Layer by layer, 3D printers deposit filament to make incredible designs. But how can you tell how strong the finished print will be?
Filament has unique benefits to make it suitable for different needs. Whilst there are some seriously strong options available, there are multiple definitions for the term ‘strength.’
To help you find the right filament for your next project, we are going to take a closer look at the different types available and find the right kind of strong 3D printer filament for your needs.
Some of the strongest 3D printer filaments include:
What Are The Different Types Of Filament Strength?
Known as the max load an object can support before it breaks. This is going to be useful for weight-bearing prints such as hooks. Common materials such as PLA may surprise you with their 7,250 psi strength, but there are plenty of stronger options better suited to different applications.
When two objects collide you need to know your print is not going to break. It could also be described as its toughness, but anything that is overly brittle will likely be damaged when dropped.
Is your filament going to degrade once it is exposed to chemicals? Any 3D print that may come into contact with acids or solvents will need to offer higher chemical resistance.
ABS is famously susceptible to acetone, which is commonly used to give your prints a sleek shine, but often you want your prints instead to resist chemicals.
This is the temperature that a material can withstand before it starts to deform. Any printed object that is going to be exposed to high temperatures, be it from friction or direct, will need to have high-temperature deflection.
Why Is This Important?
Everyone has different needs, but luckily there is always a filament to match. Anyone 3D printing toys for example will need filament that is impact resistant. That way, it can withstand a bit of harsh treatment from young children.
If you are printing food containers and liquid bottles you will need heat-resistant filament and certain options that are far better for this.
Some filaments offer better elongated strength. Like rubber, this means they can bend further before they might break. Anyone making phone cases will need to find a filament that can be bent a little to fit around a phone.
We’re going to consider each of these areas, and take a look at the strongest 3D filament to make sure you end up with the ideal material for your next print.
Polycarbonate (PC) – Strongest Against Brute Force
- Great strength and impact resistance — commonly used in robot combat and other uses
- High thermal resistance
- Very difficult to print as it requires such high temperatures
- Requires metal hot end and an enclosure
PC is absolutely one of the strongest filaments available, it is pretty much bulletproof! It is literally used to make bullet-proof glass, motorcycle helmets, and riot gear which is testament to its strength.
It is often used for printing phone cases since it is impact resistant, and can be trusted to protect your valuable smartphone should it slip from your hand.
A durable material, it is also known for its optical clarity, which is why it can be used to print scuba masks.
The British Plastics Federation says it can maintain rigidity up to 140°C, and toughness down to -20°C. Because of this, it won’t break down and become less solid until it reaches a temperature that is higher than a lot of the alternatives.
Polycarbonate prints can be bent at room temperature without cracking or breaking and it doesn’t show signs of wear even after many uses. This is great for ensuring prints can be handled without having to worry about them being too brittle.
Its impact strength is arguably its greatest plus point. Even though it is so lightweight, it is far stronger than acrylic and is a great transparent alternative. This is because its impact resistance is 250 times that of glass.
To put its strength into numbers, AC Plastics Inc confirm that it has a tensile strength of 9,500 psi meaning it can withstand a pressure of being around 20,000 feet underwater before it would suffer any signs of breakage.
PEEK Filament – Best Chemical Resistance
- Incredibly strong – metal level strength but much lighter
- Sterilizable – which gives it useful medical applications
- Extremely expensive
- Very hard to print – best to print with specialized high-temperature printers
Another popular 3D printing material is based upon its reliability and extreme strength PEEK is processed via phased polymerization at a seriously high temperature.
This makes PEEK (Polyether Ether Ketone) resistant to chemical, organic, and biodegradation in a way that other materials cannot match.
Because this filament doesn’t absorb as much moisture as other filament, it can be sterilized easily making it a popular option for medical fields, as well as food-grade products.
It is even used to manufacture custom implants. Since it has similar properties to human bone, PEEK can encourage tissues to reconstruct around the implant, enhancing the limb replacement process.
