A quick guide to exotic FDM printing materials

The most common materials used in FDM 3D printers are thermoplastics like PLA, ABS, and PETG, as well as other materials such as Nylon, Polypropylene, Polycarbonate, and more. These materials can be enhanced with special additives to perform additional functions such as glow-in-the-dark and even conduct electricity. In this compilation, we ‘ve combined exotic materials with special properties that create unique parts for particular needs, expressing design ideas and just having some fun.

Playing with colors

Glowing

The glow-in-the-dark material group is a family of filaments (like PLA or ABS) that have been infused with phosphorescent additives. Parts printed in glow-in-the-dark absorb daylight and when the lights go out, emit a glow in a range of colors including green, blue, pink, red, orange and more. Despite the fact that some parts may appear dirty during the day, at night, they are spectacular!

Color-Changing

Color-changing group of materials includes two main types of filaments – heat-sensitive and UV-sensitive. With special additives, these materials are able to change color by reacting to heat or UV-light, from white to blue for example. However, as color-changing materials are usually based on PLA or ABS, apart from the ability to change color, they share the same properties.

Glittery

Glittery printing plastics are nothing more than just fancy filaments with glitter inside. Still, for some applications or demonstration models, this may be a huge help because prints come out in beautiful shades and thanks to the glitter, the colors really pop out. Depending on the color of plastic and glitter used, different effects can be achieved from mild semi-transparent shininess to a holographic extravaganza.

Special properties

Magnetic (aka Ferromagnetic)

The Magnetic squad of filaments is usually manufactured with iron, graphene or other metal additives which makes the material magnetic. Depending on the concentration of metal in a composite, it also may share other properties of metal like color, and the ability to be polished or rusted. The downside is that the density of magnetic materials is higher compared to ordinary materials – objects come out heavier, damage nozzles and use more filament as well.

Sculpting

Sculpting filaments are quite new on the market and are similar to clay. Sculpting filaments like Cx5 and Cx5sf are solid when printed but can be softened by applying about 125° F of heat and then worked like plasticine – smoothed, detailed, cut, repaired, molded, and much more. After cooling, they would become solid again and maintain the form.

Molding

Molding types of filaments are commonly described as machinable wax or lost wax. Their primary feature is that they are castable after being printed. Such molding filaments allow printing a mold or a master model, which can be casted with metal. The downside is that since it is extruded, prints would have visible layer lines. On the contrary, such filaments bring molding straight to a desktop for some interesting projects.

Conductive

Conductive filaments are made by adding metal or graphene powders to plastic. Their “super power” is in the ability to 3D print electrically conductive parts - objects that allow the flow of an electrical current. It’s ideal for educational projects, low-budget sensors, and circuits for electronics.

Non-conductive

Non-conductive materials were created to prevent electrical currents going through printed pieces. Non-conductive plastics don’t carry any electrical charge which is crucial for certain applications in the electronics industry, for example.

Special components

Wood filled

Woodfill type filaments are produced by mixing plastic with wooden fibers. As a result, objects look, feel and even smell like wood. The color is usually flat but FDM printing creates a wooden circles effect (thanks to the extrusion of layers) which can be further amplified with suitable finishing. Nowadays there are various wood additives available including bamboo, maple, ebony and much more.

3D print with Wood PLA

Ceramic filled

Ceramic filament is considered very similar to the stone-filled group – it consists of polymer and ceramic powder. However, on top of just mimicking the look and feel of ceramics, it can be heated in a kiln to hard pottery and then glazed with enamel.

Stone filled

These materials don’t have any “family name” but they have much in common – fibers or powders in their composition which help them to mimic different stones. You can find brick, dark stone, limestone, gypsum, and concrete materials as examples. They all have the feeling of stone, higher mass and greater abrasive effects for nozzles. By sanding these materials, they become even better and appear monumental.

Bio-based

Bio-based family of filaments is recognizable by its green and eco-friendly mission. These materials are made out of waste as a result of manufacturing some products like coffee, beer or from natural resources like hemp. These plastics perform similar to PLA and commonly aren’t dyed to keep their natural color, structure, and even smell. If recycling and the environment are important to you, then bio-based filaments are a great choice to help minimize waste on our planet.

Metal filled

Metal-filled materials have some metal or alloy powders in their composition. The range of metal-filled materials continue to expand, so you can find bronze, brass, copper, aluminum, steel, iron and other metals mixed into plastics. These additives influence the weight and appearance of prints - making them stronger, heavier and more abrasive to nozzles. Prints can be made to look rusted as well, and most require polishing to achieve the shiny metal look.

3D print with Magnetic Iron PLA

Mimicking other materials

Wood-like

Wood-like filaments is a family of plastics that are supposed to look like wood without actually containing any wood additives. It may sound discouraging, but filaments without wooden fibers are easier to post-process and still are aesthetically pleasing.

Silk-like

Silk-like materials actually don’t have any silk in their composition – these are bio-polymers with some wood or plants renewable sources. However, they carry the name silk-like because they mimic the appearance of silk fabric. Silk-like filaments allow glossy prints with smooth surfaces.

Marble-like

Marble filaments are relatively close to the stone filled group, but they don’t necessarily have powders in their composition. Marble materials are plastics with some additives that appear like marble in the printed product. Filaments may appear with marble streaks and 3D printing enthusiasts love the appearances that are possible to achieve with this group of exotic filaments.

3D print with Marble PLA

Metallic

Metallic filaments aren’t really exotic as far as they don’t have any special metal mixtures added to plastic. As a result, these materials act and weigh like normal plastic, print as easy as plastic, and have a slight gloss/shade of metal. They can’t be polished or rusted but are perfect for cheaper props and objects that just need to appear like a certain metal.

Something special

Aromatic

Aromatic materials appear as normal plastic before and after, but during the printing process they release pleasant fragrances into the air including coffee, pine, cinnamon and other lovely smells which we’re sure will make 3D printing enthusiasts happy.

Porous

Porous series of filaments were introduced to allow FDM printing materials to be extremely soft and elastic. Despite the fact that there are resins which can be used for flexible parts, usually they are hard to print with due to their elasticity. On the contrary, porous filaments are fine during printing, objects appear strong and rigid. But after being rinsed in water, prints become extremely soft, elastic, foamy or even gel-like.