The Importance of Selecting a High Quality 3D Filament

Toner Plastics nutcracker figure printed in our lab with our own filament on a MakerBot printer. Thingiverse files found here: License held by MakerBot here:

Nutcracker figure printed in our lab with our own filament on a MakerBot printer. Thingiverse files found here: License held by MakerBot here:

One of the most important considerations in 3D printing is the user’s time the process requires. While 3D printing technology is evolving continuously, wasted time and money as a result of failed prints are still all too common.

3D filament quality is often enough a cause of failed prints. Poor aesthetics in the printed part can come from filament diameter inconsistency. A printer’s extruder can also become physically blocked from oversized filament, causing a print stoppage, downtime to remedy, and a lot of frustration on the user’s part. These are two of the most common types of failures attributable to filament, but there are many more.

When looking at the total cost of 3D printing and considering most useful 3D prints require several hours to complete, a premium must be placed on the user’s time. This user cost premium often far exceeds the purchase price of the filament being used. In other words, one can buy the lowest price filament available but if it doesn’t yield acceptable print results on the first attempt, a higher price is ultimately paid in the form of wasted filament, lost time, and aggravation.

Though there are many good quality 3D filament products on the market, there are equally as many – if not more – poor quality alternatives, and there are reasons why. In some cases these filaments are manufactured by startup companies that are just learning to manufacture their first real product while their manufacturing process is still maturing. Sometimes the filament is produced by good companies that just don’t completely understand the end use of the product. Unfortunately, end users end up being the ones who pay the price while their filament maker “learns the ropes” of manufacturing.

Stated simply, good filament is not easy to make. It requires top quality raw materials, process controls, advanced production equipment, quality instrumentation, skilled labor, and continuous improvement to keep up with the evolving market and the needs of the users.

As such, the 3D printing enthusiast’s job is only made easy when the filament manufacturer does his. This is why selecting a filament produced by a reputable manufacturer is critical to obtaining high quality prints with an efficient use of time.

One of the challenges in selecting the right brand of filament is that the consumer often does not know who the producer of the filament actually is. This is due to the fact that most filament sellers do not produce their own filament. A consumer may try out one brand of filament, experience poor results, and move to another brand only to continue to have the same problems. In such a case it is possible that the same manufacturer private labeled the same filament for two different brands, unbeknownst to the consumer.

Hence, it is important for consumers to inquire to their filament supplier as to who actually manufacturers the filament before they purchase it in order to ascertain whether the source is a reputable one.

The proof is in the print. Above is a Nutcracker figurine that was printed in Toner Plastics’ 3D printing lab with a MakerBot Replicator 2 over the course of 3 days without a single failure in any of the many parts required to complete the assembly. The 1-foot-high print is typical of results achieved when all of the right inputs are present during the making of the filament.