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PLA 3D Printer Filament Guide

Produce made from PLA

As a UK provider of PLA 3D printing filament, we are often asked by 3D printing users about the different types of PLA filament and what the best PLA filament is. This article will therefore give an overview of what PLA is, as well as explain the different types of PLA 3D printer filament we sell.

What is PLA?

Polylactic acid / polylactide (PLA) is an example of a bioplastic – a plastic made from renewable, plant / biological material.


The Material of Choice

PLA is the most popular 3D printing filament material – as exemplified in a 2019 survey which shows that more than 95% of 3D printing users use PLA. 

In the early years of desktop 3D printing, ABS emerged as the most popular filament, however, PLA soon began to takeover as the undisputed no.1 filament of choice.

3D printing users prefer PLA because it’s relatively low-cost, easy to print, less likely to warp compared and doesn’t emit any unpleasant fumes during the printing process. As a renewable bioplastic it is also more environmentally-friendly – however it’s important to note that the sustainability claims made by marketers of PLA could be perceived as greenwashing. 


PLA Filament Types

As of January 2020, Filament offer five PLA 3D printer filament materials:

  • rPLA (recycled PLA)
  • Engineering PLA – ePLA
  • Matte PLA
  • Cosmic PLA
  • Wood PLA

PLA Filament

© Spannerhands

To address the ‘plastic problem’, we have pioneered rPLA (recycled PLA) 3D printer filament, still boasting the same great PLA features such as; low warping, limited smell and premium print quality – but with the added benefit of being produced from factory waste streams as opposed to virgin pellets. All users of rPLA can feel good about reducing the demand for natural resources and therefore saving the environment, whilst being confident that the print quality will still be one of the best on the market! The go-to filament for all 3D printer owners, perfect consumer products, toys and general prototypes.

Recommended printing temperature: 190-220°C


Engineering PLA – ePLA Filament

3D print made from ePLA

ePLA is our engineering-grade PLA filament, with performance comparable to ABS. Features a heat resistance of >95°C (after annealing) and the ability to print at speeds up to 120mm/s. ePLA gives a semi-matte finish once printed.

Recommended printing temperature: 235 ± 10°C


Matte PLA Filament

© Tom Jackson / FilamentFrenzy

As the name suggests, this PLA matte filament is perfect for those desiring a matte finish. The printed surface diffuses light to give it a matte look and reduce the visibility of layer lines. Not to mention the added textured feel!

Recommended printing temperature: 205 ± 10°C


Cosmic PLA Filament

© Lancashire3D Ltd

Our highly-rated PLA now featuring metallic, glitter flakes to create prints that are “out of this world”. Ideal for creating eye-catching prints!

Recommended printing temperature: 205-225°C


Wood PLA 3D Printer Filament 

© Tom Jackson / FilamentFrenzy

Filamentive Wood is a PLA composite 3D printer filament. 40% of the formula is made from recycled wood fibres, providing a realistic wood colour, finish and even smell. Some wood filaments can be difficult to print, so our goal was to offer a wood filament that is also easy to work with and we have succeeded – many of our customers praise this filament for “printing like butter”. You can even post-process your wood prints – such as sanding, varnishing and coating – to make eye-catching, decorative wood objects.

Recommended printing temperature: 200-230°C
We also recommend a nozzle >0.5mm to easy flow / reduce blockages.


So… What is the Best PLA Filament?

It’s difficult to pick just one material as ‘the best’ as it depends on the application, 3D printer capability and the needs / requirements of the user.

If you’re looking for a general prototyping filament that is easy-to-print, we highly recommend our rPLA filament.

If you require something more robust / durable that may also need to be subjected to higher temperatures, our ePLA fits the bill!

If a matte finish is what you’re looking for, our PLA Matte is the obvious one to go for here!

If you’re looking for glitter / sparkly PLA for that added WOW factor, PLA Cosmic is the one!

If you need something to smell like wood / look like wood / feel like wood, Wood PLA is a no-brainer!

