It won’t be an overstatement to say that most of you reading this article have often wondered ‘which 3D printing material is the strongest?’ It is surely an intriguing question. One that everyone wants to know the answer to. Whether you are a hobbyist or an expert, most of your projects need materials that are strong and tough. With this article, we aim to compare the toughest 3D printing materials and provide you with an answer.
But this also begs the question of what strength means for 3D printing materials?
What does ‘strong’ mean when it comes to 3D printing?
Well, strength in 3D printing materials can be defined in a number of ways. Some of them include hardness, impact resistance, compressive strength, and so on. However, two of the most commonly understood types of strength that most people care about are tensile strength and flexural strength. That is how much a material can be stretched and bent respectively. In the following overview, we will list the MegaPascal (MPa) of pressure that each material can endure. The higher these numbers, the ‘stronger’ the material when subjected to those particular stresses. The numbers we use are based on the technical datasheets for Ultimaker materials. Materials from other brands may vary.
Best FFF/FDM materials for printing strong parts
For our comparison of the strongest 3D printing materials, we will be considering seven different materials. Namely, Polylactic Acid (PLA), Tough PLA, Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), Polycarbonate (PC), glycol-modified polyethylene terephthalate (PET-G ), Nylon, and Polypropylene (PP). Which one is best for you depends on your needs, budget, and a number of other factors. Later in this article, we will discuss specific applications and which material may be best for them.
PLA, or polylactic acid, is a highly versatile and popular FDM 3D printing material. Its popularity stems from the fact that it is simple to print, easily available at low prices, and comes in a variety of colors. For that reason, it’s likely the first material most people will print with.
PLA is not usually chosen for its strength properties, due to the material being brittle. If you are printing on a budget, PLA can be appropriate in some cases but if your part needs to flex before breaking, you are usually better off using a different material.
PLA filament properties
Tensile Strength: 53-59 MPa
Flexural Strength: 97-101 MPa
Tough PLA filament
Tough PLA is a tougher version of regular PLA or Polylactic Acid. It combines the ease of printing that one can expect from PLA and takes away the main disadvantage of PLA: its brittleness. For this reason, it’s ideal for functional prototypes that need a bit of flex.
Tough PLA is not as brittle as regular PLA, it exhibits higher tensile strength than ABS, is easier to print than ABS, and is compatible with the water-soluble support material PVA.
Tough PLA filament properties
Tensile Strength: 45-48 MPa
Flexural Strength: 83-96 MPa
ABS, also known as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, is a popular thermoplastic polymer. It is well-known for its impact, chemical, water, and heat resistance. It also has outstanding high and low-temperature performance, which makes it perfect for automotive components. ABS also has good electrical insulation properties, making it a good choice for the housing and casing of electrical parts.
Furthermore, ABS is comparatively cheaper than most materials and is relatively easy to post-process. As a result, it is an excellent material for mass production and is used in a wide range of common products. The fact that ABS is simple to post-process also means it can be bonded and painted.
ABS filament properties
Tensile Strength: 34-36 MPa
Flexural Strength: 60-61 MPa
Polycarbonate (PC) filament
Polycarbonate filament (PC) is a stiff thermoplastic polymer that is resistant to heat and chemicals. It is a high-strength material designed for use in harsh environments and technical applications. It has good heat deflection due to its high glass transition temperature and it is typically available in a version with improved impact resistance as well.
Polycarbonate filament has numerous applications in everyday life. Polycarbonate, unlike plexiglass, does not shatter. It bends and deforms similarly to hard rubber until it finally breaks. It also has excellent optical clarity.
Polycarbonate can be difficult to work with due to its high temperature resistance, meaning that warping can be an issue. Choosing the correct glue and avoiding sharp angles in your parts can help you print successfully with this material.
Polycarbonate filament properties
Tensile Strength: 43-65 MPa
Flexural Strength: 89-114 MPa
PETG, or Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol, is a thermoplastic polyester that has been chemically modified with the addition of Glycol to limit crystallization and improve toughness. The inclusion of glycol improves PET’s , durability and formability for production. It has a strong impact and abrasion resistance and can sustain higher temperatures compared to PLA.
Because of its excellent properties and relatively low price, PETG is commonly used in 3D printing. It is a good engineering-grade material that can be used in place of ABS. It also has less of a tendency to warp, which means it's easier to print accurate parts.
