5 Cheapest Materials For 3D Printing Online
3D printing can be a drain on your finances – when you don’t know which materials to use. Beginners often fall into the trap of going for the fanciest materials in the market, only to end up wasting it on test prints.
And then there is the business perspective. If you are looking to sell your prints online, keeping your prints economical is crucial.
You need materials that are strong and long-lasting, while also not burning a hole in your pocket. This balancing act is particularly hard if you want special qualities, like chemical resistance or professional smoothness.
So what are the cheapest materials for 3D printing? Let’s find out.
PLA or Polylactic Acid is undoubtedly the cheapest material for 3D printing. It is also very easy to print with, as it melts easily without having to raise the temperatures too high.
The problem is that the PLA is weak. It bends and deforms under pressure, and loses shape when heated. Even exposure to direct sunlight is enough to degrade it, making it a poor choice for printing outdoor objects.
That is why PLA is generally only used for messing around. If you are only printing for fun (or to learn 3D printing) then PLA is excellent. It is also great for making prototypes, while the final products are made with something else.
If you have a printer with multiple extruders, there is another use for PLA. Printing miniatures or other complicated models usually involves a bunch of support pillars. Instead of wasting your primary material on support structures, you can use PLA to print those sections. This saves resources as well as printing time.
For those looking for quality prints at low rates, consider getting a stereolithography printer. SLA printers, as they are usually called, don’t work with filaments at all. Instead, they use targeted UV radiation to ‘cure’ liquid polymers into a solid-state. The resultant layers are formed inside a vat of liquid material.
The material used by these printers is called standard resin. There are other varieties too, like Tough resin or Medical-grade resin, but standard resin is the most common. That it also happens to be the cheapest doesn’t hurt either.
The chief difference between standard resins and a filament is quality. SLA prints are generally tougher, smoother, and more durable. Moreover, the resin curing process itself is better at expressing details than FDM printers.
ABS is the cheapest ‘strong’ material. When you want to print something to last, this is the material you would go with.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene or ABS possesses both tensile strength and sheer durability. It is also quite rigid, making it great for printing heavy-duty objects.
Another advantage it has over other materials for 3D printing is its heat resistance. Once set, it is almost impossible to deform with heating. As you might expect, ABS is often used to print objects meant for outdoor usage.
The only problem with ABS is that it is rather hard to work with. Its heat resistance means that the extruder has to be heated to extreme temperatures just to make it melt. Then the print bed needs to be superheated too, or the layers set too quickly.
Some entry-level printers might not even be able to use ABS at all. Better printers can handle their temperature range, but care is still required to not damage the printer. For someone used to working with the more malleable PLA, the switch can be difficult to make.
PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol) is a trifle more expensive than PLA or ABS. In many ways it is similar to ABS; strong, durable, and rigid. But it also has some more advantages.
The most well-known of these is that PETG is a food-grade material. When properly finished, objects made with the material can be safely used as utensils or food containers. Another is its smoothness.
A little sanding is all it takes to turn a PETG print perfectly smooth, without all the dents and bumps endemic in other filaments. The material is also a bit denser, resulting in smooth, solid pieces that appear to have been cast out of a mold.
This is why PETG is used to create end products, not just prototypes like PLA. It also displays a heat resistance on par with ABS, apart from being fairly resistant to shocks and impacts.
If you are looking for a chemically resistant filament, there are few good choices. Materials like Nylon or PP obviously fit the bill, but they are too expensive to be considered in this list.
ASA, however, is a good fit. Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate or ASA is basically an improved form of the better known ABS. The material is just as strong and resistant to heat, besides also possessing some immunity to harsh chemicals.
It is electrically insulating, making it suitable for building objects that have to interact safely with electronics. It is also unaffected by UV rays, which can be useful in some scenarios.
As to the cost, ASA isn’t the cheapest of materials. It costs more than PLA and ABS. That being said, it is still much cheaper than materials like Carbon fiber, while giving a similarly high level of toughness and impact resistance.
Materials are but one aspect that factor into the cost of 3D printing. Factors like the complexity of the model and the thickness of the print are equally important.
Even so, using cheaper 3D printing supplies is the easiest way to bring down the costs of printing. Choosing cheaper materials for 3D printing like PLA or ABS instead of top-end options like Carbon fiber can cut your expenses dramatically.
If you want to go fancy, there are always PETG and ASA, with many of the advantages possessed by the more expensive options. Whether you want a prototyping material or a strong filament for long-lasting prints, you will find the right match in this list. So what are you waiting for? Grab a cheap material and start printing.