of 3D printers several times, and some of these best 3D printers gave us useful background knowledge. However, in order to put together a comprehensive 3D filament review we carried out further research with varying key factors that impacted our top picks.
Materials: There are more than a dozen different materials used for 3D printer filaments. Some are common, while others are highly specialized. It is impractical to cover all of them so it was important for us to understand their properties in order to offer solutions for a wide range of popular 3D projects.
Performance: Even among 3D filament materials that are seemingly the same, there can be considerable differences in terms of stability, strength, and ease of use. We looked at technical and practical information before making our choices.
Brand: There’s nothing worse than the failure of a project due to poor 3D printer filament. While the brand names may not be well known to 3D printing beginners, we only chose material from manufacturers with a recognized reputation for quality products.
Note: In order for us to make direct comparisons, each of our top picks is a 2.2-pound 3D printer spool with a filament diameter of 1.75mm. Temperatures are given in Celsius, which is common practice among manufacturers.
Best 3D Printer Filaments: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Sunlu PLA 3D Filament
Why It Made The Cut: Sunlu’s high-quality PLA 3D filament offers several advantages. The even diameter delivers trouble-free use, the results are consistent, and finished items offer good durability.
— Extrusion Temperature: 190 to 230 degrees Celsius
— Bed Temperature: 25 to 60 degrees Celsius
— Dimensional Accuracy: ±0.02mm
— Consistent quality and stability
— Stronger than normal PLA
— Compatible with 99 percent of FDM 3D printers
— Not food-safe
— Occasional clogging reported
With such a wide and varied choice available, picking the best 3D printer filament isn’t easy. However, Sunlu’s PLA has a combination of user-friendly features that make it very popular and according to the manufacturer, it works with 99 percent of FDM 3D printers.
The material itself delivers consistent quality, and has a class-leading dimensional accuracy (the amount the diameter of the filament varies) of ±0.02mm, which is less than a thousandth of an inch. It’s easy to use with smooth flow and minimal stringing. The high purity results in very little shrinkage and good bonding of each consecutive layer, so it’s suitable for large models. Sunlu also rates their PLA 3D filament as up to five times stronger than standard PLAs.
Sunlu PLA 3D filaments are available in a huge range of colors and finishes, including glow-in-the-dark, marble, wood, silks, and metallics. They can be sanded and painted (oils, enamels, and acrylics work well). They are also biodegradable, though not rated as food-safe. While a few buyers have reported clogging, the percentage is very small and machine setup could be at fault.
Best Value: Overture PLA 3D Filament
Why It Made The Cut: Overture have focused on two of the most common problems with their PLA 3D filament; making it bubble-free and non-clogging to provide smooth, stable printing.
— Extrusion Temperature: 190 to 230 degrees Celsius
— Bed Temperature: 25 to 60 degrees Celsius
— Dimensional Accuracy: ±0.03mm
— Clog- and bubble-free
— Doesn’t need a heated bed
— Useful guide for remaining filament
— Cardboard spool
— Patchy quality control
Overture PLA 3D printing filament is another popular choice, particularly among hobbyists. It’s designed to be fuss-free to set up and use, with a patented anti-clogging formula. Overture claims it will work with most FDM 3D printers, and while a heated bed is recommended (which is true of all filaments), it will also work without one.
Its dimensional accuracy is 0.03mm, which is something of an industry standard. The cardboard spool is not everyone’s favorite, and a few people suggest it can cause drags or snatches during printing, however, these complaints are few. This filament also has cutouts that provide a useful visual guide to the amount of material remaining.
The obvious comparison is with our top 3D PLA printer filament from Sunlu. The standard Overture PLA is not as tough, and while an Overture PLA+ version is available, it is more expensive. Overture’s color range isn’t quite as extensive either, though there is still plenty of choice, and it can be painted.
Generally speaking, Overture PLA is a quality 3D filament. However, there have been reports of poorly wound spools, and filaments snapping. This suggests that quality control isn’t always as good as it could be.
Best ABS: HATCHBOX ABS 3D Filament
Why It Made The Cut: HATCHBOX is widely recognized as producing a range of high-quality 3D materials. Their ABS filament is popular for its toughness and greater resistance to warping than many competitors.