Due to it’s relatively low-cost, printing ease, environment credentials and the variation, it’s easy to see why PLA filament is used by more than 95% of 3D printer users.

With so many options, PLA is likely to be the best material for your project, but it is also worth noting we offer many other polymers – including ABS, ASA, PETg – so we would highly recommend reading our Materials Guide for further information.

We also offer 3D printer filament samples of all materials we sell.

Hopefully this has been an interesting and informative read – happy printing!

Any questions? Please email us!

Important Notice – Christmas Closure & Final Order Dates

With the Christmas period nearly upon us, there’s a few important dates for your diary that you need to know. Filamentive will be closed from Tuesday 24th December 2019 and will reopen on Thursday 2nd January 2020.

As well as this, we also have some advisory final order dates that you should be aware of. Any orders placed after these deadlines are not guaranteed to arrive in time for Christmas.

Please note that all orders placed throughout our closure dates will not be processed until Thursday 2nd January 2020.

For Non-UK deliveries, we would advise allowing at least 7 working days between your order date and final delivery dates of your local courier.

For any further info or questions, please email info@filamentive.com.

As always, have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Regards, Filamentive Team

The 3D Printing Waste Problem

Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) is one of the main types of 3D printing. FDM is a process in which a thin filament of plastic wire feeds a 3D printer; the print head melts it and extrudes it onto a build plate.

However, 3D-printing is regarded as somewhat of a double-edged sword – whilst at its core 3D printing is fundamentally less wasteful than traditional, subtractive manufacturing methods, the use of plastic as a feedstock has the potential to exacerbate the global plastic problem unless we can find sustainable solutions.


Material Sustainability Survey

In early 2019 we sent out a survey (>200 respondents) to assess the state of material sustainability in 3D printing – encompassing material choice, wastage and preference for recycled filament.

Filament usage varied; it can be safely assumed that hobbyists use much less filament that a 3D-printing service business. Taking a median perspective, the majority of 3D printer users surveyed use ≤2 kg / month (24 kg annually).

It was certainly notable that all respondents confirmed that 3D printing creates waste to some degree (no one answering 0%). 6-19% was clearly the most popular answer. Taking a lower percentile average of 10%, we can aggregate this with 3D printer filament usage (kg) to calculate a 3D printing waste volume of 8 million kilograms (2020).

Respondents were then asked to choose their biggest cause/s of 3D printing waste – Test prints, unwanted prototypes, support structures, failed prints, other.

As exemplified here, the ease of 3D printing will still breed masses of unwanted printsFastCompany aptly used the terms “crapjects” to describe how “on-demand production and endless customisation could lead to dramatic increases in throwaway consumer products.”

Prevention > Cure

In regards to test-prints and unwanted prototypes, education of the ‘plastic problem’ could catalyse behaviour change, but that is of course easier said than done – especially when prototyping is the key reason why most use 3D printers in the first place. 


Support structures are critical for complex geometries – however on 3D printers capable of dual-extrusion, using a water-soluble filament – such as PVA (Polycinyl Alcohol) – is certainly advised as the polymer is completely water soluble, leaving no waste behind. 

As quantified in the survey, failed prints cause the biggest headache for 3D printer users, accounting for more than 80% of 3D printing waste. Such failures can be caused by a multitude of reasons – from bad quality filament and bed adhesion issues, to slicing errors and hardware failures. 

3D printing is one big learning curve, and the benefit of (most) failures is that you’ll hopefully learn to avoid it next time. At Filamentive, we are huge fans of the Simplify3D Print Quality Troubleshooting Guide – an extensive list of the most common 3D printing issues along with guidance that you can use to solve them. 


Recycling 3D Printing Waste

When waste cannot be avoided, recycling such waste is often the first thought of many.

As a provider of filament made from recycled plastic, recycling waste/failed 3D-prints is definitely an aspiration. Many operational and logistic concerns exist in regards to receiving waste, in addition to the obvious challenge of quality control. To explain our position, we wrote an article titled: Recycling Failed and Waste 3D Prints into Filament: Challenges

We also have a blog post on what to do with failed prints and 3D printing waste.

