Hundreds of materials are available for additive manufacturing systems. Each offers different capabilities to meet your form, fit, and function needs. For the most part, each vendor of an AM machine offers materials that function best with that machine. There are good technical reasons for such proprietary arrangements—it ensures that parts will deliver the features claimed by the manufacturer. If you use a material not specifically built for a machine, you will not necessarily obtain the exact features you want. You may come close, though.
Although service bureaus will not admit publicly to using other materials than the ones specified for a project, it does happen.
Because of the range of materials available, we have chosen to publish general information on them. This information will help you narrow the field a bit. Please contact the manufacturer for specific application needs.
3D Systems offers a range of materials, primarily under the VisiJet name. The V-Flash Desktop Printer, though, uses FTI-GN material. V-Flash systems use Film, Transfer Imaging (FTI) technology to build parts. The material delivers hard plastic parts with smooth surfaces and fine-feature detail. The plastic material is durable and rugged enough for functional testing and end-use parts. It can be sanded, drilled, machined, painted, and plated in metal.
• The VisiJet® EX200 and MX plastic materials suit functional testing applications. Parts look and feel like a true plastic.
• The VisiJet® SR200 plastic material is available in white (natural), blue, and gray colors for general models. This material is commonly used for sacrificial patterns for numerous direct casting applications.
• VisiJet® HR200 plastic material suits applications in micro-casting and custom cast metals, such as delicate medical instruments.
• VisiJet® CP200 Wax material provides 100% RealWax patterns for lost-wax casting of mid-sized and large foundry applications. RealWax patterns can replace traditional casting waxes in standard casting processes with no special modifications.
• VisiJet® CPX200 Wax material handles lost-wax casting of fine-detail items such as jewelry and micro-medical and electrical devices. It is used exclusively in the ProJet CPX 3000 3D printer.
• VisiJet® DP200 Dental Wax-up material is formulated specifically for the production of dental prosthesis “wax-ups” used to produce smooth surface crowns, copings and other related dental prosthesis and restorations. The material provides repeatable accuracy.
• VisiJet® MP200 Dental Model material suits the production of dental models directly from digital data.
• VisiJet® S100 support material is used in the ProJet HD 3000, ProJet SD 3000, ProJet DP 3000 and ProJet MP 3000 Printers. It melts away from inaccessible geometry features and internal spaces with no damage to the most delicate part features.
• VisiJet® S200 Support Material is used in all RealWax pattern production on the ProJet CP 3000 and ProJet CPX 3000 3D Printers. This material is dissolvable and will melt from delicate wax parts without damage to pattern surfaces or fine features.
• VisiJet® S300 Support Material is used in the ProJet 5000 Production Printer and is supplied in large 2.0 kg bottles to match the higher output capability of the larger printer. It too melts away from inaccessible geometry features and internal spaces with no damage to the most delicate part features.
With a choice of over 60 materials, including 51 Digital Materials, Objet’s materials simulate properties ranging from varying grades of rubber all the way to clear transparent glass and plastics that combine high toughness and high temperature resistance. These materials can suit visual and verification requirements of many applications.
Through proprietary, acrylic-based photo-polymer technology, the materials produce fully cured models that can be handled immediately after printing. Post processing is minimal. Models and parts feature smooth surfaces and fine details. They can readily absorb paint and can be machined, drilled, chrome-plated, glued or used as a mold.
The support material used with the build material to additively make a part lets you design parts with an unlimited array of complex geometries, including overhangs and undercuts. With no hard edges to scrape or chemical baths, the gel-like support material is easily and quickly removed with a water-jet.
REACH compliant, Objet materials are environmentally safe.
• Digital Materials: Applies to the Connex™ 3D printing system. With 14 different materials, you can create 51 different “compounds” (digital materials) that will give you a number of features on any single printed part. Digital Materials are composite materials created by simultaneously jetting two different Objet materials. The two are combined in specific concentrations and structures to achieve unique mechanical properties that provide a closer look, feel and function of the desired end product.