— Extrusion Temperature: 210 to 240 degrees Celsius
— Bed Temperature: 90 to 110 degrees Celsius
— Dimensional Accuracy: ±0.03mm
— Withstands high temperatures and UV
— Ductile and impact resistant
— Make figures or functional parts
— Toxic fumes
— Projects may warp
HATCHBOX materials frequently feature at the top of independent 3D printer filament reviews and are known for their quality and consistency. HATCHBOX ABS prints at higher temperatures than PLA, and the resulting pieces are both tough and resistant to heat and UV. They also offer good ductility, meaning they are capable of absorbing impact without cracking. This makes HATCHBOX ABS a good choice for functional mechanical parts as well as models.
The main problem with ABS is its tendency to curl up from the printer bed initially, or warp during production. HATCHBOX ABS is noted for its stability, though a heated bed is something of a necessity, and an enclosed case is recommended to prevent cold air causing problems. Something to keep in mind is that ABS is petroleum-based and the fumes are toxic, so good ventilation is also important. This makes HATCHBOX ABS more challenging than PLA to print well, but the reward is the durability of the finished components.
This 3D printer filament comes in a wide range of colors, is capable of producing fine detail, and usually has a smooth, shiny finish; however, it does not come in the wood, silk, and metallic finishes available from some PLA brands.
Best Carbon Fiber: Priline Carbon Fiber Polycarbonate 3D Filament
Why It Made The Cut: Priline’s high-performance blend of carbon fiber and polycarbonate results in a 3D printer filament that can produce durable, accurate components while remaining user-friendly.
— Extrusion Temperature: 240 to 260 degrees Celsius
— Bed Temperature: 80 to 100 degrees Celsius
— Dimensional Accuracy: ±0.03mm
— High strength to weight ratio
— Good heat resistance
— Minimal warping
— Not pure polycarbonate
Carbon fiber is known for its outstanding strength to weight ratio. Polycarbonate is very tough, and has high impact resistance (it’s often used for hard hats). Priline’s carbon fiber polycarbonate filament combines these two materials in a single 3D printer filament that delivers the benefits of both. Finished parts are very hard, and rigid without being brittle.
One of the drawbacks of pure polycarbonate is that it demands 3D printer temperatures above 300 degrees Celsius. Priline overcomes this by adding chemicals to reduce the heat required, to resemble more common filament levels. While this results in some loss of strength when compared to commercial 3D filaments, it still exceeds PLA and ABS. The components produced can also withstand temperatures of up to 140 degrees Celsius.
Carbon fiber 3D printing filaments are only available in matte black, though printed items can be painted using a plastic primer, followed by enamel or acrylic. An enclosed printer is recommended for optimum durability and maximum precision. For those who want to explore the abilities of carbon fiber, Proline also produces filament for 3D printer use that is blended with PLA and PETG.
Best Metal: CC3D Silk Metallic PLA 3D Filament
Why It Made The Cut: Specialist filament maker, CC3D, offers a wide selection of ‘silk’ finish PLAs that accurately mimic metals without the extremely high cost of a full-on 3D metal printer.
— Extrusion Temperature: 195 to 220 degrees Celsius
— Bed Temperature: 40 to 60 degrees Celsius
— Dimensional Accuracy: ±0.05mm
— High-shine metallics without post-processing
— Works with almost all FDM 3D printers
— Zero odor and eco-friendly
— Not real metal
— Not for functional components
True 3D metal printing with aluminum and steel is a practical reality in industrial environments, but the big drawback is the associated cost. Even desktop machines are $100,000 or more with materials starting at $300 per kilogram. The alternative for hobbyists, and model makers is what is generally termed silk metallic 3D PLA filament, like that from CC3D.
This filament has a smilar ease of use to standard PLA and can be used with most FDM 3D printers. It has a smooth, reflective finish straight off the machine with no post-processing, and can mimic copper, silver, or gold. What’s more, production gives off no harmful fumes and prices are little more than standard PLAs.
CC3D Silk Metal 3D filament is recommended by leading machine maker, Creality (which headed our selection of 3D printers for beginners). Elastomers (rubber-like plastics) have been added to this filament to give improved durability and impact resistance. Clogging is rare, and normally CC3D’s metal filament does not warp. However, while it can make some impressive display pieces, it does not have the structural strength for functional parts.
Things To Consider Before Buying 3d Printer Filaments
The main decision when choosing the best 3D printer filaments for any project (aside from what to print and how, with 3D modeling software) is the type of material. The three most popular are:
— PLA (Polylactic acid): Anything that has acid in the title sounds dangerous, but in fact PLA is largely made from plant starch (typically corn, maize, or sugar cane). It is safe, has almost no odor, and is biodegradable. PLA is the most popular 3D filament material for beginners because of its ease of use.
