3D printing filament is the media through which 3D printed objects are formed. Filament is to 3D printers as ink is to standard 2D printers—it is the thing that renders your project in the physical world.

There are many different types of 3D printing filament. Some are food-safe and nontoxic, while others require more care. Likewise, some 3D printing filaments are very easy to work with and can yield great results for the first-time 3D printer, while other 3D filaments require patience and skill to achieve good results.

How to interpret the guide

Much of the guide is straightforward, however, if you’re new to 3D printing, there are a few concepts you need to understand before you dig in.

  • Bed adhesion: Bed adhesion refers to the required or compatible adhesive material(s) you need to use on your build plate to ensure that the filament in question adheres properly. The reason adhesive materials are recommended is because without proper adhesion, prints can warp and do other weird things that destroy the quality of your work.
  • Bed temperature: Bed temperature refers to the temperature range your heated bed should be at to achieve the best results. Some filaments don’t require heated beds, but they’re usually recommended for best results.
  • Extruding temperature (aka printing temperature): This is the temperature range that is necessary to extrude the filament properly. (Typically measured in Celsius.)
  • Required skill level: This isn’t a technical term so much as an ease of use rating. 3D printing filament ranges from very easy to use to extremely difficult, depending on a number of factors.
  • Properties: Properties describe the traits a certain filament possesses. Generally, the most relevant are strength, durability and flexibility, though there are sometimes others worth mentioning.

Best 3D Printer Filaments Guide 2017

The field of 3D filaments is rapidly expanding; as of 2017, the following is a pretty comprehensive list, though more new filaments are being created all the time.

PLA (polylactic acid)

About

PLA is currently the most popular 3D printing filament, and it’s easy to see why. It’s the perfect filament for beginners, especially children, due to the fact that it’s non-toxic and odorless. This makes it a great choice for both the classroom and at home. PLA is derived generally from cornstarch or other renewable plant sources like tapioca or sugar cane.

PLA is completely biodegradable. The human body breaks down PLA and turns it into lactic acid, which is why it’s often the material of choice for medical implants that are designed to dissolve over time.

Properties

Durable, nontoxic, biodegradable

Extruding temperature: 180C-220C

Bed temperature: 20C-60C (Heating bed isn’t required, but strongly recommended.)

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Beginner

ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene)

About

ABS is one of the tried and true 3D printing filaments that’s been around a long time. It used to be the most commonly used filament until it was overtaken by the super-accessible PLA. ABS is durable and versatile, and happens to be the material Legos are made from. A big pro in favor of ABS is you can post process it.

The downsides of ABS are its higher skill level requirement, a knack for warping and the fact that you have to properly ventilate the area when printing with ABS due to intense fumes.

Properties

Lightweight, durable, strong

Extruding temperature: 210C-250C

Bed temperature: 50C-110C

Bed adhesion: Kapton tape (preferred), hairspray

Required skill level: Intermediate

Nylon (polyamide)

About

Nylon is a fabric you’re likely familiar with if you or your partner wear stockings. It also makes for a great 3D filament, because of its strength, flexibility and durability; also, it’s very lightweight, so if you need something durable but light, think nylon. Another great thing about nylon is you can dye it whatever color you want with synthetic clothing dye or acid-based dye.

The drawback about nylon is that it readily attracts moisture, which is a detriment to 3D printing, so take care to avoid moisture when storing nylon. Also, when printing with nylon, ensure the room is well-ventilated, as it can produce noxious fumes.

Properties

Durable, strong, flexible, lightweight

Extruding temperature: 210C-260C

Bed temperature: 50C-90C

Bed adhesion: PVA-based glue (i.e. Elmer’s glue stick)

Required skill level: Intermediate

HIPS (high-impact polystyrene)

About

The main function of HIPS is to be used with a dual extruder to work as a support mechanism for weaker filaments like ABS, especially for complex projects where those weaker filaments need an extra boost more than ever. HIPS can also be dissolved when the project is completed.

HIPS is safe for children and pets to be around. In fact, it’s even found in food packaging.

Properties

Biodegradable, supportive

Extruding temperature: 210C-250C

Bed temperature: 50C-100C

Bed adhesion: Kapton tape, hairspray

Required skill level: Intermediate

PVA (polyvinyl alcohol)

About

PVA is non-toxic, water soluble and biodegradable. Generally used as a supportive filament, it is suitable for dual extrusion with PLA and ABS. PVA can be found in adhesives, feminine hygiene products and other common products.