PETG filament properties
Tensile Strength: 38-44 MPa
Flexural Strength: 75-79MPa
Nylon for 3D printing is commonly found in several forms: PA6 and PA6/66, which are stiffer versions of Nylon, and PA 12, which is a flexible type of Nylon. Nylon has helpful qualities that make it an appealing material for 3D printing. Nylon is both strong and durable, as well as flexible. This characteristic is beneficial when printing pieces with thin walls. Furthermore, nylon has a high melting point with a very low coefficient of friction, allowing it to be used in the printing of functional interlocking items such as gears.
One major disadvantage of nylon as a 3D printing material is that it is highly hygroscopic, which means that it absorbs moisture. This can make it difficult to achieve the expected performance when printing.
Nylon filament properties
Tensile Strength: 63-65 MPa
Flexural Strength: 63-83 MPa
Polypropylene (PP) filament
Polypropylene (PP) is a widely used plastic that may be found in almost any household. It is the material of choice for storage and packaging applications as well as many traditional forms of manufacturing like injection molding. The popularity of PP is due to its high chemical resistance, heat resistance, impact resistance, and flexibility.
Its qualities make it perfect for applications such as food packaging, outdoor exposure, chemical storage tanks, and even medical applications like prosthetics, among others.
Polypropylene Filament Properties
Tensile Strength: 10-12 MPa
Flexural Strength: 13-15 MPa
Best settings for printing strong parts
Wouldn't it be great to be able to print stronger parts even without changing the material you’re using? Luckily, it is possible. The key is to optimize your settings. To get the most out of your printer and material, you must customize the settings you use for not only each material, but also each part.
Below are some of the best settings to modify to strengthen your part:
Infill type and density: Infill type and density are important contributing factors toward the strength of a printed part. The greater the infill density, the greater the strength. However, a high infill density is not usually advised as it uses up a lot of material and takes more time to print. To increase the strength of a part without increasing the density, you can also change the infill pattern depending on the part functionality. For example, in compression strength tests, triangle/grid infill shows higher compression strength versus cubic and gyroid infill patterns
For most visual prints, you can use an infill of around 20 percent, but for stronger parts, try going over 50 percent. An alternative is to use modifier meshes to selectively generate higher infill density in the areas where the stresses will be the highest.
Part Orientation: Part orientation may not be on your checklist of steps to ensure a stronger print, but it is crucial. Tensile strength is weaker along the Z-axis in 3D printing (typically 40-70% of the strength when compared to the XY-axis), especially in tall and thin printed parts. As a result, you must carefully orient the part to match the required axis of strength. While doing this, you will also have to take into consideration the support structure and a balance will have to be found based on what matters most in that particular part.
Shell Thickness: The outer surface thickness of the part is referred to as its shell thickness. Generally speaking, the thicker the shell, the stronger the part. Based on this, you can decide the shell thickness you need for your part. A shell thickness which is double the layer thickness is usually a good place to start.
Post-processing for stronger parts
The work is not finished once a part is printed. It’s possible to increase the strength of your printed part with a little extra work.
Annealing: Semicrystalline materials like Nylon, PET, PEEK and some forms of PLA can be annealed. This is thermal treatment where the material is fully transformed in its crystalline state, giving you a stiffer and stronger part.
Applications for strong printed parts
Strong printed parts have a wide range of applications spread across industries and functions. The following are examples of applications where strength is critical along with which materials you may want to consider using:
Functional prototypes: Functional prototypes are meant to test and demonstrate the final functionality of the product being developed. Functional prototypes are rigorously tested so that accurate data can be gathered on the behavior of the part during real-world performance. This means that the characteristics of the prototype and the final product must match so that the data generated during the testing phase can be trusted. Because functional prototypes are prone to wear and tear, they must be robust. For this application, tough PLA and PET-G filaments are commonly used. Although, any material can be appropriate as long as it shares the properties of the material which will eventually be used for mass production.
End-Use Components: When printing end-use parts, improved strength characteristics greatly increase the number of end-use applications that 3D printing can be used for. Polypropylene is commonly used for parts such as prosthetics, polycarbonate is used for eyewear and electronic casings, and polypropylene, PET-G, or PEEK are often used for applications requiring chemical contact.
Manufacturing Aids: These are the tools and devices that assist in the manufacturing of parts. These are also used during the assembly stage to speed up the assembly of parts. Stronger prints are recommended for this application because they can experience a lot of wear and tear with repeated use. Nylon and PET-G are often appropriate materials to use here.
