As a 3D printing filament brand, we provide a wide range of materials for 3D printers – from conventional polymers such as PLA and PETg, through to engineering-grade materials such as ASA and ABS, as well as novelty / exotic type materials such as Wood PLA and Cosmic PLA (glitter). Not to mention our high-performance polymer range, Filamentive Pro.
As a business, we regularly review production volumes to ascertain usage amongst our thousands of customers, whilst also helping identify trends to help predict how material volumes may change over time.
We have duly done this for 2021 – comparing production volumes to 2020. This article will therefore present the results as well as analyse possible drivers for the data.
Please note: all results and analysis presented in this article only reflect the primary data collected by Filamentive Limited.
Results 2020 versus 2021
It won’t be surprising to learn that two most popular 3D printing filament materials in 2020 – PLA and PETg – have remained the top two in 2021 also. It’s worth noting that production was exceptionally high in Q2 2020 due to the surge in demand in response to the PPE crisis.
When comparing 2021 filament production to 2020, there were notable decreases for the following materials:
Conversely, there were significant production increases for the following materials:
ABS Production down by more than 50%
The significant decrease in ABS filament production is perhaps the most notable statistic from our 2021 analysis. Outwardly, one may assume that – as a filament business – it would be hard not to be disappointed at such a sudden decrease in production (and sales) of a well-known material.
However, given our advocacy of sustainable 3D printing, the drop in ABS production is not entirely negative, in fact, there are several positives to be taken from this.
ABS is a petroleum-based plastic, deriving from non-renewable origins which makes it more environmentally-detrimental than a renewable, bioplastic such as PLA.
This is even more pertinent given that a 2019 study found that 3D printing users are extremely environmentally aware.
ABS filament can also be somewhat uncomfortable to 3D-print with, as it emits a strong odour when printed. At the very least this can create an unpleasant environment, but more worrying, one study suggests that potentially harmful particles are emitted during 3D printing.
In addition to safety concerns, ABS is typically a more problematic material to 3D print – with a tendency to warp (due to shrinkage) and also the effects of cracking and delamination which contribute to the problem of failed prints, and the 3D printing waste problem generally.
Whilst ABS filament production has decreased, it’s worth noting that demand for other materials have increased – including ASA, CF-PETg and PLA Tough – all materials which have the capacity to replace ABS filament, depending on the application.
The Superior Styrene
Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate – better known by its abbreviation, ASA – has grown in popularity. When comparing 2021 filament production to 2020, ASA has increased by more than 90%.
This engineering-grade material has a similar chemical structure to ABS (styrene-based) but has been specially formulated to offer best-in-class UV resistance when it comes to 3D printing materials. Filamentive ASA is also modified to reduce warping and improve interlayer adhesion.
The benefits listed above appeal greatly to 3D printing users who want the properties of ABS without the hassle – as aptly summarised by Prusa Research, “ASA can be considered a true successor to ABS.”
The mechanical properties have increased ASA filament usage for the production of end-use parts and its superior UV stability makes ASA best suited to 3D-printed, outdoor applications.
Linking back to our analysis of ABS, it is clear that the downfall of ASA has been catalysed – at least in part – by the increased availability, awareness and usage of ASA filament.
Carbon Fibre-PETg up more than 70%
Carbon Fibre-PETg (CF-PETg) is a PETg-based copolymer filament, containing 15% carbon fibre (chopped) powder.
When comparing 2021 filament production to 2020, CF-PETg has increased by more than 70%.
As a polymer, PETg boasts durability, strength and good chemical resistance broadly; with the addition of carbon fibre, this filament offers enhanced stiffness and rigidity.
Offering a Tensile (E) Modulus value of 3800 MPa, the high tensile stress rating makes CF-PETg ideal for load-bearing applications. This mechanical property exceeds that of ABS, which again, is likely a contributing factor to the demise of ABS filament.
In addition to performance, the addition of carbon fibre to the compound creates an attractive aesthetic – 3D printed parts created from CF-PETg have a satin-like finish which is effective at reducing layer line visibility.
With growing awareness of CF-PETg, designers and engineers now have a material offering mechanical properties superior to traditional thermoplastics such as ABS, and aesthetical benefits which makes the material suited to functional prototypes and consumer goods applications.
Novelty worn off?
When comparing 2020 production to 2021, it was also notable to see a decline in the production of some of our aesthetical filaments – decorative materials, if you will.
