Polycarbonate filament is an extremely high strength and temperature-resistant material commonly used in parts that need to survive tough conditions, and in a variety of engineering applications. The ability to shake off high temperatures is both a blessing and a curse – PC is a notoriously difficult 3D printer filament to print – but we’ll explain some best practices in this Polycarbonate 3D printing guide.
With a glass transition temperature of around 150C, nothing in the FDM 3D printer materials range can compete with it. PLA starts to lose form at around 60C, PETG around 80C, and ABS 105C. For high temperature applications, PC is in a league of its own.
Polycarbonate filaments are also sometimes reinforced with carbon fibers or glass fibers to add strength and other properties.
Properties of PC filament
Polycarbonate (PC) filament is extremely strong yet lightweight. It’s transparent like glass, but has far greater impact resistance and tensile strength. Therefore, Polycarbonate is perfect for transparent prints that will look great and mimic that glassy finish, and that are also tough as nails.
PC filament is also bendable – and machine bendable at room temperature – with this flexibility allowing it to withstand high tensile forces that break or shatter filaments like ABS.
It’s far tougher than filaments like ABS or PLA, and stands up very well to general wear and tear over time.
PC 3D printing temperature settings
If you haven’t 3D printed Polycarbonate before, it is a different level of difficulty to 3D printing filaments like ABS, PETG or PLA. We therefore recommend that if you are brand new to 3D printing, that you first learn how to troubleshoot and fix the common errors associated with ABS and PLA. For example, learn how to fix issues with ABS filament warping by correcting print settings and heated bed settings, and how you would fix PLA filament oozing and stringing in your 3D slicer settings. As these issues can occur even more often with Polycarbonate 3D printing, and are more difficult and costly if prints fail, it is worth learning this first.
Polycarbonate filament can generally be 3D printed at temperatures between 260-310C, though generally a good temperature is around 290C. Most cheap 3D printers are not capable of going above 300C, so 290C works well for these 3D printers.
You can print Polycarbonate at lower than 290C, but you need to be very careful. Printing as low as 260C is possible, but you’ll need to print very slowly, at around 30mm/s. Ensure you have a heated bed that can maintain high temperatures at this extruder temperature.
Hot ends for 3D printing Polycarbonate
You will need an all-metal hot end for consistent Polycarbonate 3D printing, as PEEK or other material hot ends will struggle to maintain these high temperatures consistently. We recommend hot ends in our 3D printer hot end buyer’s guide.
Heated bed temperature
You will also need a heated bed, heated up to at least 90C, and preferably higher at 120C+, and commonly even 135-150C. Most 3D printers cannot handle these temperatures, but if you try the highest temperature your 3D printer can maintain, you may still be able to 3D print PC filament without too much warping.
Enclosure for 3D printing Polycarbonate
You will also need a 3D printer enclosure to keep the heat in around your 3D printer. If your 3D printer doesn’t come with an enclosure, you can buy one, or build one yourself. It just needs to keep heat in effectively to reduce warping and layer splitting.
There a number of good 3D printer enclosures we recommend below:
Best Polycarbonate Filament
Below are links to some of the Polycarbonate filaments we recommend for 3D printing. We have included links to lower cost PC filaments, as well as glass-filled and carbon-filled filled filaments for those interested in hybrid filament mixes.
- Our full list of Polycarbonate filament recommendations
- Polymaker PC and PLA combined filament range
- Glass-filled PC filament recommendation
- 3DXTECH Carbon-fiber filled PC filament
- 3DJake UK & Europe black Polymaker PC
- 3DJake UK & Europe white Polymaker PC
Best Polycarbonate 3D Printers
|Name and brand||Build volume||Price||Best place to buy||Alternative purchase option|
|Pulse XE||250 x 220 x 215||$999||Matterhackers here|
|Qidi Tech X-Max||300 x 250 x 300||$1,099||Gearbest here||Amazon here|
|Ultimaker S3||230 x 190 x 200||$3,850||Dynamism Store here||Matterhackers here|
|Lulzbot TAZ Pro||280 x 280 x 285||$4,455||Matterhackers here|
Polycarbonate 3D printing guide and tips
Warping: Polycarbonate warps a lot – even more than ABS – and layers often split if you 3D print polycarbonate under the wrong conditions. The key to minimizing warping is a high temperature heated bed, effective heated chamber or enclosure to keep heat in, and good layer adhesion. You also need to make sure your 3D printer is calibrated perfectly, as too far or close Z-offset distances will worsen warping and ruin your prints.
Fumes and odors: like ABS, Polycarbonate (PC) filament also produces fumes and odors. Make sure you print in an area with good ventilation, and try not to be in the same room while printing.
Build surface: Polycarbonate is very temperamental, and struggles to stick to anything except itself. Therefore, a good option for 3D printing Polycarbonate is to use a Polycarbonate cutting board, and then use an adhesive such as glue stick or hairspray on this cutting board to improve layer adhesion. PEI sheets can also work, though different people give different reviews, but other build surfaces such as blue painter’s tape will lose their ability to stick at such high temperatures. Some report that just very strong glue can work, such as on glass surfaces, but this can cause the print to stick far too well to the build surface, causing damage to the glass surface when removing the print.
Fix retraction settings: This will minimize oozing. Avoid large (10mm+) retraction distances.
Consider using a larger nozzle: Though this is a trade-off between surface finish and layer adhesion. Using a larger 3D printer nozzle will improve layer adhesion if this is something you are struggling with, as the larger surface area improves the bonds between layers. However, this comes at the cost of some surface quality finish. We recommend nozzles that are better equipped to handle tough filaments such as PC in our 3D printer nozzle guide.
Advantages of Polycarbonate 3D printing
- Fantastic impact resistance: Polycarbonate is one of the strongest 3D printer filaments around, and can withstand huge forces and boasts high tensile strength.
- Unmatched temperature resistance: For parts that need to be able to handle very high temperature, Polycarbonate offers the best temperature resistance around.
- Transparent surface finish: The best option for high quality, transparent parts. Though PETG is also transparent, PC filament has better impact resistance and temperature resistance.
Disadvantages of PCfilament
- Very high temperatures required to print: Some 3D printers cannot match the temperatures required, and most stock 3D printers cannot go above 300C. Most will also struggle to maintain the heated bed temperatures required. You also require an all-metal hot end to effectively 3D print Polycarbonate.
- Problems with warping: PC warps even more than ABS, and requires very precise printing settings to avoid this.
- Very hygroscopic: Polycarbonate absorbs a lot of moisture from the air if left out in the open, which can quickly cause the material to swell, and worsen 3D printing characteristics. It must be kept in airtight, dry conditions at all times when not 3D printing Polycarbonate.
- Very sensitive to UV rays and hydrolysis: Unsuitable for any outdoors use, as Polycarbonate with degrade in the sun, and reacts poorly to water.
Polycarbonate, outside of 3D printing, is commonly used in applications that benefit from its transparency, such as optical glass, and bulletproof glass due to its phenomenal impact resistance. It is also used in electrical and phone casings, bike and motorbike helmets, and other strong parts like scuba diving masks and even riot shields.
Within 3D printing, PC is commonly used in engineering applications where high strength and flexibility is key. Some rely on PC for remote-controlled 3D printed car parts, and general projects that need to handle higher temperatures and strong impacts.
How to Store PC filament
Polycarbonate is extremely hydroscopic, and should only be stored in dry conditions in airtight storage or it will swell and its 3D printing properties will worsen.
We recommend the following containers: