Friday 15 December 2017

Christmas Advent 3D Printing #Day 14 Advice for using and selecting generic no-brand filaments

December advent calendar - modular Christmas tree
3D Printing advice #Day 14

For the background and introduction - Day #1 Post click here

Last time - Days #12 & 13 were printed in a variety of Proto-Pasta filament, including matte fiber HTPLA, cinnamon, pine, and the almost religious experience of *glitterflake*

Christmas Advent 2017 Download on Thingiverse here - designed by Tom Van den Bon  With some help for each day by the South African Makers team.

It's Day #14 already, wow, this month is going so fast.

Day 14 gift is designed by Tom Van den Bon - It's a Lego block.

 Day 14 LEGO block - printed in generic-unknown 'no-brand' PLA.

The point of today is to talk about generic 'no-brand' 3D printing materials (filaments). Some are good, some are bad, some totally waste your time, your money and can even damage your printer.

It was the LEGO brick (LEGO's for USA) that made me think about generic materials. This is because in the early days of desktop 3D printing, many manufacturers stated 'it uses the same type of plastic found in LEGO bricks (ABS)'. But in reality the ABS used in LEGO is drastically different (and superior) to what's being used for most 3D printing filaments.

I also decided to print it in generic PLA, just to make the point that you can't really tell what plastic is being used, by looking.

I'll try to describe some of the things I have worked out about no-brand filaments over the years. Hopefully it may just help you, if you decide to buy from a supplier that offers no actual information or evidence, about where the filament is from or who has manufactured it.

General advice - 

One of the most important factors of any 3D printing material is a correct and consistent dimension of the filament. Look for a round (not oval) shape, consistent +/-0.1mm diameter and a smooth surface.

Note:- Some filaments do have a 'snake-skin' finish, that may be intentional or a sign that it may have been extruded at a very high temperature, fast. That does not necessarily indicate a negative, but it's worth being aware of.

Next, do try to find out what it's made of. Resin types, blend and any additives that may be used. Any good manufacturer will provide this information, most will point to a datasheet and have links to resin suppliers like Natureworks.

Get a sample, and if possible get a sample in 'natural' and also black material.

Most natural (not coloured) filament is usually the most straightforward to test and evaluate.

Black is a good test of quality. It has been known for some manufacturers to take old or incorrect batches of materials and mix them back into black plastic materials (to hide them). So if I really want to test out a filament supplier, I always ask for a black sample or buy a black roll of filament first.

I have had black filament 'shatter' and also have a blue or other colour tint in some rolls and not others from the same supplier.

Also if it smells bad when you print with it, decide if you really want to continue using it.

Look at the spool, you can tell a lot from a spool. For example, Dutch filaments make a lot of materials, and also private-label (white-label) many filaments for companies and manufacturers all around the world. Dutch filaments make some really fantastic materials, so when I see a no-brand / re-brand / white-label material being sold, I try to check the filament spool. I have discovered quite a few that have probably been made by Dutch filaments because of the spool. That alone makes me happy to buy them and try them out. I know it's going to be good quality.

Other manufacturers do this too, but they often also change spool type at the request of the end customer.

If you want to look at one of my blog posts here from way back in 2012, it shows one of the most odd and frustrating experiences I have ever had with filament.

You don't always get what you pay for, but you should at least make some effort to find out exactly what you are buying...

PLA advice - 

Like most plastic materials, many different grades and formulations exist. PLA is no different. and it's  worth knowing a little more about the grades. Just saying PLA, is almost as bad as saying 'ABS' (see ABS advice below).

PLA can be made from corn starch, or other starches, potato for example. Biome3D has a potato based PLA. 

Common older PLA types are often still used for manufacturing 3D printing filament - often 4032D, 4043D, 4044D, 4060D.

You may find that these are world specific, for example it's common for 4032D to be used in China.

Natureworks have now designed 3D850 and 3D870 formulations that are specifically made for 3D printing. You will see come manufacturers using these Resin's but they often have their own names for these rather than state 3D850 etc.

Lots more PLA types exist, PHA and PLLA are also from a similar family / process.

ABS advice - 

ABS, yea. That's a tricky one. ABS is one of those materials that can be mixed in so many different ways and have a lot of quality grades. I have had a few good experiences with 'generic' ABS, but mostly a lot of really bad ones.

As I have said before, I don't like using ABS, and some spools I have had in the past only strengthen that view. Some ABS materials can become very brittle over time, especially in sunlight. Some printed parts have almost crumbled when touched into fragments after 18 months in a window. They can tend to fade in sunlight, and become yellowed.

I have seen 1Kg spools of generic ABS for around £4.50 with free UK delivery. Raw ABS resin pellets can be around $3-4 per Kg so that's an amazing deal... if it's any good. Some are okay, many are not.

The only ABS I really buy now is Easy ABS from Prusa and various types of PCABS (Proto-Pasta / E3D and other quality suppliers).

Buyer beware! when selecting 'ABS'

Nylon advice -

I don't buy 'generic' Nylon it's usually not worth doing. It can be very hit and miss. Honestly stick to branded and well controlled materials from manufacturers like Taulman3D.

PET advice - 

PET, PETG and PETT can be amazingly strong and useful 3D printing materials. Often they can print well and give some unique optical properties. They can also warp like mad, take chunks out of your build plate and be hell to tune or have 'odd' print setting requirements.

I really like using ReForm rPET by Formfutura, and I have tried many, many other PET based materials over the years. Here I'm saying to experiment, but don't expect 'PET' to be the same, it's a good material to have as an option for use.

On a related note, we are starting to see many more polyester and co-polymer materials coming onto the market. Prices are lowering making it more accessible for everyone to use strong and reasonably easy to print PET type materials.

Day 14 'generic' LEGO brick in an emerald Polyalchemy Elixir Emerald City Green tree section.

I can cover other generic materials if this sort of advice is useful? if not, let me know.

I'll carry on with all the other great manufacturers, I use on a regular basis anyway.

Join me next time for Day #15 - (The Christmas party was very good indeed, time for bed.)

Thanks for reading.


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