You can print a range of Shore A values including Shore 27, 40, 50, 60, 70, 85 and 95, to simulate various elastomers and rubber products. Print various rigid materials ranging from standard plastics to the toughness and temperature resistance of ABS or engineering-plastics. You can even print various shades of rigid opaque materials and mix transparent and rigid opaque materials to create dots, grids and patterns.
• FullCure720™ is Objet’s original multi-purpose transparent material for standard plastics simulation.
VeroClear™ is a rigid, colorless material with dimensional stability for general purpose, fine detail model building and visual simulation of transparent thermoplastic such as PMMA.
Selected Digital Materials –
• Combining dimensional stability and high-detail visualization, the Objet Vero family is for standard plastics simulation and model creations that closely resemble the ‘look’ of the end product.
• Combining Objet FullCure720™ and Objet VeroBlack™ gives you different artistic patterns, (Objet DM_dots_7513 and DM_grid_7523), while using Objet FullCure720™ with Objet TangoBlack™ gives you various transparent shades.
The Objet Vero family of rigid opaque materials includes Objet VeroWhitePlus™, Objet VeroGray™, Objet VeroBlue™ and Objet VeroBlack™.
• Combining Objet VeroWhitePlus™ and Objet TangoBlackPlus™ Objet DurusWhite™ material suits a range of applications that require the appearance, flexibility, strength and toughness of Polypropylene. Properties include Izod notched impact of 44 J/m, elongation at break of 44% and flexural modulus of 1026 MPa.
• Simulate polypropylene with good thermal resistance by combining Objet DurusWhite™ with Objet VeroWhitePlus™ or Objet VeroGray™, Objet VeroBlue™ or Objet FullCure720™.
The Objet Tango family of rubber-like materials includes Objet TangoGray™, Objet TangoBlack™, ObjetTangoPlus™ and Objet TangoBlackPlus™. The family offers various levels of elastomer characteristics: Shore scale A hardness, elongation at break, tear resistance and tensile strength that make it suitable for a range of applications requiring non-slip or soft surfaces on consumer electronics, medical devices and automotive interiors.
• For Shore Scale A values from Shore 40 to Shore 95, combine Objet TangoBlackPlus™ or ObjetTangoPlus™ and Objet VeroWhitePlus™ to simulate 6 levels of different Shore Scale A values with increasing tensile strength and tear resistance.
Additional Shore values can be created by combining other Objet Tango and Objet Vero materials. Objet High Temperature material (RGD525) has exceptional dimensional stability for thermal function testing of static 3-D models.
The material has a heat deflection temperature (HDT) of 63– 67° C (145-153° F) upon removal from the printer which can be increased to 75-80° C (167- 176° F) after thermal post treatment in a programmable oven.
• Objet ABS-like digital material (RGD5160 – DM) is fabricated from FullCure®515 and FullCure®535. It is designed to simulate ABS engineering plastics by combining high temperature resistances with toughness. Objet ABS-like digital material is suitable for any simulated parts that require high-impact resistance and shock-absorption.
• Objet ABS-like material has a high impact resistance of 65-80 J/m (1.22-1.5 ft lb/in.) and a heat deflection temperature (HDT) of 58-68° C (136–154° F) upon removal from the printer. A higher HDT of 82-95° C (179–203° F) can be achieved after thermal post treatment in a programmable oven using different temperature profiles.
Materials characterize manufacturing processes. In turn, manufacturing processes influence the material properties of the final product. In the case of FDM the materials are industrial grade thermoplastics. Many of today’s consumer and commercial products are composed of thermoplastics, so 3D printing with thermoplastics is widely practiced.
The Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM®) process creates functional parts by extruding and depositing the materials. When selecting a thermoplastic material for FDM, carefully consider the mechanical, thermal, electrical and chemical properties, as well as changes that may result from aging or environmental exposure. What you will consider are the following qualities:
• Material characteristics
• FDM machine availability
• Support material type
All FDM materials have a lot in common. Each material is similar in terms of loading and building parts, office compatibility, and is safe enough to handle with no protective gear. Also, parts produced by each material are dimensionally stable and durable enough for demanding applications.
The early material used in FDM technology was known as ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). But materials for FDM have advanced and evolved. Today, there are four versions of ABS, each tougher than the original formulation. And the FDM material family has expanded to include nine options, including two engineered thermoplastics.