We hope this information will help you make a better decision on material selection. Visit the Ultimaker marketplace to find the material that’s right for your application.
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Polycarbonate (PC) delivers high tensile strength along with high impact and heat resistance. It's widely seen as one of the strongest 3D printing filaments.What is the strongest and lightest material for 3D printing? ›
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PLA and ABS are both thermoplastics. PLA is stronger and stiffer than ABS, but poor heat-resistance properties means PLA is mostly a hobbyist material. ABS is weaker and less rigid, but also tougher and lighter, making it a better plastic for prototyping applications.What is stronger than PLA filament? ›
PETG is stronger and more resilient than PLA. PLA, on the other hand, is widely used as FDM/FFF filaments because of its better melt and cooling properties. In terms of cost, PETG is more expensive than PLA.Is 3D printed metal stronger? ›
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Why do so many people choose PLA as their 3D printing filament? It provides ease of use at a low cost and, importantly, it is reasonably strong. Additionally, you can print with PLA at a low temperature, without a heated bed, but it has a tensile strength of 7,250 psi.What is the toughest 3D filament? ›
Polycarbonate. According to multiple manufacturers and reviewers, polycarbonate (PC) is considered the strongest consumer filament out there. PC can yield extremely high-strength parts when printed correctly with an all-metal hot end and an enclosure.
Tony Stark would definitely use Titanium 3D printers to make his suits. In fact, 3D printers can be seen in the background of his workshop. While the outside armor pieces were 3D printed in Titanium to make it bulletproof, other components were also printed in nylon and other flexible materials to make it wearable.How strong is 3D printed Kevlar? ›
In three-point bending, 3D printed Kevlar is 3x stronger than ABS and 6x stronger than nylon. 3D printed Kevlar is 12x more rigid than ABS and 30x more rigid than nylon.Can you 3D print metal? ›
Titanium, steel, stainless steel, aluminium, copper, cobalt chrome, titanium, tungsten and nickel-based alloys are all available in powdered form for 3D printing, as are precious metals like gold, platinum, palladium and silver.Can wood be 3D printed? ›
Among these amazing materials is wood. Now compatible with processes such as filament extrusion or even powder bed methods, wood 3D printing is becoming increasingly popular.Is ABS or PETG stronger? ›
PETG is stronger, more durable, and it prints better. It's also available in a wide variety of novelty and composite filaments. ABS is only necessary if you absolutely need its temperature resistance or its ability to be glued and painted. Otherwise, it's difficult to justify the printing difficulties involved.Is PLA stronger than polycarbonate? ›
Each material was then tested by loading the hook with weight until it fractured. Polycarbonate won by a landslide. PLA has a tensile strength of 7,250 psi and was able to lift 285 pounds. In comparison, ABS has a tensile strength of 4,700 psi and snapped instantly under 285 pounds of weight.How much stronger is PETG than ABS? ›
Strength and Toughness.
|Density||1.05 g/cc||1.27 g/cc|
The Granta polymer database shows that the yield strength for PLA generally falls in the range of 48-60 MPa, while PETG falls in the range of 47.9- 52.9 MPa.Is PLA stronger than TPU? ›
Another difference between TPU and PLA is its tensile strength, where PLA comes out on top. Although TPU offers better durability, polylactic acid is the stronger of the two 3D printing filaments. However, TPU prints have the upper hand when it comes to abrasion resistance.Is PETG toxic to print? ›
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Titanium powder, with micrometre-sized particles, is fired into a shape using a 3D-printing technique called laser-powder bed fusion. Then, the printed material is heat-treated at 480°C. The resulting material has an ultimate tensile strength of over 1600 megapascals – making it the strongest known 3D-printed metal.Is 3D printed plastic stronger than wood? ›
Wood is strong along its fiber direction but can be quite weak perpendicular to it just like 3D prints are strong in the print plane but weak between the layers. This is something that is very important to keep in mind when designing parts.How strong is a 3D printed gun? ›
The weapon can hold 5 bullets at once in its 3D-printed barrel. In November 2013 Solid Concepts, now a Stratasys brand, 3D printed an operational metal gun. The Browning 1911 Metal Replica fired more than 600 bullets without any damage to the gun.What is the strongest 3D plastic? ›
Polycarbonate. One of the strongest FDM 3D printing materials — in terms of both tensile and impact strength — is polycarbonate (PC).How strong is 3D printed aluminum? ›
