The material selection platform
Plastics & Elastomers
The material selection platform
Plastics & Elastomers
3D Printing Ball

How to Select Polymers for 3D Printing?

The global additive manufacturing industry has progressed in many ways. This is due to its versatility and sustainability benefits. The technology's increasing accessibility has driven its widespread across various fields. These include aerospace, medical/dental, automotive, electronic, and consumer products.

The following things should be noted before selecting the right additive manufacturing process:
  • the type of the polymer
  • the deposition technique
  • the way the material is fused or solidified

You should choose an additive manufacturing process first that best meets your needs. Later you can select the appropriate polymer for the process and application.

In this guide, let's help you select the right additive manufacturing/3D printing process for polymers.


What is additive manufacturing?

What is additive manufacturing?

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), refers to various innovative processes that are used to manufacture three-dimensional products.

In additive manufacturing, successive layers of material are formed under computer control to create an object. These objects can be of almost any shape or geometry and are produced from a digital 3D model or other electronic data sources.

Great attention has been given to this subject for a while now since it offers new opportunities for polymers in factories of the future.

Additive manufacturing may be a more appropriate term to use than 3D printing because it includes all processes that are “additive”. The term “3D printing” applies more specifically to additive manufacturing processes that use a printer-like head for deposition of the material (e.g., material jetting). 3D printing is now only one of the processes that is a part of the additive manufacturing universe.

Technical articles and standards generally use the term “additive manufacturing” to emphasize this broader meaning.

Successive layers of material formed under computer control to create a 3D object
Successive Layers of Material Formed Under Computer Control to Create a 3D Object

Additive manufacturing – Market growth

Additive manufacturing applications appear to be almost limitless. Early use of 3D printing in the form of rapid prototyping focused on preproduction models. However, additive manufacturing is now being used to fabricate:

  • High-tech industrial (aerospace, medical/dental, automotive, electronic), and
  • Consumer (home, fashion, and entertainment) products

...and today’s materials include not only polymers but also metals and ceramics.

The 3D printing market was valued at USD 13.7 billion in 2020, and it is expected to reach a value of USD 63.46 billion by 2026, at a CAGR of 29.48% over the forecast period (2021 - 2026).8

Overall, the demand in the global 3D Printing market1 is gaining traction from a number of factors such as:

  • Strikingly higher resolution
  • Reduction in manufacturing cost owing to recent technological advancements
  • Ease in the development of customized products
  • Growing possibilities of using multiple materials for printing, and 
  • Government investments in 3D printing projects

Select the top suppliers providing 3D printing polymers in our database.

3D printing polymers by TechmerPM3D printing polymers by EnvisionTech3D printing polymers by Materialise3D printing polymers by 3D Systems3D printing polymers by BASF3D printing polymers by SABIC

Identifying the strengths & limitations of additive manufacturing over conventional methods

The growing success of additive manufacturing is due to its advantages over conventional manufacturing. However, these strengths often come along with certain weaknesses. The weaknesses provide opportunities for corrective action through the development of new polymeric materials.

Strengths Limitations
  • Elimination of design constraints
  • Allow parts to be produced with a complex geometry: honeycomb structures, cooling channels, etc., and no additional costs related to complexity
  • Build speed; reduction of lead time
  • Flexibility in design
  • No expensive tooling requirements
  • Dimensional accuracy
  • Wide range of materials (polymers, metals, ceramics)
  • Well suited to the manufacture of high-value replacement and repair parts
  • Green manufacturing, clean, minimal waste
  • Small footprint for manufacturing and continually shrinking equipment costs
  • Surface roughness
  • Low density, porosity
  • Lack of data regarding end-use properties to be expected of parts (e.g., thermal and chemical stability, strength, etc.)
  • Limited to relatively small parts
  • Limited to low volume manufacturing
General Strengths and Weaknesses of Additive Manufacturing Over Conventional Manufacturing

Additive Manufacturing Processes Classification

Additive Manufacturing Processes Classification

Additive Manufacturing Processes Additive manufacturing processes are classified into seven areas on the basis of:

  • Type of materials used
  • Deposition technique, and
  • The way the material is fused or solidified

These classifications have been developed by the ASTM International Technical Committee F42 on additive manufacturing technologies. The work of this Committee focuses on the promotion of knowledge, stimulation of research, and implementation of technology through the development of standards.

