The most common used materials in desktop 3D printing are PLA, ABS and PVA on a spool in reel form. Another materials used by the industry are nylon, glass polyamis, stereolithography (poxy resin), wax, ceramics, photopolymers, polycarbonate and metals such as silver, titanium and steel.
ABS is very durable, strong and slightly flexible. It is suitable for a large variety of purposes. ABS is used in automotive components, electronics assemblies, music instruments, toys, protective cases, kitchen appliances, and is most famous as the material of Lego® toys. The material requires a heated bed and can be easily post-processed after printing!
PLA is the most environmentally friendly material used in 3D printing and is made from renewable souses of plant starch. It’s used in food packaging, bags, disposable tableware, feminine hygiene products, and even in diapers. The material doesn’t require a heated bed and is non-toxic. PLA is considered as the easiest material to print with as a beginner and is available in almost any color. You can get a high definition prints, but they will not be as strong or durable as ABS products. They also are not good for prints that will be exposed to high heat. PLA also can be used as a supportive material for ABS designs with a dual or printers with multiple extruders.
PVA in 3D printing is used as a support material in a printers with a dual or multiple extruders in order to provide structure to an object with complex form. PVA is water soluble and is ideal for base support material in some complex designs. Parts with moving features and lots of overhangs, such a building models, are entirely possible because the supporting structure can be easily removed after printing to deliver a finished look.
Heated Bed vs. Non-Heated Bed
A heated bed is required for ABS and very beneficial for PLA plastic. It will keep the plastic warm during the printing process and prevent it from warping. It is crucial for the first layer to ensure a level foundation. The temperature usually will be between 40°C to 110°C and it’s not a finger friendly zone!
Unheated beds can work only with PLA plastic, which has a lesser tendency to warp during cooling. Usually the bed is covered with painters blue tape to which the material adheres.
Multi vs. Single Extruder
With a multiple extruder you can print in multiple colors or materials simultaneously by assigning each extruder specific color or material. Some printers can be upgraded from single to multiple extruders.
Layer thickness is the minimum thickness of a layer that a printer can lay down in a single pass. Smaller the number – smoother and more detailed the print is, but the process will be slower. Most desktop 3D printers work with layer thickness of 0.2mm to 0.3mm, but able to create layers as thin as 100 microns (0.1mm) or smaller/less.
Build area is the maximum size of an object that you can create with the 3D printer. It’s measured in XYZ dimension, for example 8 inch wide (X) by 8 inch deep (Y) by 10 inch high – 8x8x10 inches. More complicated or bigger print jobs can be split into smaller parts than can be combined afterwards.