Aluminum alloys for 3D printing are also not as strong as nickel-based alloys or steel. That being said, aluminum alloys are less expensive than titanium and are more lightweight than steel and nickel-based materials. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of 3D printing aluminum is related to its printability.How much weight can a 3D printed object hold? ›
Researchers from MIT and Lawrence Livermore have created a new class of materials with the same density as aerogels (aka frozen smoke) but 10,000 times stiffer.How strong is 3D printed carbon? ›
Carbon Fiber is a stiff and strong fiber that behaves like 6061 Aluminum, so it can be used for lightweight components that support heavy loads. This 3D printed carbon fiber can match the strength of aluminum when continuous. Both are supporting a 27.5 lb load.Is resin stronger than plastic 3D printing? ›
While resin 3D printers can produce better quality parts than filament printers, they fall short when it comes to part strength and durability. Resin parts are often weak and brittle, so they have relatively few end-use applications.How strong is a 3D printed bolt? ›
As for whether they're usable, My Tech Fun has a video testing the strength of 3D-printed bolts in different orientations. His tests were of M10, but the horizontally-printed one was able to hold over 140 kg in a pulling test, making it (especially with multiple bolts) suitable for serious applications.What the strongest and most heat resistant filament? ›
Nylon Carbon Fiber
It's the best filament to use if your print will be exposed to high heat for extended periods of time because it can resist continuous temperatures of 150 degrees Celsius.
Tensile Strength: 42.5 - 63.6 MPa.Can you weld 3D printed steel? ›
Yes, you can. TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding with silicon bronze filler can be used to weld 3D printed steel parts together. If a strong bond isn't required, you can also silver solder steel parts together with a torch. This is typically done for smaller applications.Do 3D-printed guns last? ›
Unlike traditional firearms that can fire thousands of rounds in a lifetime, the 3D-printed guns usually last only a few rounds before they fall apart, experts say. They usually hold a bullet or two and then must be manually loaded. And they're often not very accurate.What metal can block bullets? ›
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A team of researchers at MIT has designed one of the strongest lightweight materials known, by compressing and fusing flakes of graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon.How strong is 3D printed copper? ›
|Chemical composition in compliance with||>99.95 % pure|
|Ultimate Tensile Strength||165 MPa|
|Yield Strength||235 MPa|
|Elongation @ Break||45 %|
The Granta polymer database shows that the yield strength for PLA generally falls in the range of 48-60 MPa, while PETG falls in the range of 47.9- 52.9 MPa.Is 3D printing as strong as steel? ›
Tests showed that under certain conditions the final 3D printed stainless steels were up to three times stronger than steels made by conventional techniques and yet still ductile, the scientists report today in Nature Materials .How strong is 3D printed titanium? ›
Titanium powder, with micrometre-sized particles, is fired into a shape using a 3D-printing technique called laser-powder bed fusion. Then, the printed material is heat-treated at 480°C. The resulting material has an ultimate tensile strength of over 1600 megapascals – making it the strongest known 3D-printed metal.
If you're transitioning to PETG from PLA, you may find that PETG cracks rather easily. While PLA benefits from large amounts of cooling, PETG can suffer if it's cooled too quickly. If print layers begin to separate or crack, reduce the fan speed.Is PETG stronger than TPU? ›
PETG vs. TPU: PETG is tougher but less flexible than TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane). TPU can adhere to cooler printing beds than PETG. The bed temperature should be somewhere between 40 °C and 60 °C.Does PETG break easily? ›
PETG is prone to being brittle if you apply too much cooling. Ideally, print PETG with no cooling for best strength.Will PETG melt in a hot car? ›
If PETG is deforming in a hot car, you should reconsider where you're buying it from: proper PETG should be good up to at least 70°C (160°F), and more commonly 90°C (195°F). @Mark not really: it holds shape up to 90 °C, but it loses strength much earlier. 70 °C is about the max for maintaining physical strength.Is PET stronger than PETG? ›
PET is the result of two monomers combining. PETG may involve these same monomers, but also includes glycol, giving it different chemical properties than PET. This means that PETG has better shock resistance and is better suited to higher temperatures.Is 3D printed concrete strong? ›
Several concrete materials compatible with 3D printing were developed for the application of 3DP. However, for engineering materials, 3D printed concrete (3DPC) is brittle and lacks sufficient tensile capacity.