PEEK, also known as Poly Ether Etherketone, is seeing increasing use in 3D printing in recent times, but has been around since the 1980s. Offering fantastic mechanical properties, and as strong as steel by volume despite being 80% lighter, PEEK 3D printing is fast becoming adopted for a variety of industrial weight-saving applications.
PEEK was first marketed and sold over 40 years ago, as a niche material for aeronautics. It was developed by British company Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) who are now defunct, but their PEEK material department was bought out by what is now Victrex, a London Stock Exchange-listed polymer company who manufacture PEEK today.
PEEK is predicted to become the most profitable segment of additive manufacturing, and account for 19% of 3D printing material revenues by 2026.
With patents expiring for a number of innovations necessary for PEEK 3D printing, mostly concerning heated chambers to keep temperature consistent, PEEK 3D printer filament has seen an increase in use, with a number of specialist industrial 3D printers developed with PEEK additive manufacturing in mind.
- This article focuses on PEEK filament. For PEEK 3D printers, read our PEEK & Ultem 3D printer buyer’s guide.
PEEK is also increasingly combined with other materials such as carbon fiber or glass fibers to create strong composite materials for industrial uses.
3D Printing Properties & recommendations
PEEK melts at around 343°C, with a glass transition temperature of 143°C – both much higher than standard 3D printer filaments. As a result, you’ll need an all-metal hot end and very high-end nozzle such as a hardened steel nozzle.
Minimum extruder temperatures are around 360°C, and you may need to be higher at 400-450°C depending on the filament and other factors.
You will also need an enclosed, heated chamber. PEEK filament is very sensitive to even slight changes in temperature, so a heated chamber is required. You should also ensure printing cannot be affected by any extraneous variables like sunlight.
PEEK is prone to warping, so you will need a heated bed heated to a minimum 120°C, preferably 120-150°C.
For build surface to enhance adhesion, glue stick, hairspray or high temperature Magigoo work well on glass, as well as PEI sheets.
A recommendation is to print slower with PEEK. This ensures better quality and consistent parts with less errors — which are very expensive to make using PEEK filament.
Best PEEK filaments
PEEK filament is expensive — and can cost $300-500+ per kilo — but the benefits are clear: extremely high quality parts can be produced. We recommend the following PEEK filaments for use in high-quality rapid prototyping projects:
- Matterhackers PEEK filaments
- 3DXTECH CarbonX PEEK filament
- 3DXTECH ThermaX PEEK filament
- 3DJake UK & Europe PEEK filament selection
Advantages of PEEK filament
- Fantastic strength and mechanical properties: not only is PEEK hugely strong, but it also resists chemicals well, such as acetone which heavily affects ABS.
- High temperature resistance: commonly used in applications where it may be heated over 200C, without any adverse reaction.
- Sterilization uses: PEEK doesn’t react badly to steam or boiling water, so is ideal for applications where it needs to be sterilized. PEEK is increasingly adopted in the medical and dental industries for a variety of implants as a result.
- Lightweight: offers steel-like strength, at a fraction of the weight. In sectors where weight saving directly translates into larger profits, such as in aerospace, PEEK is replacing heavier aluminium parts.
- High quality prototyping: PEEK is the best filament for the rapid prototyping 3D printing of functional parts that need to be tested under extreme conditions.
Disadvantages of PEEK filament
- Difficult to print: PEEK requires extremely high extruder temperatures, with a heated bed and precisely managed heated chamber. Imperfections can easily occur if any factors deviate from their optimum.
- Expensive: PEEK is one of the most expensive materials you can 3D print with. Commonly a kilo of PEEK filament will cost upwards of $500. Therefore, it is reserved for high value added industrial applications rather than beginner 3D printing.
- Lack of color options: unlike with filaments like PLA, you are restricted to mostly white, beige or black parts with PEEK.
- UV resistance: somewhat susceptible to UV radiation, though PEEK has good X-ray resistance.
- Struggles with chemicals like chlorine and sulfur.
PEEK 3D Printers
Most PEEK 3D printers are industrial machines, requiring skilled operators and costing tens of thousands of dollars. Recently however, lower cost 3D printers have emerged that can 3D print PEEK. We will discuss one particularly specialized PEEK 3D printer below.
For full information: read our PEEK 3D printer ranking.
Intamsys Funmat HT PEEK 3D printer
- Price: $6,000 — Available on Matterhackers here / 3DPrima Europe here
- Build volume: 260 x 260 x 260 mm
The Intamsys Funmat HT comes with a specialized thermal system including a heated temperature chamber, heated bed and high temperature extruder with an all-metal hot end, all designed to accommodate PEEK 3D printing, as well as PEI and ULTEM.