PLA is inexpensive, and quite strong, but it isn’t UV-resistant so it will degrade in bright sunlight and it also has moderate resistance to heat. As a result, it is best used for display items or prototyping, rather than actual production. This is a popular choice for figures or models that will be painted afterwards. PLA may also have other materials added to produce realistic metal, stone, or wood effects.
— PETG (Polyethylene terephthalate with glycol): PETG is a relative newcomer, but it’s quickly becoming popular. It usually requires a little more heat than PLA and is not quite as forgiving to use. Oozing and stringing can be problems, and the surface finish can be less smooth.
However, PETG is generally tougher and, depending on formulation, usually has greater heat and UV resistance. It also has a degree of flexibility whereas PLA can be brittle. As a result, it has more practical applications and there should be no problems using it outdoors. When blended with carbon fiber, it can produce particularly strong, functional parts.
— ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene): Before PETG, ABS was the filament of choice for those wanting greater strength and durability than PLA. It is still probably the second-most popular 3D printing filament material. Like PETG, ABS requires higher machine temperatures, but finished items have good heat-, impact- and wear-resistance. Care does need to be taken post-printing, as ABS contracts as it cools and parts may warp. So-called Pro-ABS can be used for accurate prototyping or small production runs.
There are lots of specialist materials available. Thermoplastics (TPC, TPE, and TPU) produce flexible forms not unlike rubber, while polyoxymethylene (POM) is good for precision engineering parts, and nylon and polycarbonate are among the strongest materials. However, each of these is challenging to print and may require higher temperatures than hobby machines generate. They can also be much more expensive. As you progress with your 3D printing, you may want to investigate these alternatives, but their behaviors are beyond the scope of this article.
Good temperature control is vital to successful 3D projects, so it is important to understand the requirements of each filament. Our top picks all fall within the parameters of most hobby machines, but it is always important to check printer capabilities before buying 3D filament.
If you have found a material that you like working with, it’s nice to know there are plenty of alternative colors or finishes so that you don’t have to start all over again with a different brand, although you should never assume each 3D filament from a manufacturer will behave the same. Temperatures will often change between plain PLA and silk versions, for example. Always read the instructions of each new spool.
Q: Is PETG filament better than PLA?
It’s not really a question of which is better, because both have their pros and cons as discussed above. Briefly, PETG is stronger and more durable than PLA, but PLA is more forgiving to work with, and often prints more quickly.
Q: Are 3D printer filaments toxic?
Some 3D printer filament types produce toxic fumes. Even those that are non-toxic can release ultrafine particles (UFMs) during printing that can irritate airways and damage the respiratory system. It’s important to make sure you have adequate ventilation or a particle filter, and 3D printers should not be operated in bedrooms.
Q: Does the filament keep the same color after printing?
It should, at least initially. The ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight can cause both PLA and ABS filaments to fade eventually, though many have UV-resistant additives. PETG is recommended for items that will be used outdoors because it has high UV resistance.
Q: Can 3D printer filaments go bad?
3D filaments can go bad, but it usually takes some time. If stored according to manufacturer's advice most have a shelf life (storage time) of around two years, but nylon usually had a shelf life of one year. Cheap 3D filament may go bad sooner, and it can be difficult to tell how long filament has been kept at a budget supplier before being sold. This should not be a problem from reputable sources.
Q: How long can you leave PLA filament out?
The simple answer is that it is best not to leave PLA filament out because it can absorb water, and may swell or become brittle. However, most user’s experience is that in modest humidity, a few days should make little or no difference.
Q: What materials cannot be 3D printed?
Anything that would ignite rather than melt cannot be 3D printed. This would normally include paper, wood, and many natural fabrics, however, wood particles like birch, cedar, and pine have been successfully blended with PLA to produce realistic wood filaments.
Final Thoughts on 3D Printer Filaments
Sunlu PLA is a fine example of the benefits of this popular material. It is tougher than standard PLA, but just as forgiving to use. It is high-quality but affordable and comes in a vast range of colors and finishes. The Overture PLA is a very close runner-up, and we doubt buyers would be disappointed with either. However, for high-strength prototypes or working models it is worth spending extra for Priline's carbon fiber polycarbonate.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.