Properties

Strong, durable, supportive, nontoxic, biodegradable

Extruding temperature: 180C-230C

Bed temperature: 45C-50C (not required, but recommended)

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Beginner

PET (polyethylene terephthalate), PETT and PETG

About

Typically, pure PET is hard to get, and you’ll likely work with PETT PETG most often, which is PET with added molecules (different letters for different ones, naturally). PET and its derivatives are non-toxic and FDA-approved for food contact and to be made into containers that store food. Additionally, they don’t exude any noxious smells. It’s commonly said that filaments in the PET family combine the best elements of PLA and ABS.

Properties

Flexible, strong, durable, recyclable, reclaimable, nontoxic

Extruding temperature: 220C-255C

Bed temperature: 55C-70C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Intermediate

Glow in the Dark

About

Glow in the Dark is a novelty 3D printing filament that is gaining in popularity, because it’s easy to work with and just plain fun to make stuff with.

Glow in the Dark filaments are typically made by adding glow-y properties to PLA or ABS. So, Glow in the Dark filaments are always going to have the properties of their base filament. Remember ABS produces fumes, so you have to ventilate when using it. PLA, however, produces no toxic fumes and is entirely nontoxic and biodegradable, so it’s safe for kids and pets to be around. It’s generally recommended to use PLA Glow in the Dark when 3D printing around children or when making objects for them.

Glow in the Dark Filament can be used to produce a wide array of objects from impressive 3D artwork to glow in the dark stars for children’s bedrooms and more. Additionally, Glow in the Dark filament also has a lot of Halloween applications—it’s the perfect material to make a skeleton with.

Properties

Durable, low warping, low shrinking, nontoxic (if PLA variety)

Extruding temperature: 215C

Bed temperature: 70C (Recommended, but not required.)

Bed adhesion: Blue Painter’s Tape

Required skill level: Beginner

Flexible TPE/TPU (thermoplastic elastomers/thermoplastic polyurethane)

About

TPE and TPU are flexible 3D filaments. In manufacturing, they’re used to make things like shoe soles, car parts and medical supplies, among others. Their pros are all about their flexibility, elasticity and durability. They’re very rubber-like, so they can be used for a lot of applications which call for rubbery material. TPE and TPU are great for making your cellphone case or a toy for your kids, because of all of the great qualities they have. The only downside they have in 3D printing is that they’re hard to work with and you have to slowly extrude them, as well as work to readjust the nozzle and fine-tune everything.

Properties

Flexible, bouncy, rubbery elastic, durable

Extruding temperature: 210C-225C

Bed temperature: 20C-55C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Advanced 

Wood filament

About

Wood filament is a mixture of recycled wood and PLA. You can find wood filament made from just about any of the common woods used in furniture making and home décor like cedar, bamboo, ebony and more. There are even cork-based filaments for when lightness is a priority.

The big benefit of wood filament is it looks, feels and smells just like the wood it’s made from. Also, being mixed with PLA, it’s generally pretty easy to work with. The reason the difficulty rating is intermediate is because you have to be careful about temperature settings and not letting the wood filament burn, which can lower the quality of your project.

Perhaps the best thing about wood filament is you can treat it a lot like regular wood. You can sand it and paint it, which is why a lot of 3D printing enthusiasts use it to create home décor items and furniture because you can really let your creativity run wild with wood filament.

Properties

Flexible, natural look, organic feel, wood scent

Extruding temperature: 175C-250C

Bed temperature: 30C-90C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Intermediate

Metal filament

About

Much like wood filament, metal filament is comprised of real metal mixed with PLA. Bronze, brass and copper are the most common metal filaments, however steel and aluminum are gaining traction.

Metal filament has to be post-processed after it’s printed. While this is an extra step, it’s actually a good thing, because it allows you a chance to customize your piece. At this stage, you can polish it to make it shine or weather it to make it look ancient or grungy. Metal filament is often used to print jewelry or props. It can also be used to create your own replica of famous artifacts. Metal is one of those filaments where your own creativity is the limit.

Metal filament has the look and feel of real metal, as well, which makes it a fan favorite amongst enthusiasts. It requires a lot of fine-tuning during printing, but many find it worth it, because of the end results.

Properties

Strong, durable, rigid

Extruding temperature: 195C-220C

Bed temperature: 50C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Advanced

Magnetic Iron PLA

About

Magnetic Iron PLA is a PLA-based filament that is mixed with iron fibers to produce its magnetic quality. There is a somewhat common misconception that this filament is a magnet, but it’s not—it’s magnetic, which means that it is attracted to magnets. However, magnetic filaments like Magnetic Iron PLA can be used as part of a project that works with magnets, such as making decorative magnets for the fridge and car. This isn’t really a kid-friendly 3D filament and takes a lot patience and skill to produce good results, however educators and parents can make 3D magnetic prints as part of a learning aid to teach kids about magnets and magnetic materials.

