Today, 3D printers are designed to produce products from virtually any material – metal, cement, ceramics, sugar, chocolate, expanded polystyrene, biological substances. But, of course, polymers remain the most common and universal type of materials used in 3D printing.
Here are the three most commonly used polymers that helped launch the revolution in the 3D printing market:
Polylactic acid (PLA). Not surprisingly, one of the most commonly used bioplastics in the world is also dominant in 3D printing. Biodegradable thermoplastic aliphatic polyester, PLA is produced from renewable organic resources such as corn starch or sugarcane. It is commonly used for the production of food packaging and biodegradable medical devices and implants. PLA is great for 3D printing, because it is easy to work with, it is environmentally friendly, available in various colors, can be used as a resin or thread.
Acrylonitrile butadiene-styrene (ABS) is a terpolymer prepared by the polymerization of styrene and acrylonitrile with polybutadiene. Beginners like it for its ease of use – in the form of a thread, and because it is a durable, heat-resistant, cost-effective and flexible material. However, since this material is not biodegradable, ABS is losing popularity among 3D lovers who prefer a more environmentally friendly PLA. In addition, when heated in a 3D printer, ABS can emit gases with an unpleasant odor or cause irritation.
Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) is a water-soluble plastic. PVA is most often used as an adhesive, thickener or packaging film. In the world of 3D printing, PVA is often used not to manufacture a finished product, but to support and fasten parts of a finished product that can be deformed or shifted during printing.
The range of materials that can be used in 3D printing continues to expand and develop.