Read more: the best PEEK 3D printers
Nylon – Most Versatile
- Strong and slightly flexible which boosts impact resistance
- Very hygroscopic – needs to be stored dry
- Warps if not printed under the right conditions
A popular and strong filament used in 3D printers, Nylon is known for its great tensile strength which can reach up to 7,000 PSI.
It is highly heat and chemical resistant making it an excellent all-rounder. Because it has enough give in it to bend a little without breaking, it is useful for making mechanical parts such as gears and functional prototypes such as tools.
Nylon may not be as strong as the likes of ABS, but great strides are being made when combining it with fiberglass and carbon fiber particles to increase its strength.
The way it melts means Nylon has excellent layer bonding and will remain strong no matter how tall the print is. This is great for ensuring layer separation does not become an issue, ruining a lengthy print process.
But much like any filament, Nylon has its flaws. It is hygroscopic and as a result, it needs to be kept in airtight filament storage. Otherwise, it could warp during printing. It also needs temperatures that exceed 250°C.
Nylon is also known as Polyamide (PA). With a thermal resistance of up to 120ºC, Polyamide remains strong even when exposed to high temperatures for an extended period. If your print is going to be exposed to heat, Nylon is a great option.
It has a semicrystalline structure which means it will remain solid for a while until a certain quantity of heat is absorbed. Because of this, Nylon is a versatile filament, commonly used to print parts that are exposed to different environments, especially those with high heat.
Use it to make manufacturing materials such as bearings, nuts, washers, and handles, where it can be exposed to abrasion, heat, and even heavy impacts.
Nylon remains a resistant option for anyone looking for a strong 3D printer filament.
Read more: the best Nylon 3D printers
Carbon Fiber Composite Filament – Best Lightweight/Strength Combination
- Super strong yet lightweight
- Will destroy any brass or softer material nozzles
- Generally expensive
As the name suggests, composite filaments are made up of more than one material.
They are usually produced by combining PLA filament with carbon fibers. This can give them a different appearance, which is why wood and copper are popular filaments, but these aren’t necessarily strong.
Instead, carbon fiber is the best composite filament for 3D print strength. Using thin fibers of carbon is an excellent option for anyone needing to produce strong, yet light prints. These are advantageous in sports, so the strong and lightweight combination will benefit anyone printing tennis rackets, softball bats, golf clubs, hockey sticks, and more.
If you want to remain swift on the court, then a light, yet durable tennis racket is going to be a huge advantage.
Athletes are always looking for innovative ways of increasing performance, which is why carbon fiber is used on virtually every competitive bike.
It is unusual for a composite filament to have enhanced strength as the result of combining two materials, most base plastic is weakened by the addition of a second material, carbon fiber is the exception.
MatterHackers proved this when they printed hooks with carbon fiber infused nylon, and glass infused nylon filament (NylonG), and found they could hold 349 and 268 pounds on average.
Experts say that carbon fiber composite can be 42% lighter than aluminum and has almost no thermal expansion. It is no wonder experts are constantly looking for ways to make use of carbon fiber composites, even in the medical industry!
It is a radiolucent material that doesn’t block x-rays which ensures exact results of scans, making it a popular material for x-ray systems.
ABS – Best Cost-Effective For Strength
- Strong despite low cost
- Lack of chemical resistance gives it useful applications
- Warps without an enclosure
- Good heat resistance
Otherwise known as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, ABS is a high-impact resistant filament. This is why it is commonly found in technical prints such as moving parts or anything likely to come under high stress during use.
Commonly found in plumbing parts and food processing components, It is a decent all-rounder offering a mix of impact, heat, and chemical resistance.
Although PLA has a greater tensile strength compared to ABS (7,250 psi vs 4,700), PLA has poor heat resistance. Because of this, ABS can be better for making prototypes.
Softening at 105ºC, it has decent heat resistance, but due to its susceptibility to warping and cracking, it is harder to print than the commonly used PLA. To make this less likely, use a heated print bed as ABS contracts when cooled.
It remains a cost-effective choice compared to a lot of the alternatives. So, if you need high-strength and quality prints with a pleasant finish, all without the hit in the pocket, ABS is a good option.
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