Properties

Magnetic, durable, strong, rigid

Extruding temperature: 185C

Bed temperature: 20C-50C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Advanced

Conductive filament

About

Conductive filament is another PLA-based, modified filament. Because it’s modified PLA, it’s very easy to print with. Its primary use is to create low-voltage circuits. The combination of easy use and fun, scientific application makes it a great learning tool for kids—especially when they’re old enough to start learning about circuitry and doing small projects like making their own LEDs.

Properties

Flexible, low warping, conductive

Extruding temperature: 215C-230C

Bed temperature: 50C (Some prefer no heated bed or a very hot heated bed; ideally, take the middle road for best results.)

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape (preferred), Kapton tape, hairspray

Required skill level: Beginner

Wax filament (MoldLay)

About

MoldLay is a very popular branded wax filament. Its top use is to provide a very 21st century answer to one of the oldest metal casting techniques in the world: investment casting (aka lost-wax casting). Additionally, you can use it to make molds for metal casting as well. What’s so unique about MoldLay is that it has zero warp so your molds stay true, and it easily melts away from your mold when exposed to high temperatures in an oven.

Properties

Zero warping, waxy

Extruding temperature: 170C-180C

Bed temperature: 20C-55C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Beginner

Carbon fiber filament

About

Carbon fiber filaments are another PLA-based filament with an added fiber (in this case carbon) to change the quality to fill specific needs. Carbon fiber filaments are prized for their durability, rigidity and strength, which is why they’re used for making supportive structures and sturdy prints. People use carbon fiber filaments to make their own drones, frames and protective casings. The only downside with carbon fiber is you have to be prepared to upgrade your nozzle to a hardened steel nozzle, since carbon fiber is abrasive to standard nozzles.

Properties

Durable, strong, low warp, rigid

Extruding temperature: 195C-220C

Bed temperature: 50C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Intermediate

PC (polycarbonate)

About

PC is super strong, yet bendable. Laminated polycarbonate is how “bulletproof glass” is made. (Note that it’s not bulletproof or glass, but it’s tough and clear enough to be colloquially called such.) PC has other protective applications, like shatter-resistant windows, riot gear and UV-protective eyewear applications. Additionally, it’s also used to make CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs, and smartphones. What all of these applications have in common is that they require a certain amount of flexibility combined with strength. (Not so much strength on the disc front, but still.) PC is a great filament to use in similar printing applications due to its nature. It’s also preferred for its beautiful transparency after processing.

The only downside is you can’t use it to make food containers, because it does leach BPA (bisphenol A). Though, with all of the cool non-food container applications to choose from, this isn’t a huge drawback.

Properties

Strong, durable, flexible, heat-resistant, transparent (after processing)

Extruding temperature: 270C-310C

Bed temperature: 90C-105C

Bed adhesion: Glue stick, hairspray

Required skill level: Intermediate

ASA (acrylonitrile styrene acrylate)

About

ASA is a more weather-resistant alternative to ABS. The result is a filament that can not only standup to outdoor usage, but it retains its aesthetic appearance as well as function in prolonged outdoor usage.

One of the cooler ways to use ASA is dual extrusion or coextrusion with other filaments like PVA to essentially weatherproof weaker materials. It can be ultrasonic welded to PVA and solvent welded to ABS.

Properties

Durable, strong, glossy, rigid, antistatic, weather-resistant

Extruding temperature: 240C-260C

Bed temperature: 100C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Intermediate 

PP (polypropylene)

About

PP is perhaps one of the most common materials you encounter in daily life that can also be made into 3D printer filament. It’s used in the manufacture of everything from plastic bottle caps to yoghurt containers. Its hydrophilic properties make it a great asset in feminine hygiene products as well. PP is also used to create advanced synthetic textiles. It can be used to make hot weather clothing that dispels heat away from the body; conversely, it’s also used to make cold weather clothing, such as long johns, designed to keep you warm in frigid temperatures. Lately, it has even been used in the manufacturer of jewelry. Lab equipment (test tubes, droppers, etc.) are also commonly made of PP.

PP is generally considered food safe, and many food and drink containers are made from or with PP. However, a Canadian study showed that PP lab equipment leaches; more studies are needed to know the extent, but if it turns out to be true, and the negative effects warrant it, we may see PP’s food safe status change in the future.

Even if you’re not willing to take a chance on making food containers, with all of PP’s good points, there are plenty of creative and around-the-house applications for printed projects made from PP filament.

