The Best 3D Printing Filament

The Best 3D Printing Filament

filamentFirst off, an apology! Over the past year, I’ve been kept from posting for a number of reasons. Life happens. But now I’m back, and I’m ready to share more about my latest adventures in 3D printing. How about we start with a question?

Let’s say you are stranded on a desert island with a miraculously charged 3D printer, but you can have only one kind of filament. What do you choose, and what do you make with it? In my Q&A section, I cover a few of the different types, and there are others that constantly show up on the market.

For this highly unlikely scenario, you would first have to decide what would be more important for you at the time. PLA is the cost-effective and easy to print, but it can also be brittle–and money isn’t an object on a desert island. You could decide to aim for something tough and durable, like PC-Max (which I mentioned in an earlier article). Or you could aim for flexibility and use a nylon-based filament for tools.

There’s no right or wrong answer to this (though I’m going to say that you’re cheating if you want to bring food to be printed and then eaten). There are filaments specifically designed for all kinds of purposes. You could bring a filament that would conduct electricity to help you signal for your rescue or something that would glow in the dark so you can print out large “SOS” letters to display on the beach.

Remember that one of the biggest perks of owning a 3D printer is the accessibility you have to pretty much anything you want to design or build. Replacement parts, decorations, tools, or fun fidget toys to hold and play with are all only a quick print away. After you’ve tested a pattern on a basic filament, try upgrading to something more distinct to better match your purposes.

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The Music Box

The Music Box

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My music box: finished product!

I’ve wanted to print a music box ever since my school library’s 3D printer arrived. It should be simple enough, right? According to the patterns on Thingiverse, all you need to print are the wheels and gears, a box, and the series of tines to stroke the notes when you crank it. A music box would be an awesome display piece and easy to assemble, so I thought it would be one of my easier projects over all, right?

Well, this task was easier said than done. I printed my first music box with basic PLA filament. The printing didn’t take long. I pieced it together and then started cranking. The result? Almost no sound came out, and some of the tines snapped off within two play-throughs. Ouch. It was obvious I needed to try something sturdier, so for my second attempt, I reached for my trusty T-Glase filament. T-Glase is a favorite of mine and has proven reliable in the past as a harder plastic than PLA. This new music box was a definite improvement over the last, but still had the problems of the tines breaking, and it still sounded more like snapping plastic than like a music box (although at least there was a distinct tune this time!).
So I still needed to take things up a notch. I took out the PC-Max. PC-Max is a polycarbonate plastic, which basically just means that it has industrial strength. If this didn’t work on my music box, then probably nothing could. I already had the other pieces from the T-Glase attempt, so only reprinted the frame with new tines.
The new music box works beautifully now and actually sounds musical. This was definitely a success, and if you have the right filaments I highly recommend that you try it out with a few of your favorite tunes!
Please realize, this post isn’t to discourage you from PLA or T-Glase, which both have their own unique great uses! PLA is cheap and easy to print. T-Glase has transparency and is chemically safer than the other plastic. But for music box tines, PC-Max was the way to go!
Cheap Filament

Cheap Filament

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When acquiring the initial filament for my school I purchased several varieties. At the end I was a few dollars short so swapped two of the rolls for a slightly cheaper PLA plastic filament. This was $20/kilo as opposed to the $25/kilo.

 

Big mistake.

Not a tragic mistake, just a big one.

I initially used the cheaper PLA for my prints to get the hang of printing, and eventually switched over to the higher quality plastic. What a huge difference I noticed in the prints! Everything came out a lot smoother and most consistent.

The other issue I had was filament breaking. This would occur even with the filament environment controlled. (See the Troubleshooting page under “General Information & Suggestions”) Over one reel of filament there were over a half dozen failed prints. The filament would break, but the printer would continue running, leaving the print only partially completed. What a waste. Lesson learned.

Image from Creative Tools on Flickr under labeled for reuse.
TinkerCAD is Amazing!

TinkerCAD is Amazing!

We just got through a week of vacation at my school, but let me backtrack a bit.

Just before February vacation one of my coworkers approached me with a broken paper cutter. The assemblies that held the blade for cutting kept breaking and she had gone through several. “Is there any way you could, by chance, make a replacement on the 3D printer?”

Hesitantly I said I hope so, but not to expect much! I hadn’t made any significant 3D designs on my own since some undergraduate coursework, and the piece had several specific features and measurements to make. It had to safely hold the razor and allow another piece of plastic clip on then screw on for safety. What’s more, there are two feet that have to bend when pressure is applied. With only about an hour’s experience with TinkerCAD under my belt, I set to work!

3 hours later I had the design for a working prototype. 1 hour to print then 15 more minutes of corrections and I had the design for the final print. Meet the Spectacular Ambertis!  (TinkerCAD auto-names your files some funky gibberish)

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Compared with other software, TinkerCAD is phenomenally easy to use! It is all about shape manipulation. You can enter new dimensions for your shapes to resize them. Drag two together and “Group”: voila they’ve been merged!

The craziest thing is I didn’t realize they had an “Align” feature to help center your objects until I was 90% through making the design. For a first effort, it didn’t come out half bad.

Now, my suggestion for anyone interested in TinkerCAD is to find an angular object, simple but not too simple, and spend an hour clicking around trying to replicate it. A stick of Chapstick, bad idea since it’s just a cylinder! A wrench or pencil, now you’re talking! It might seem overwhelming at first but start simple… yet big.

What is the most basic and predominant feature of the object? Can you replicate that? What would be the #2 feature, and can you add that? Keep at it and even if your design doesn’t come through you’ll have learned a lot on TinkerCAD’s functions to succeed next time. When in doubt, you can always look to YouTube for tutorials to get you started.

Site’s Alive!

Site’s Alive!

Hello and welcome to my 3D printing website & blog. My name is Eli D. Clemmer and I am a Library Media Specialist in New Hampshire. I recently acquired a 3D printer through a grant for my school library. I learned a lot along the way, and found lots of valuable resources. It has been a wild ride and I have immensely enjoyed working with fellow staff, implementing 3D prints with their lesson plans.

I have built this site with the aid of my wife, Amanda, to help guide others through this exciting journey. The site still has more improvements and additional content in the works.

I hope to hear from you and also hope you enjoy the website!

-Eli (The 3D Librarian)