What makes a good quality filament? How do you know if you have good filament or not? Tom and Tracy Hazzard kick off their materials week with these common questions. After testing dozens of PLA filament brands, they have a pretty good idea of what qualifies as good filament. They talk about the aspects that affect a filament’s outcome on print and behavior with the printer. They also discuss how a larger volume allows you to control the color better. Listen to them as they share all aspects that contribute to quality filament along with some tips for buying one.
Listen to the podcast here:
Where Is The Good Quality Filament?
This is the Ask Us Anything segment.
Almost anything. In this episode, our anything is about color.
It’s one of our favorite subjects. One of our biggest frustration within 3D printing is the availability of good color.
This question is a little more foundational than that because this question is, “What makes a good quality filament?”
Let’s say you’re looking for a special color and you’re only finding it from a small filament supplier you haven’t used before. How do you know if you’ve got good filament or not?
Color is an issue in what makes a good quality filament. It’s the colorant sometimes that makes the filament fail its performance characteristics. There’s too much filler balanced to the color.
When you think about it, plastic comes naturally as clear-ish amber. To get any color, you have to put pigments into it, which are solids of other materials to give it color.
You also add brighteners and other chemicals to it to give it other properties. In order to get white or brighten something, sometimes you have to add clarifiers and things like that to it.
There are also different additives that make them either more matte looking or more glossy looking.
There are also additives that make it more UV stable and colorfast. There are a whole bunch of chemicals in there. The more chemicals in there and the color and balance, that’s what can cause variations in it. In my experience, good quality filament comes from a company that keeps tight control on their entire process from beginning to end. The colorant that they bring in comes at the highest quality colorant and a lot of times, that colorant means that it’s coming in large volume batches.
It’s the way it happens. Because you’re bringing in such a large volume batch, you’re controlling the color better. That’s going to give you a good quality overall in terms of your color balance over a long period of time in terms of running that. There’s the quality of how it’s extruded. If it’s tightly controlled by a measured method. Are there computer controls measuring the thickness of that filament from the beginning and all the way to the end of the extrusion and the speed at which that runs? Those are all things that contribute to that. If there are measurements happening in the process on that, that makes it better for quality filaments.
The consistent diameter, regardless of whether your printer uses the thinner diameter material or the thicker material, the consistency of that is critical to your machine performance.
Think about it this way. If your filament had a wavy thick, thin, thick, thin quality, even if it was minor that you couldn’t see it, you could probably feel it though if you run your fingers along it. If it had that, you’re not getting enough filament in those sections. You’re not getting enough of the raw material at the time at which you’re extruding. It’s starving and it’s overfilling and starving and it’s overfeeding, so you have an issue that you’re causing within your machine. The consistency of that filament going in, as best you can to get it dialed in is the best solution. Buying a good quality filament makes sense.
I have been to a couple of filament manufacturers and seeing how they run, all I can say is there are some that making filament is not their core business. They didn’t start there. They started making other types of plastics and they thought, “3D printing is a cool up and coming thing. Let’s make filament.” If they weren’t already being a filament type extruder even if they’re expanding their plastic types and things like that, I would be more hesitant to go with them. You need somebody who’s done filament for a long time. The idea of doing the filament itself part, the consistency of a round diameter and all of that, that’s more critical than the plastic side of the business to me.
It’s hard for the general consumer to know whether that manufacturer has good quality controls or not. It’s even hard for us to know. Even though you’ve been to a couple of filament factories, seen it and learned that this diameter, the quality controls and the measurements are what it’s all about. Didn’t you also learn about making sure that material is dried properly at the beginning? That’s critical too.
It’s the amount of humidity that happens in the process because you have to remember, it’s running through a water bath as it’s extruding, which is a cool thing. The water is controlling the diameter so it’s all pressure.
It’s also counterintuitive because commonly people think, “You don’t want to expose your filament to humidity,” The quality filament suppliers we’ve met say after it’s made that they don’t believe that’s such a critical issue. It’s more of an issue for them in production.
It dries out in the final process of rolling it up and doing all of the things that they do to it at the end. By the time it’s done, it’s completely lost all of the humidity from the manufacturing process. There is some case where should there not be a silica packet, it should not be wrapped in plastic and it came over on the water from Asia, you should be concerned. It definitely should be packaged properly for that because it can add moisture to the process and be difficult. It’s also not enough moisture that is going to do a whole lot to your machine. It’s going to create a little bit of slow running. It’s not going to run as smoothly in the beginning but it will dry out fast.
We’ve found in our experience that the diameter and either the brittleness or the consistency of the diameter is much more critical to successful printing than potential humidity.
My biggest tip to buying filament is for you to read the comments. We buy a lot over Amazon because we tend to buy Prime. The last-minute, we decided we want a different color and we tried it out. Read the comments and comment back. Whenever I’ve returned a filament and had problems with its consistency, I’m careful to put in a message. You can find mine. They’ll say, “@HazzDesign gave the comment.” We do that because we want to make sure that we’re informing our other users that we didn’t find a good consistency level. I also have to say a lot of these manufacturers are improving and they’re worth a second shot if they have a color you want.
That’s the thing. We’re designers and colors are most important so we’ve tried a ton of different filaments to get colors that are even a little closer to what we want. We’ve run a lot of filament and we’ve had some bad ones but we’ve also had a lot of good ones. It’s almost as important to leave a good comment if you get a good filament on Amazon as it is to leave a bad comment if you’ve had a bad experience. Some printers are more forgiving than others.
Especially ones where you can adjust the temperature. Once you can adjust the temperature, you have the ability to dial in and fix some of the problems.
There are lots of factors that play into it but certainly, there are better quality filaments than others. It’s hard.
We’ve talked about this before, we don’t skimp. Cheap filaments are cheap for a reason. Anytime you spend between $35 and $45 on a filament, you’re probably getting a pretty decent filament.
Anything below that, I would be concerned about. I do think you get what you pay for is true. In reality and we talked about this in an earlier podcast, an expensive roll of filament, even $50 or above is still going to be pennies per print, depending on what you’re printing. It does not pay you in the long run to buy a cheap filament.
We hope that answers your question. If you have more questions, especially ones related to design, color and 3D printing, we’d love to hear them. Our Ask Us tab on our website HazzDesign.com has a SpeakPipe link where you can leave us a voicemail.
Thanks again and we’ll be in touch with you next time.