As well as 3D printing PEEK, the Intamsys Funmat HT can also print standard filaments such as PLA, ABS and PETG, shipping with two hot ends depending on if you want to print these standard filaments, or engineering-grade filaments like PEEK and ULTEM.
- For more Peek printing options, view our PEEK & Ultem 3D printer buyer’s guide.
It’s accurate, with layer thicknesses of up to 50 microns attainable, and retails at a price small businesses will find more accessible. Previously, most smaller businesses using PEEK had to use 3D printing services, but now with PEEK 3D printers such as the Intamsys Funmat HT coming down to below $10,000, this may change.
As a result, the Funmat HT has seen extended use in the creation of parts for the aerospace, automotive, engineering, and medical sectors, as well as general part building for high-tech research and development. Overall, it makes PEEK 3D printing more accessible than ever before, and is one of the best PEEK 3D printers around for lower cost PEEK printing.
Tips for 3D printing PEEK
- Print very carefully: make sure you can maintain a consistent temperature, including across the extruder, heated bed and heated chamber, and remove any external factors. Consider printing slower to ensure consistency.
- Keep the nozzle clean: after every PEEK 3D print, make sure to fully clean your nozzle and prevent any material remaining and causing future problems.
- Store filament correctly: preferably in a completely sealed container to preserve quality.
- Use high quality parts: industrial 3D printer parts are a necessity for PEEK 3D printing, including a premium nozzle and all-metal hot end to handle the strains of printing PEEK.
Applications of PEEK in 3D printing
PEEK in aerospace
PEEK is much lighter than metals for the same strength, in an industry where cutting 45kg on a fleet of 500 planes can save $5 million annually in fuel.
Additionally, PEEK material’s resistance to fuels and general weather like rain make it ideal for parts on the outside of planes. For internal plane parts, PEEK is used in areas around the fuel system owing to its thermal and chemical resistance, improving safety as it won’t catch fire. It’s also more reliable, key in an industry where downtime for repairs can cost $120,000 per day, according to Victrex.
PEEK is increasingly replacing metal parts to create wire bundles and tubing clamps.
PEEK in automotives
Like in aerospace, PEEK is used in the automotive industry for its great chemical, stress and thermal resistance, such as to make car gears, valve cones, seals, guiding rings and bearings with longer lifespans, as well as to make quieter brake components. It’s also used in pistons and in air conditioning units.
PEEK’s ability to handle high tensions also makes for a smoother driving experience. Its electrical insulation properties make it a great candidate for casings, connector pins, and PEEK is also used across car chassis, powertrains and transmissions.
PEEK is also used in electric cars, helping them improve electric car drive range and charge quicker.
PEEK material in electronics
PEEK is a fantastic insulator, giving it a range of uses in electronics. Some electrical water pumps use PEEK parts, as well as mobile phone and other appliances that use PEEK for high-strength, thin parts that improve energy efficiency.
PEEK material in the medical and dental sectors
PEEK is used in medical sector in dental instruments, endoscopes, orthopedic tools, and lightweight prosthetics and implants. It is increasingly favored as an alternative for metal implants, which can cause issues. Custom PEEK implants are predicted to become a large industry in the future, as PEEK’s properties are somewhat similar to bone, and can help in orthopedic, facial, cranial and cardiac surgeries, such as in heart valve prostheses.
For spinal and skeletal use, PEEK is increasingly used to create spinal fusion devices and reinforcing rods. It doesn’t fully fuse with bone and is hydrophobic, and allows bone to grow effectively.
For PEEK in the dental sector, PEEK is considered to have great potential for tooth replacement, according to a recent study.
PEEK material in energy and oil & gas industries
PEEK’s reliability in both extremely high and low temperatures — from -196°C to 260°C — as well as being able to bear higher loads, makes it well suited for downhole equipment. It’s also used in oil and gas sectors in electrical connectors for its insulation properties, and in compressor components for as PEEK is durable and saves weight.
The Future of PEEK in 3D printing: Conclusion
PEEK is viewed as a material that will be increasingly used in the future. SmarTech Publishing predict it will become the most profitable 3D printing material of the next decade, highlighting its increased use, such as in SLS 3D printers as well as FDM (EOS now sell a PEEK SLS powder), with lower priced printers now able to print PEEK.
Intamsys is one of the 3D printer companies concentrating on these applications, creating printers that start at around $6,000 that can comfortably 3D print PEEK. This is a major shift away from $100K industrial 3D printers that were previously required.
Other forms of PEEK, such as PEI or ULTEM, are also predicted to grow. These are very similar materials and have much of the same applications, like in aeroplane parts.
Overall, we are likely to see far wider adoption of PEEK for custom, low-volume parts in the next few years. 3D printing is perfectly placed to create these intricate, custom parts, and is set to benefit from PEEK’s increasing popularity.