What 3D filament print materials are there and what are the differences?

By - - Price update: 24 June 2024 -

Filaments, just call them the "ink" for your 3D printer, there are many types and all have in turn specific features and applications. And every particular 3D printer supports other, but not all types. In this special we will highlight the major 3D printing materials for you at a glance.

First, following below is a list of the main filament types with a short description. Afterwards you will find more detailed information on the most important material groups (plastic and resin) and printing techniques that are used.

Types of filaments

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is the material that is among others used for Lego. This filament is not biodegradable and during printing unpleasant fumes are released. Thus, printing with ABS is ideally done in a ventilated room. ABS is sensitive to deformation, so a printer with a heatable printbed is strongly advised.
• For more information about ABS: ' ABS filament; Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene for strength and flexibility '

PLA (Polylactic Acid) is suitable for almost all 3D printers; this filament is strong, easy to print and, thanks to its raw materials, starch and soybeans, also biodegradable. This has the advantage that hardly any unpleasant fumes are released during printing. In contrast, PLA cools slowly and is not heat-resistant!
• For more information about PLA: ' PLA filament; biodegradable plastic made from starch and soybeans'

PVA (polyvinyl alcohol) is biodegradable and is mainly used as a second filament in 3D printers with two printheads. This material is used to support vulnerable parts of your print (see photo) and can be dissolved after printing. Please note: PVA is to be stored separately, so that it does not dissolve itself.

The material Nylon is particularly suitable for printing objects, where durability and flexibility are most important. Think of hoses, casings or other parts that have to deal with friction. Nylon is very sensitive to printing errors and you should try to dry it thoroughly before printing.

The material is comparable to ABS, but produces far less obnoxious fumes during printing.

This plastic looks like stone and is paintable, making it very suitable for creating landscapes, for example.

TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) filament is the best choice for industrial applications and a wide range of production projects that require characteristics of rubber as well as plastic.

GLASS is a material with a translucent structure and is thus ideal for prototypes of products that need to be manufactured from glass or transparent plastic. For inspiration: 'Transparent 3D printing with SBS-Glass filament'.

Thermal plastic and plastic

Thermal plastics are excellent print materials for starters; the print materials are affordable, durable and widely available. The best-known types of thermal plastic are Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and Polylactic Acid (PLA). Check out our Specials about ABS and PLA for more information about these materials and their pros and cons.

The print materials (filaments) are available in all colors and are suitable for prototyping mechanical parts and designs without many overhangs.

Thermal plastic and plastic are ideal for:

  • Low cost prototyping
  • Mechanical parts
  • Cases, holders and adapters
  • Games & toys
  • Scale models

Thermal plastic and plastic are less suitable for:

  • Complex designs

Thermal plastic and plastic is used in the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology. FDM, also known as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), pushes a wire of solid material (filament) through a heated nozzle that melts the filament. The 3D printer moves the nozzle and places the molten material on the desired locations where it cools and hardens. This solidified material is added layer by layer to build up the model.

Nowadays, FDM is the most prevalent 3D printing technology and is used by most desktop 3D printers. It is ideal for fast and affordable prototyping and a variety of applications. Print materials, available in all colors of the rainbow, include various plastics such as ABS, PLA, Nylon and exotic materials like carbon, bronze or wood. Every day new types of filaments come to the market. Click here for our special about 3D print technologies.

Printers on our site that make use of thermal plastic and FDM:


Resin that is hardened via a light source (UV or laser) has very fine details, sharp edges and a smooth finish. The number of available colors is at the moment still limited, but resin is easily paintable and it is also possible to print semi-transparent with it.

Resin is ideal for printing complex designs and sculptures. Aside from object size, resin has hardly any design limitations.

Resin is ideal for:

  • Complex designs and objects
  • Small models with high detail
  • Jewelery and art
  • Investment casting (metal forming technique)

Resin is less suitable for:

  • Large models
  • Objects that are later on exposed to a lot of UV light

Stereo Lithography (SLA) and Digital Light Processing (DLP) make use of printing with resin. SLA and DLP print objects in a resin liquid (photo polymer) and let material harden layer by layer with the help of a light source. For this SLA makes use of a laser and DLP makes use of a projector.

As mentioned earlier, this printing technology produces very accurate parts with smooth surfaces, but overhanging parts usually require additional supporting structures to ensure that the model properly adheres to the building platform. Regularly, new print materials are added.

Formlabs Form 2
Currently, the Formlabs Form 2 is the best-known 3D printer on the market.
Check out our product page of the Formlabs Form 2 for more information about this exceptional printer.

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