Best 3D Printer Filaments

Updated October 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

25 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
160 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best 3D printer filaments

Last Updated October 2019

If you have a 3D printer, you know it doesn’t use ink: it uses thin filaments on spools that are melted down and sprayed, layer by layer, to gradually build up a physical 3D item.

The kind of filament you need depends on what you’re trying to print and how it will be used and/or displayed. Are you going to be making items that are mainly for display, or are you making something that will have to withstand a lot of abuse when it is being used? Do your items need to conduct electricity or have a metallic finish? There are different filaments for each of those purposes and more.

Before you buy filament for your 3D printer, you’ll need to make a few determinations. What should it be made of? All filaments are not created equally, and the differences can be important. Also, how much do you want to spend? 3D-printing can be pricey, so you’ll want to make an informed decision before buying.

Read on to learn more about 3D printer filaments. We offer specific recommendations for our favorite products as well as in-depth information about what you’ll find when shopping.

Metal filaments have a high aesthetic value. They are great for printing figurines of all kinds, such as toys, models, plaques, award statuettes, and advertising tokens.

Key considerations

Since 3D printer filaments aren’t all the same, you need to think about what you’re going to be printing before buying a spool of filament. Decide what you’re going to use it for then get the filament that is best suited to that use. For instance:

Display Items

Perhaps you’ll be making items to display, such as figurines, picture frames, and vases. This category would also include items that would be handled gently, such as chess pieces or key chain fobs.

Rugged items

Items in this category include toys for small children, mallets for hammering tent stakes, and camping dishes. Any item that might be subjected to a lot of abuse would be in this group.

Food containers

Do you want to print food containers of any kind? If so, they need to meet the federal safety standards so you, your family, and friends aren’t exposed to any toxins. You’ll need to use 3D printer filaments that are labeled “BPA-free.” BPA (bisphenol A) is an industrial chemical that dissolves and seeps into food if it is stored in a container that has BPA in it.

Hot weather

Extreme weather conditions, like the desert, impose temperature requirements on the products you print. If you’re going to be printing wind chimes for use in southern Arizona, for example, you need to use filaments that can take the heat out there.

Specialty applications

This final category would include anything that has exotic requirements above and beyond the ordinary, such as:

  • Glow-in-the-dark products

  • Electrically conductive products

  • Products that change colors (mood rings)

  • Magnetic products

  • Flexible products (for shoes)

  • Precision gears
     

If you’re going to be printing anything that fits into one of those groups, there are specialty filaments to meet your needs.

EXPERT TIP

Biodegradable APL printer filaments are the perfect material for test printing where you might be making dozens of prototype copies before settling on a finished product. The prototypes can be thrown in the trash to biodegrade in a landfill.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

3D printer filaments are made from a variety of plastics and plastic-like materials. Additives are often combined with the base materials to create exotic materials for special or professional uses.

Filament materials

  • Polylactic acid (PLA): This is the most popular filament material. It is environmentally friendly because it is biodegradable, being made from sugarcane and cornstarch. It doesn’t smell during the printing process like some filaments do. It’s brittle, though, so don’t use it for items like children’s toys or high-impact items that would go through lots of abuse.  These filaments are available in a wide range of colors.

  • Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS): Not quite as popular as PLA, ABS is actually somewhat superior to it. It is somewhat more difficult to print with, but it is rugged. It can be used for making LEGO bricks, bicycle helmets, shin guards, and so on.  These filaments are also available in a rainbow of colors.

  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET): This is the most commonly used plastic anywhere in the world. Water bottles are made from it, as are some food containers and clothing fibers.

  • Nylon: While not as popular as others, nylon filament ranks number-one for durability, flexibility, and strength. Nylon has been around for a long time, and if you’re willing to take some extra time during the printing process, this is a good all-around choice.

  • Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE): This rubber-like plastic is used in automotive parts, medical supplies, and household appliances. It is flexible and durable. It’s a bit sticky to work with, but you can make flip-flops, wrist bands, and other flexible items with it.

  • Polycarbonate (PC): This is the strongest filament. It is durable, able to withstand tremendous physical impacts and temperatures up to 110ºC, which is 230ºF. Water boils at 212ºF, so this is some tough stuff. It is also transparent. This makes it good for safety glasses, scuba masks, and bulletproof glass!