Properties

Hydrophilic, food safe (see note above about food safety), durable, flexible, strong, recyclable, reclaimable

Extruding temperature: 210C-230C

Bed temperature: 50C

Bed adhesion: Kapton tape, blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Advanced

Lignin (bioFila)

About

bioFila is a branded lignin-type filament created by twoBEars, a German company that specializes in biodegradable filaments. There are currently three types of bioFila: Linen, Silk and plaTec. These lignin-type filaments are created via combination of PLA and lignin and then the additional additive that differentiates the bioFila types. Each of these filaments carry about the same ease of printing as PLA, so they’re a good choice for beginners.

bioFila Silk and bioFila Linen are so named because of their striking similarity in appearance to their namesake textiles. Both have a great feel to the hand and look beautiful when printed.

plaTec is strong, doesn’t warp, is low on shrinking, and like its sister filaments, it is 100% biodegradable, so it’s a very eco-friendly filament choice.

Properties

Biodegradable, no warping, low shrinking, strong

Extruding temperature: 195C-225C

Bed temperature: 55C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Beginner

PMMA (polymethyl methacrylate)

About

PMMA is commonly known as acrylic glass is branded as Acrylite and Plexiglass, among others. PMMA is most often seen in police riot protection as well as spectator protection at ice hockey rinks; it’s also the ceiling of the Houston Astrodome. Dentures, glasses lenses, and acrylic paint are other objects typically made from PMMA.

One of the coolest things about PMMA is how perfectly it lends itself to sculptures, which is why it’s a great 3D filament to use for your more artistic endeavors. In fact, in the 20th century, PMMA was an emerging sculpture medium. In the 1960’s, it was often crafted into jewelry, which is another great application that can be achieved via modern 3D printing.

Properties

Shatter-resistant, lightweight, strong, durable, rigid, transparent, impact-resistant

Extruding temperature: 235C-250C

Bed temperature: 100C-120C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Intermediate

POM (Polyoxymethylene)

About

POM filament is called for when precision is the order of the day. It’s also rigid and durable, so it can stand the test of time as well. Because of these properties, it’s great for toy making as well as engineering applications, and indeed, it started out as an engineering material.

Properties

Rigid, durable

Extruding temperature: 210C-225C

Bed temperature: 50C-70C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Advanced

PC-ABS

About

PC-ABS is an alloy filament, obviously combining the toughness and durability of PC with the lightweight strength of ABS. Because of these features, PC-ABS is great for printing mechanical parts, computer casings and anything that has to have the best of the PC and ABS worlds.

The two downsides to PC-ABS is that it can warp rather easily and that it somewhat absorbs moisture, so to get the best out of your prints, moisture-reduction precautions are advised.

Properties

Durable, tough, rigid, strong

Extruding temperature: 260C-280C

Bed temperature: 100C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Advanced

nGen

About

The skill level required to work with nGen is beginner, and its behavior during printing is very similar to PLA. People often use it as an alternative to both PLA and ABS, and many would argue that it’s performance is much better, as well. nGen can be used to make flexible technical pieces as well as artistic items, such as vases. It comes in opaque and transparent. There are other transparent materials out there, but what is so impressive with nGen in terms of aesthetics is its vivid opacity.

Properties

Opaque (or transparent, depends on which type you buy), low warp, durable, glossy, flexible

Extruding temperature: 250C-260C

Bed temperature: 90C-110C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Beginner

TPC or TPE-E (thermoplastic copolyester)

About

TPC is a type of TPE, sometimes known as TPE-E. Because TPC is both UV and heat-resistant, it’s a great filament to be used in the creation of outdoor furniture and outdoor toys, especially when flexibility is called for. You can also use it to make art or custom phone/tablet cases.

Properties

Flexible, durable, UV-resistant, heat-resistance, chemical-resistant

Extruding temperature: 210C

Bed temperature: 60C-100C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Advanced

Amphora

About

Eastman Chemical Company’s Amphora is a new filament, specifically purpose-designed for 3D printing applications. Practical applications for amphora are mechanical due to its strength and rigidity, while its truly opaque coloring and glossy finish create beautiful artistic and decorative items, like vases, plates and cups.

Properties

Opaque, glossy, food safe, strong, rigid, lightweight, impact-resistant, odorless, no warping

Extruding temperature: 220C-250C

Bed temperature: 60C-70C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Intermediate

Color Changing

About

Color changing filaments are generally PLA or ABS-based but with additives mixed in to achieve the color changing effect. Generally, the color changing occurs when exposed to different temperatures, much like classic mood rings. However, some variations change in with light exposure, so there are a lot more options within this category than might initially appear at first glance, making it a great filament for artistic expression, home décor, craft projects and more.