ABS, measured by annual consumption, it is the most widely used material in FDM machines. ABS materials are an excellent choice for models, prototypes, patterns, tools and end-use parts. 40 to 70% stronger than the FDM materials of just a few years ago, today’s ABS materials offer greater tensile, impact, and flexural strength.
• ABSplus or ABS-M30: In raw filament form, these are identical materials with equal mechanical properties. There is a difference in finished part material properties. As with molded parts, processing makes a difference. While ABSplus produces tough parts, ABS-M30 is generally stronger in all categories. Both materials produce parts that are stable, strong, and durable. Both come in a range of colors that include white, black, red, blue, green, fluorescent yellow and more. These materials have a soluble support material that eliminates manual labor. Parts are placed in a tank and the supports are dissolved away.
The surface finish of ABSplus and ABS-M30 suits concept modeling, functional prototyping, and creating manufacturing tools. If the application is for master patterns, marketing models, or finished goods, and you want a surface finish similar to that of injection molding, the optional Finishing Touch Smoothing Station will smooth parts in under a minute.
• ABS-M30i: Meets medical regulations including ISO 10993 and USP Class VI for biocompatibility; for products that come in contact with skin, food and medications. A strong material, it can be sterilized using either gamma radiation or ethylene oxide (Eta) sterilization methods.
• ABSi: is translucent. Although it has good mechanical properties, it excels in lighting applications. It is widely used for functional evaluation of lenses for items such as automotive lighting. Color options are red, amber and natural.
• PC: polycarbonate (PC) produces accurate, stable, and very durable parts. It has excellent mechanical properties and heat resistance. It has the second highest tensile strength of all FDM materials and a high heat deflection temperature of 280° F (138° C). This is a serious material for tough applications—functional testing, tooling or production.
• PC-ABS (polycarbonate and ABS blend): This blend gives the most desirable properties of both PC and ABS materials. It has the superior mechanical properties and heat resistance of PC, including one of the highest impact strength ratings of all the FDM materials. Meanwhile, it has good flexural strength, feature definition, and surface appeal of ABS. Like all versions of ABS for FDM, PC-ABS offers the no-touch finishing option with soluble supports.
• PC-ISO: Is another biocompatible (ISO 10993 and USP Class VI) material, which makes it the other FDM alternative for medical, pharmaceutical and food packaging industries. Another trait shared between them is that it is sterilizable using gamma radiation or ethylene oxide (Eta) methods. It has a higher tensile and flexural strength, and higher heat deflection temperature. In these categories, its values are 33% to 59% higher than those of ABS-M30i.
• ULTEM* 9085 (polyetherimide (PEI) resin)
This thermoplastic is a product of SABIC Innovative Plastics, and it is found in many aircraft and aerospace products because it meets stringent safety requirements. It satisfies flame, smoke and toxicity (FST) standards.
Even if your application doesn’t demand FST, you may still want to consider it for its strength, durability, and resistance to heat and chemicals. Of the nine FDM materials, it has the highest tensile and flexural strength.
• PPSF / PPSU (polyphenylsulfone)
The first engineering thermoplastic available for FDM was PPSF (also called PPSU). This super material was added for under-the-hood and other advanced applications, where other plastics can succumb to heat and chemical attack. PPSF has the highest heat resistance (372 °F/189 °C heat deflection temperature) and chemical resistance of all FDM materials. It is mechanically superior to other FDM materials, except ULTEM* 9085. PPSF is resistant to oils, gasoline, chemicals, and acids.
It is sterilizable. But because of its temperature and chemical resistance, you can use other sterilization methods, such as steam autoclave, plasma, chemical, and radiation sterilization.
(Material for this section is courtesy of Fred Fischer, Stratasys, Inc.)
Z Corp printers use an affordable plaster powder commonly used in other industrial applications. The portion of the powder that is not used to build a part is reusable for other parts. So, no build material is wasted. In addition, the printers do not need support material as the plaster powder, prior to recycling, supports the model as it cures.
