Important Plastics Used in 3D Printing

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In the last few years, we have witnessed the magical world of 3D printed clothing. From high-fashion to high-technology, the 3D printed clothing is amazing to marvel at. More than the marvellous design possibilities available under 3D printing, the engineering used behind printing fabric like materials is simply astonishing.

Most of the 3D printed clothes look interesting but many of them are less comfortable and much less wearable. However, this does not mean that all 3D printed apparel products are non-wearable. The 3D printed textiles made from FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) 3D printers can be worn. Some pretty good 3D printed neckties are already available in the market.

The basic thing that makes 3D printing so amazing is the material used to create designs. Although now we have metal, ceramic, sugar or styrofoam to virtually create anything in 3D printing, it all started with the ‘plastic’, which is still the prime raw material in 3D printing. So, here we describe the main plastic used in 3D printing in the textile industry:

PLA (Polylactic Acid): This is a bio-plastic that is dominating the world of 3D printing. PLA is made from a renewable organic resource such as cornstarch or sugarcane. In the textile industry, the PLA-based filaments show great adhesion to PLA fabrics. As it can be reinforced with all types of materials, it is used in the manufacturing of smart fabrics that helps in enhancing the functionality of the textile products.

This is a tough resilient material with a matte and opaque quality. There are no toxic vapours or odours when heated. This bio-plastic is great for 3D printing because it is environment-friendly, available in a variety of colours and can be used as a resin or filament. The material does not get shrink after 3D printing. All these properties make PLA a good component for developing sustainable textiles.

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene): It is a terpolymer made by polymerising styrene and acrylonitrile with polybutadiene. This is another widely used bio-plastic in 3D printing. It can form filaments easily and is durable, strong, heat-resistant, flexible and cost-effective. A drawback if ABS is that it creates a slightly unpleasant smell when heated and its vapours contain nasty chemicals. Therefore, one needs good ventilation to get off these irritating fumes. Because of this drawback, 3D hobbyists prefer PLA over ABS.

PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol): This is a synthetic polymer and is water-soluble. PVA is a new class of 3D printing materials that are used to make supports that hold 3D prints in place. This is not used for making finished products but create support for portions of a product. Once the product is finished, you can immerse it in water and PVA support structures will dissolve leaving rest of the insoluble print behind. In 3D printing, this is mainly used as glue, thickener or a packaging film.

Although the range of materials used in 3-dimensional printing technology may evolve with time and rising interest of customers, these are the three mainstream plastics currently popular for all 3D printing applications.

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