The Basics of 3D Printing: Part 2


by Matt Weir




An important part of 3D printing, especially when it comes to buying 3D printed products, is to figure out which type of material you are interested in printing in. Here at U-Dimensions we currently offer products in sandstone, plastic, nylon, and paper. We are however currently experimenting with edible printing such as chocolate, as well as 3D printing with metal. In this post I’m going to briefly run through each type of material, so that you have a better sense of what you want your product to be made out of when you are looking to complete your purchases.


PLA (Polyactic Acid)

Currently the most popular material in 3D printing, and is considered to be ‘green’ plastic due to it being made up of renewable resources. This material is ideal for consumer products, and small toys – can be printed in smoother layers than some of the other materials.


ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

ABS would be the second most popular material in 3D printing right now, due to the fact that is it is cheaper to make than most materials, and its durable (same plastic as LEGO), slightly flexible, lightweight and relatively easy to extrude. This material is ideal for toys, but is more time consuming that PLA, and gives off fumes that can be dangerous to breath while printing.



Nylon is a cost efficient material made of synthetic polymer, which is strong, light, flexible and wear resistant – and is considered to be stronger than both PLA and ABS. Nylon has a high gloss finish, and can be dyed using fabric dye. This material is ideal for consumer products and toys, but is highly absorbent, making it best to protect it from humidity while in storage.



Unlike some of the other printer, which uses melted plastic, and solidifies each layer with heat, sandstone is made of powered which is combined with co-polyester, creating a texture that looks like stone. One of the advantages of sandstone is that unlike current plastic offerings, it is available in full color, and can be offered in a variety of textures.



Paper is a relatively new material in the 3D printing sphere, however it does has its benefits. Given that it uses paper, and inkjet ink, products can be created at low cost, and can be offered in full photorealistic color. Given that uses paper, and non-toxic chemical during the printing process it is safe and eco-friendly. However it can be susceptible to corrosion.



Metal printing is most commonly done using the PLA method, using fine metallic powder. Products can be made to look and feel as if they are aluminum, brass, bronze, cooper or stainless steel, and can be weather and tarnished. This material is ideal for jewelry, and figures, however it is multiple times denser, and heavier as well as more expensive than the other materials.



As of now, we’ve experimented with chocolate to great results! The material forms well and is quite durable, and smells like melted chocolate, even weeks after initial production. Other forms of 3D printed edible foods included crystalized sugar, which is done similar to PLA.


So hopefully that gives you a better idea of material types for when you do eventually click that add to shopping cart button!


Stay tuned for the next part on printing technologies!