PLA Matte was one of the materials to experience a slight decline – the main selling point of this PLA filament being its textured, matte finish which also reduces layer line appearance.
The decorative material which experiences the biggest production decrease (2021 versus 2020) was PLA Cosmic – a PLA specially formulated with aluminium flakes for a glitter effect.
As the original pioneer of glitter PLA in the filament market, we must pay homage to Czech-based manufacturer, Fillamentum, who released their version, Vertigo, in 2018.
As with anything new (and shiny), this material rose in popularity and it was only a matter of time before other filament players took inspiration by releasing their own glitter PLA. As a brand, Filamentive also did this in late 2018. Entering our fifth year of PLA Cosmic (at the time of writing), it is suffice to say that whilst still popular with a niche segment of users, the decline in popularity has been tangible.
Trends are short-lived, products lose their novelty and something new is always around the corner.
When the going gets (PLA) Tough…
In early 2019, Filamentive Engineering PLA (ePLA) was released. Aimed at industry, ePLA is marketed as a stronger PLA with the potential to replace ABS for certain applications. Faster print speed (above 120mm/s) is one of the main benefits, making the filament conducive to production applications. Secondly, ePLA offers heat resistance above 95°C – post-annealing – which far exceeds the heat resistance of ‘regular’ PLA.
When comparing ePLA production in 2021 versus 2020, the decline was certainly notable. In the 2021 Sculpteo State of 3D Printing Report, strength was identified as the most important material property, with sustainable materials stated as a key market demand. Superficially, both of these findings are at odds with the decline of ePLA.
Going deeper, there may be an explanation for this: Filamentive’s 2021 release, PLA Tough. To meet the needs for an easy-to-print, bio-based material that could be used for industrial applications, the release of PLA Tough aims to meet the demand for both strength and sustainability.
Again, referring back to the decline in ABS production, the release of PLA Tough may also be a contributing factor, as industrial 3D printing users switch to a more sustainable filament.
As 3D printers have become cheaper and more accessible – coupled with material innovation – 3D printing is increasingly used for real production; no longer just a prototyping only tool.
With zero tooling costs and design flexibility, users now have the ability to locally produce consumer products with a 3D printer – relying less on outsourcing and avoiding the prohibitively-expensive traditional methods of manufacturing such as Injection Moulding.
One only has to look at online marketplace, Etsy, to prove the case for 3D printing enabling 3D printing entrepreneurship. Many Etsy sellers use Filamentive 3D printing filament to 3D-print their sellable products. Etsy themselves advocate sustainable manufacturing, stating, “98% of buyers engage in practices like energy conservation, reusing and recycling”
Filamentive’s production of Wood PLA has increased by more than a third when comparing 2021 production to 2020.
In contrast to other decorative filaments which experience a drop in production – such as PLA Cosmic – Wood PLA has seemingly bucked the trend. Several customers tell us of their entrepreneurial endeavours and the Wood PLA filament especially is perfectly-suited for decorative pieces – such as homeware. One of our favourite examples is TheEcoPlanterCompany, who use Wood PLA to 3D-print decorative, plant pots.
In the space of a year – 2020 to 2021 – clearly identifiable trends have emerged which exemplify the rapidly-changing demands of a diverse 3D printing user base, encompasses engineers and entrepreneurs, through to designers and makers.
The decline of ABS – coupled with the success of Tough PLA – exemplifies the belief that 3D printing users are becoming increasingly environmentally-conscious – shunning ‘toxic’ petroleum-based plastics and instead opting for biobased alternatives.
The growth of CF-PETg and ASA validates the existing research which points to 3D printing being used increasingly for end-use parts, not just prototyping.
The decline in popularity of certain novelty materials as a credence to 3D printing being increasingly used for real production – no longer just a prototyping tool.
The increase in aesthetical filaments – such as Wood PLA – can be viewed as evidence for 3D printing-enabled entrepreneurship, in which traditional production methods are disrupted by way of on-demand, localised manufacturing, innovating the consumer goods sector.
Filamentive (https://filamentive.com – email@example.com) is the market leader in sustainable materials for FFF 3D Printing. The company was founded to address the environmental need to use more recycled plastics in 3D printing, and also alleviate market concerns over quality and long-term sustainability. Filamentive has experienced rapid growth and continues to address the questions surrounding 3D printing recycled materials. Headquartered in Bradford, United Kingdom, Filamentive materials are trusted by thousands of educators, engineers and makers globally.