For ‘3D printer farms’ and businesses using high volumes of 3D printing, it may be shrewd for an in-situ recycling system to be developed. Our friends at Lancashire3D have achieved exactly that – 3D-printed waste is collected, shredded, and remanufactured – using a desktop 3D printing extruder – into 100% recycled filament. Whilst this certainly has the potential to reduce waste and also on-going material costs, it can be expensive in the first instance (buying equipment) and labour-intensive thereafter. 


Conclusion

Gartner suggests that there will be 6.7 million 3D printers sold by the year 2020. Even by assuming a conservative view that only 50% of that quantity will be achieved, this would still equate to more than 80 million kilograms of plastic filament needed to sustain the market. Taking a lower percentile average of 10% waste per 3D printer, we can aggregate this with 3D printer filament usage (kg) to calculate a 3D printing waste volume of 8 million kilograms (2020). Certainly minuscule compared to overall plastic waste, but significant nonetheless.

As said, prevention is better than the cure and the onus is certainly on individuals to evaluate their own use of 3D printing and adapt their 3D printing use to reduce environmental impact.

Of course this is not always possible and there will always be waste associated with 3D printing – it is therefore imperative that we see increased collaboration between material companies, 3D printer manufacturers and the recycling sector in order to work towards ‘closing the loop’ in 3D Printing / Additive Manufacturing and ultimately harness a circular economy


Filamentive

At Filamentive, environmental sustainability is central to our business model. In order to reduce the impact of (FFF) 3D printing and mitigate the Plastic Problem we commit to:

  • Using recycled materials (both post-consumer and post-industrial) where possible 
  • Avoid the use of new, virgin polymers to reduce energy and demand for raw materials. 
  • Utlise plant-based bioplastics when there is no recycled alternative
  • Using 100% recyclable cardboard spools to further reduce waste







Important Notice – PLA Shortage

Due to a huge increase in demand for sustainable alternatives to regular plastic, there is a worldwide PLA shortage currently.

Due to this situation, prices for the following PLA products – will increase on Friday 1st November 2019

  • (r)PLA – 20%
  • PLA Matte – 10%
  • PLA Cosmic – 10%
  • ePLA – 20%
  • Wood – 20%

I am sure you are wondering why this is happening – the answer is that the demand for PLA in major industries such as packaging has considerably increased in recent months – leading to supply shortage and subsequent price increase. In comparison, 3D printing demand for PLA is miniscule.

As an environmentally-conscious company we are glad to see a step-change in plastic consumption, but unfortunately this has led to a dramatic increase in raw materials cost throughout the value chain which inevitably affects us.

Filamentive is committed to offering you the quality you expect and deserve; switching to lower-grade materials was an option open to us but we would never compromise the calibre of our products. We have found a way to minimise the price increase to the least possible amount without compromising quality.

All orders made on or before Thursday 31st October 2019 will be honoured with the current pricing, so we highly encourage you to order soon to take advantage of this.

Price is obviously a major factor, especially for those who use 3D printing within / as a business. Nonetheless, despite the price increases, we remain competitive with other premium brands.

As said, the PLA shortage affects every business in the value chain. Whilst you may not have seen price increases from others, be prepared for this in the coming weeks / months. 

Please rest assured that our value-added benefits such FREE UK delivery, 30% discount for trade / education and 30-day payment terms (subject to credit checks) are unaffected. 

We would highly encourage those of you not on our wholesale system to sign-up for FREE using the button below for a 30% discount for any order above £83+VAT.

If you have an existing account, please contact us so we can simply switch this to a wholesale one.

For volume users and / or those with large-format 3D printers, we also strongly recommend XL spools (2.3 kg and 8.5 kg) to lower the cost/kg– not to mentioned the reduced hassle from fewer spool changes.


There is currently no definitive date when this issue will be solved. We maintain regular contact with our industry partners on the current situation and any progress that is being made.