Properties

Durable, flexible, color changing

Extruding temperature: 215C

Bed temperature: 50C (not required, but recommended)

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Beginner

LayCeramic

About

LayCeramic is a clay-based 3D printer filament that has been engineered to allow for post-processing similar to regular clay ceramics, and firing is required to set it, much like traditional ceramics. Glazing a LayCeramic piece creates a glossy finish, which is the reason LayCeramic requires an advanced 3D printing skill level

Properties

Processable (firing, glazing), brittle, glossy (when glazed)

Extruding temperature: 260C-275C

Bed temperature: 20C-55C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Advanced

LAYBRICK

About

Similar to wood filaments, LAYBRICK feels much like grey stone bricks, but plasticized for printability. Even better, LAYBRICK can be sanded and painted just like real bricks, so you can get the desired look you’re going for. LAYBRICK is great for models and architectural applications.

Properties

Durable, resilient, realistic

Extruding temperature: 180C-200C

Bed temperature: 20C-55C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Intermediate

Gel-Lay

About

Gel-Lay is made out of water soluble PVA and a rubber-elastomeric polymer. As the name suggests, Gel-Lay has a soft, jelly-like look and feel. Its top applications are biomechanical (such as creation of artificial limbs), as well as objects to be used in water, such as floatable toys and marine animal replicas.

Properties

Microporous, elastic, strong

Extruding temperature: 225C-235C

Bed temperature: 20C-55C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Intermediate

Lay-Felt

About

Lay-Felt is another rubber-elastomeric-PVA-hybrid. The PVA aspect is entirely water soluble, so when exposed to water, the PVA melts away, leaving the rest of the material intact. The cool thing about Lay-Felt is you can get pretty creative with its applications. Essentially, whatever need you have for something flexible, felt-y and porous, look no further than Lay-Felt.

Properties

Porous, felt-like, flexible

Extruding temperature: 225C-235C

Bed temperature: 20C-55C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Intermediate

LAY-FOMM (40 and 60)

About

LAY-FOMM 40 and LAY-FOMM 60 are brought to you by the makers of LAYBRICK, LayCeramic and other super-useful 3D filaments. The only difference between the 40 and 60 versions is their shore hardness (A40 and A6, respectively), which is why they’re grouped together here.

Once again, we have a combination of rubber-elastomeric with PVA, only this time the resulting printed material is spongy and foamy. Applications include custom ink reservoirs, costume components, and more.

LAY-FOMM rinsed with water removes the rigid PVA aspect to create the ultimately spongy/foamy qualities post-process.

Properties

Microporous, foamy, spongy, elastic

Extruding temperature: 220C-230C

Bed temperature: 40C-60C

Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape

Required skill level: Intermediate

Water soluble support filaments

About

LAYaPVA, LAY-CLOUD, and HIGH-T-LAY are all supportive, water soluble 3D printer filaments that are a great alternative to support filaments are soluble with harsher chemicals.

Properties

Supportive, water soluble

Extruding temperature: 220C-245C

Bed temperature: 50C-60C

Bed adhesion: Kapton tape, hairspray

Required skill level: Beginner

Alcohol soluble support filaments

About

ETHY-LAY is an alcohol soluble support filament. Like water soluble support filaments, it can support materials like ABS, while being soluble with a chemical that’s less harsh than some of the other solvents out there.

Properties

Supportive, alcohol soluble

Extruding temperature: 155C-175C

Bed temperature: 50C-60C

Bed adhesion: Kapton tape, hairspray

Required skill level: Beginner

Cleaning filament

About

Cleaning filament is simply used to clean your 3D printer. It has no other practical application, but it doesn’t make it any less important, because maintaining your 3D printer is vital to its overall health and longevity.

Properties

Cleaning

Extruding temperature: 150C-260C

Bed temperature: N/A

Bed adhesion: N/A

Required skill level: Beginner

How to choose the best 3D printer filament for your needs

The best 3D printer filament is going to be the one that best suits your project’s needs. For instance, if you’re making containers for food, you’re going to want to choose a filament that is FDA-approved for food contact. Alternatively, if you’re creating your own LEDs, you’re going to want a conductive 3D printing filament. Always choose the 3D filament that best suits the requirements of your task, because it will dramatically improve the end result and can make or break a project. Of course, it’s not always about the filament, you also need the best 3D printer possible.

Refer to the guide below to learn more about 3D filaments including new, emerging filaments that have hit the market in the last few years.