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3D Printing Tips and Tricks: Filament Quality and Why It Matters

3D Printing Tips and Tricks: Filament Quality and Why It Matters
In this installment, Charles tells us why using high-quality filament is one of the most important parameters in achieving good results.
| 3D Printers in Maker & DIY | Posted: Mar 19, 2014 1:51 am

Filament Quality and Why It Matters

 

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There are many factors that determine how well a 3D printer prints. While many of them involve tuning and tweaking the actual 3D printer itself, the filament you print with may be one of the most important determining factors in a quality print. Filament is one of those parameters that is often overlooked because, for the most part, it usually looks fine on the exterior. However, just under the surface, things like air pockets and debris could be waiting to ruin your printing experience.

 

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Regardless of what type of filament you are printing with, using filament of known good quality is paramount to having a successful print. A simple Google search of the terms "Clogged Nozzle" or "3D Printer Extruder Jam" will yield dozens of pages of results where people have experienced a jam or clogged nozzle on their 3D printer. The majority of these cases usually turn out to be the result of someone using poor quality filament from China that they bought on eBay. That's not to say that all 3D printer filament from China is bad, but history has proven that most of it is not reliable.

 

The problem with cheap filament is that it is usually extruded at lighter tolerances and with materials of questionable origin. For 1.75mm and 3mm filament, the outer diameter should not exceed +/- 0.1mm, with 0.05mm being ideal. Anything over these tolerances could jam the extruder of the nozzle's inner chamber, which is machined to exacting tolerances. Additionally, the use of out of tolerance filament will cause over or under extrusion, which is the major cause of blobbing and voids in the finished print. This is because the slicing software used to prepare the .stl for printing calculates exactly how fast to extrude based on a constant filament size.

 

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As I mentioned above, cheap filament can clog or jam your extruder and affect the outcome of the print if low-quality or "dirty" raw materials are used in its manufacture. The term "dirty raw materials" is what I use to describe raw materials that have been recycled with foreign or "non-pure" plastic mixed into the batch. These foreign materials can range from recycled ABS or PLA plastic that happens to have a different plastic part welded to it, or even bits and pieces of foreign objects mixed in such as sand, metal filings, or, in extreme cases, paper and wood bits. While not a "green" method of doing things, I like to use 3D printing filament from manufacturers that use as many virgin materials as possible.

 

Another issue with cheap filament is the inclusion of air bubbles into the filament during the manufacturing process. These tiny bubbles of air and moisture expand rapidly when heated to the temperatures seen in a 3D Printer's nozzle, and the result is a loud pop or bang that occurs when the air pocket reaches the nozzle orifice. This causes both blobbing and voids in the print surface, which reduces overall print quality. Cheap filament is riddled with these tiny air bubbles, and anyone who has ever printed with cheap filament knows all too well about how loud these pops can be.

 

One final reality of cheap filament is the lack of deep saturated colors. To save money, manufactures of cheap filament cut the amount of color pigment during manufacturing. This causes everything from washed out colors to blotchy and even transparent layers in prints. While not the main reason you should consider investing in good quality filament, color consistency and richness are definitely an added bonus that comes with quality filament.

 

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Over the last month and a half, I have had the pleasure of printing with some of the highest-quality 3D printing filament made, and, with how pleased I am with this filament, to say that I am impressed is an understatement. I am of course talking about Voltivo's ExcelFil line of ABS and PLA filaments. ExcelFil comes in both 1.75mm and 3mm sizes and is available in a rainbow of extremely rich and vibrant colors. Most importantly, ExcelFil is manufactured from the highest quality material available.

 

Voltivo says that its ExcelFil filament is manufactured using precision machines that utilize high-precision lasers to measure the extrusion diameter many times every second for a more consistent diameter. The company also says that its plastic is manufactured from high-purity raw materials and never uses any recycled or tainted raw materials in the production of ExcelFil. Furthermore, Voltivo goes the extra mile and prints samples from every batch of filament to ensure that its customers have nothing but the best 3D printing experience possible when using its filament. Pigment saturation is also top priority for Voltivo, and its ExcelFil filament features more pigment per kilogram than other 3D printing filament manufacturers on the market.

 

Over the past several years, I have used dozens of different filaments from manufacturers around the world; when I received my first shipment of ExcelFil, I could instantly tell that it was some of the good stuff. Right out of the box, I noticed that the green, red, and yellow ExcelFil I received was much brighter and vibrant than any filament I have used in the past, with the exception of some production samples I received from a company out of Germany several years ago.

 

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Over the last several weeks, I have printed about a pound of PLA and a pound of ABS from my ExcelFil samples, and not once have I experienced an extruder jam or nozzle clog. I have been taking measurements of the filament's diameter randomly, and the ExcelFil is spot on.

 

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Unlike most other 3D printer filament manufactures, Voltivo lists out the technical specifications, temperature recommendations, and other useful information all on a handy support site that includes a downloadable filament guide that explains the benefits of using high-quality filament. Voltivo's ExcelFil contains roughly 345 meters of 1.75mm PLA per spool, while 411 meters of 1.75mm ABS is wound onto each one kilogram spool. For 3mm PLA and ABS, one kilogram spools contain about 117 meters and 140 meters of filament respectively. The variance in lengths between each plastic type is due to density differences between ABS and PLA.

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