Depending on whether you seek to examine the built part for form, fit or function, you can select from three “infiltrant” binders. Most of these binders are a secondary resin material that is drizzled or brushed onto the surface of the model. The infiltrant fills the microscopic pockets in the model, sealing its surface, enhancing color saturation and improving the mechanical properties of the model as it cures.
The water infiltrant is for basic requirements such as display models. Z-Bond is for general purpose concept modeling and Z-Max epoxy is for functional prototypes or real-world parts. Z-Max-based prototypes have been used as production parts in underwater robotics applications, such as pounding mechanical feet in footwear testing, and as functional auto parts in operating engine compartments.
The plaster powder is spread over the build platform rather than sprayed from a nozzle. Binder is dispensed through the print heads. According to Z Corp, this technique results in a fast and efficient build.
The ZPrinter delivers color through a technology that is similar to that of document printers. The ZPrinter converts any color from the RGB (red, green, and blue) space used on a PC to a CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) color value for printing. It then orders up the right combination of CMYK drops to be placed in the same area, using dither patterns to blend these elements into any color.
To print in color, ZPrint software requires a file that contains color information in addition to the geometry information. Since the .STLfile format does not include color, several other file formats are accepted: .3DS, .WRL(VRML), .PLY, .ZPR and others that include color information. Z Corporation’s ZEdit™ Pro software enables you to add color, colored textures and labels to 3D model files. The ZPrinter colors only the shell of an object, not the hidden interior volumes, using ink only where it’s needed.
ZPrinters can produce 90% of the colors on the Adobe® Photoshop palette, and can print any combination of colors onto a single object.
DSM is a technology leader and solutions provider, developing high-performance stereolithography (SL) resins. Stereolithography is a unique and distinct subset within the additive manufacturing industry. It is a layer additive rapid-prototyping process based on the use of photopolymer liquid resins in vats that solidify when exposed to laser-generated UV light.
Somos® resins closely simulate production materials and suit a number of application needs including: functional models, fit/assembly, general purpose, investment casting, snap fit, injection molding/direct tooling and wind tunnel testing. The resin materials are compatible with all known UV-cure SL equipment offered by additive manufacturing vendors. Somos® photopolymer epoxy resins are available for both helium cadmium and solid state laser systems.
DSM continually develops new Somos® resins that push the boundaries of SL performance. Products range from transparent, tough, and durable resins to flexible resins for material properties similar to polyethylene, polypropylene or ABS. Some of the most popular Somos® resins to date include:
Somos® WaterShed® XC 11122—a near colorless resin that performs like ABS but looks more like glass. Well suited for creating parts such as lenses or clear covers for automotive and consumer product applications, this material has been formulated with Oxetane Advantage™— a chemistry platform that produces parts with outstanding water resistance and high dimensional stability. Somos® WaterShed® XC 11122 has also passed ISO 10993-5, ISO 10993-10 and USP Class VI biocompatibility testing and therefore can be used for medical device prototyping.
Somos® NanoTool™ produces strong, stiff, high-temperature resistant composite parts on conventional SL machines. The smooth surface quality of Somos® NanoTool™ and high initial modulus make it an excellent resin for metal plating, a growing application which saves time and money as an alternative to metal prototypes. It is also ideal for creating strong, stiff parts with excellent high heat resistance, including wind tunnel models for aerospace and automotive applications, as well as being used for rapid tooling for injection molding.
Somos® NeXt is the latest innovation from DSM which approaches true thermoplastic performance. This resin produces parts with a combination of stiffness and toughness that typically characterizes thermoplastics, yet has all of the high feature detail, dimensional accuracy and aesthetics offered by stereolithography. It can be used to produce functional end-use performance prototypes including snap-fit designs, impellers, duct work, connectors, electronic covers, automotive housings, dashboard assemblies, packaging and sporting goods.
Thanks for the great summary.
Are you aware of any photopolymer resins that are food-safe?
DSM Somos WaterShed material is NOT compatible with ethylene oxide sterilization which makes it not a good choice for medical device prototyping. According to our conversation with the company representative their ISO 10993-5, ISO 10993-10 and USP Class VI biocompatibility testing was not conducted on sterilized parts. You can probably do your own fact checking.