Given the uncertainty with PLA we actively encourage customers to consider non-PLA materials – namely PETg – as alternatives.

At Filamentive, we try to see challenges as opportunities. As such, we are proactively exploring PLA waste streams – from a variety of sources – with a view to creating more, innovative PLA filament products made with high-percentage recycled content. 

We greatly appreciate your continued business and support through this time of change. If you have any further questions or concerns regarding this price increase, please do not hesitate to reach out. Our team is more than happy to discuss this situation with you.


How Green are 3D Printing Users?

Consumer awareness around sustainability has vastly increased in recent years; the debate about plastic specifically has transitioned from fringe debates into the mainstream. A 2018 Nielsen report highlighted that 81% of those surveyed felt strongly that companies should help to improve the environment

As a provider of 3D printer filament made from recycled sources (where possible), sustainability is central to our ethos and business model. As such, in early 2019 we carried our a Material Sustainability survey which gathered more than 200 responses from 3D printer users – ranging from at-home hobbyists to professionals working in global businesses. 

This post will specifically focus on the attitudinal questions regarding environmental matters, as well as market demand for recycled materials in order to ascertain,  How Green are 3D Printing Users?


After sending the survey to current customers, email database and sharing via social media and industry partners, 206 responses were received. 59.80% of respondents regarded themselves as hobbyists users, 26.47% were business / professional users – with the remainder classifying themselves as researchers / education / community users of 3D printing.


Green Value

One section of the survey consisted of questions aimed to gauge the green value of respondents – essentially their attitude to the environment / plastic problem. 

As seen in the charts above, 97.55% considered plastic pollution to be a problem and even more – 99.51% – believed it is important for them, as individuals, to act sustainably in general. Both results evident strong beliefs towards environmental sustainability. 

The third question surrounding attitude to the environment / plastic problem was more specific to 3D printing – asking whether they believe the rise in plastic use due to 3D printing to be a problem. Interestingly, the response to this question was more mixed – even still, more than two-thirds of those asked said Yes – clearly stating their thought that rising plastic use in 3D printing is a problem

This could be explained by the fact that 3D printing is fundamentally less wasteful than traditional, subtractive manufacturing methods and so on quick assessment it is more sustainable than other forms of ‘making’. However, the use of plastic as a feedstock will only increase demand for plastic.



Market Demand

The following section of the survey was geared towards market demand

98.54% of respondents indicated their preference for filament made from recycled material.

Aggregating this with the results from the green value questions in the section previous, there is a very strong correlation between environmental awareness and market demand – in summary we can conclude that 3D printing users are environmentally aware and this highly influences their purchasing intention. 

The second question in this section sought to discover underlying motivations. As seen in the chart above, lowering environmental impact was cited as their primary reason for using recycled material in 3D printing – which again correlates with stated (strong) environment awareness. 

The second most popular answer – satisfy growing environmental awareness amongst stakeholders – is also significant as it reflects the findings of the aforementioned 2018 Nielsen report which highlighted that 81% (of those surveyed) felt strongly that companies should help to improve the environment. 



Conclusion

Consumer awareness around sustainability has vastly increased in recent years and as seen in the results from this survey, it is clear that 3D printing users are extremely environmentally aware.

Despite the narrow view that 3D printing is sustainable, most are concerned that rising plastic use in 3D printing is a problem. As such, the overwhelming majority use / wish to use recycled materials – as opposed to virgin alternatives which will only worsen our plastic problem – in order to lower the environmental impact of 3D printing.



Filamentive

Recycled 3D Printer Filament

At Filamentive, environmental sustainability is central to our business model. In order to reduce the impact of (FFF) 3D printing and mitigate the Plastic Problem we commit to:

  • Using recycled materials (both post-consumer and post-industrial) where possible 
  • Avoid the use of new, virgin polymers to reduce energy and demand for raw materials. 
  • Utlise plant-based bioplastics when there is no recycled alternative
  • Using 100% recyclable cardboard spools to further reduce waste