Fun filaments

So-called metal filaments are actually PLA or ABS with metal powder mixed in to give it the look and feel of aluminum, brass, bronze, copper, or stainless steel. Other metal powders can be added, too. Electrically conductive items and circuits can be printed this way, as can magnetic items that will stick just like a regular magnet.

PLA can be mixed with wood fibers such as bamboo, birch, cedar, cherry, cork, olive, pine, and willow to create printable objects that look like they are made out of wood. Other filaments can be used to print glow-in-the-dark creations or items that change colors in the heat, like a mood ring. PLA and ABS can be mixed with all sorts of additives to create new and exotic items on your printer.

Professional filaments

3D printer filament such as PLA, ABS, PETG (a variation of PET), and nylon can be reinforced with carbon fibers to create very rigid, stiff, lightweight materials for structural uses in all kinds of environments. Polycarbonate ABS alloy (PC-ABS) and Polyoxymethylene (POM) are widely used for industrial, telecommunication, and automotive applications. Additionally, they are widely used in engineering, especially for printing gears, camera focusing mechanisms, bearings, and zippers.

3D printer filament prices

Filament prices are determined almost exclusively by the material they’re made from or the additives that are mixed with them to create more exotic characteristics. There is a considerable amount of overlap, so pricing categories are not cut-and-dried.

Low-priced filaments start around $8 per spool for plain white PLA filament. Colored PLA filaments range as high as $19 per spool.

Mid-range filaments start at $19 to $20 per spool up to $29 per spool for premium PLA and ABS filaments. Wood fiber additives and cheap metal filaments will be in this range.

High-end filaments are anything over $30 per spool. These include exotic uses and additives for transparent and/or professional filaments.

DID YOU KNOW?

Low-voltage filaments can be used to create customized electronics components for gaming controllers, sensors, LED lights, trackpads, and keyboards.

DID YOU KNOW?

Ceramic filaments can create clay items that can be fired in a kiln after printing to make authentic pottery items. The end result will shrink slightly as the polymer binding burns off in the kiln.

Tips

  • 3D printer filaments have become standardized over time and will be usable in most of the 3D printers on the market.

  • Unless you’re doing monochromatic (single color) printing, you should get at least one package of multicolored filaments. Each package usually has at least 10 feet of filament for each color.

  • Always use filaments from the same manufacturer to ensure they have the same melting points. If they have different melting points, you could end up with a jam in your extruder.

  • Read the label on each spool when you get it. The shelf life of most filaments is limited, so be sure to check the expiration date as soon as it arrives.

Other products we considered

We were taken by this MIKA3D Shiny Silk Gold Silver Copper PLA Filament Bundle. It has three spools of metal filaments. Each spool has 500g of shiny metal filament. It's beautiful, and as a bundle, the price per spool is terrific. It's a great specialty item.

We also have to admit to a fondness for glow-in-the-dark anything, so this AMOLEN Glow in The Dark Green PLA Filament really caught our eye. It's also available in blue and red. It would be a great item for making your own Halloween decorations. Create your own haunted house!

Carbon fiber filaments are perfect for creating parts of model airplanes and drones due to their strength and ultra-low weight.

FAQ

Q. Are 3D printer filaments environmentally friendly?

A. No. Except for PLA, 3D materials are mainly different forms of plastics which do not biodegrade.

Q. What does the ‘G’ in PETG stand for?

A. Glycol-modified. PETG filaments are clearer and less brittle than the base filament, PET, so they’re gradually overtaking it for making transparent or thin-walled items.

Q. What is the best 3D filament for most applications overall?

A. Nylon. It’s not the most popular or easiest to use, but it has the widest application.

Q. What are the most popular 3D printed items?

A. Containers, vases, lamps, doorstops, toothpaste tube squeezers, and spare keys are popular.

The team that worked on this review
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    Alvina
    Photographer
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    Amos
    Director of Photography
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    Branson
    Videographer
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    Web Producer
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    Production Manager
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    Web Producer
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    Melissa
    Senior Editor
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    Michael
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