The seven major additive manufacturing processes as classified per ASTM F42 are listed below.

  1. Photopolymerization
  2. Material Jetting
  3. Binder Jetting
  4. Material Extrusion
  5. Powder Bed Fusion
  6. Sheet Lamination
  7. Direct Energy Deposition

The end-user generally first chooses an additive manufacturing process that best meets his needs, and then the most appropriate material for the process and application.

As far as polymers are concerned, the most popular additive manufacturing processes are photopolymerization, material jetting, powder bed fusion, and material extrusion. The materials used in these processes can be in the form of liquid, powder, or solid (formed materials such as polymer film or filament).

The method of consolidation and applicable additive manufacturing process is illustrated in the figure below.

Additive Manufacturing Process
Additive Manufacturing Processes Along with Classes of Materials and Method of Deposition

The specific chemical types and forms of the polymer materials that are used in each process are discussed in detail below. Print materials made of plastics and polymers are defined by the parameters of their parent 3D printing processes.

Common to all additive manufacturing processes is the use of a computer, 3D modeling software, layering material, and a manufacturing machine. The layering material can be almost anything, but polymers, both in solid and liquid form, have generally been used because of their available forms, formability, and end-use properties.

3D printable models may be created with a computer-aided design (CAD) package, via a 3D scanner or by a plain digital camera and photogrammetric software. 3D printed models created with CAD result in reduced errors and can be corrected before printing, allowing verification in the design of the object before it is printed.

Generalized steps of 3D printing process
Generalized steps of 3D printing process (Source: Research Gate)15

For a more detailed description of the technologies behind computer technology and the specific equipment used, you can refer to other references.2,3

Let’s discuss the methods by which 3D polymers are consolidated into a three-dimensional shape.


In the photopolymerization process (also known as stereolithography) a pre-deposited liquid photopolymer in a vat is selectively cured by light-activated polymerization (see figure below). It is one of the earliest and most widely used rapid prototyping technology. Photopolymerization builds parts a layer at a time by tracing a highly focused UV or laser beam on the surface of the liquid polymer.

Photopolymerization additive manufacturing process
Photopolymerization Additive Manufacturing Process (Source: ScienceDrect)14

Materials used in photopolymerization process

The polymeric materials used in the photopolymerization process are mainly radiation curing acrylics and acrylic hybrids.

  • The light-activated polymer quickly solidifies wherever the beam strikes the surface of the liquid. 
  • Once one layer is traced, it is lowered a small distance into the vat and a second layer is traced on top of the first layer.

The self-adhesive property of the photopolymer causes the layers to bond to one another, and eventually, a complete three-dimensional object is fully deposited and hardened. Designs are then immersed in a chemical bath in order to remove any excess resin and post-cured in an ultraviolet oven. It is also possible to print objects "bottom-up" by using a vat with a somewhat flexible, transparent bottom, and focusing the UV upward through the bottom of the vat.

Photopolymerization – General characteristics

Photopolymerization generally provides the greatest accuracy and best surface finish of any AM prototyping technology. Over the years, a wide range of materials with properties mimicking those of engineering thermoplastics have been developed.

Other characteristics of the photopolymerization process include:

  • Support structures are required during build
  • Post-processing is required to wash and post cure parts

Advantages Weakness Major Applications
  • High resolution and accuracy
  • Ability to produce complex parts, smooth surface
  • Accommodates large build areas
  • Parts are not as durable as those manufactured with other AM processes

Although photopolymerization can be used to produce virtually any design, it is often costly. The cost of resin and stereolithography machines was once very high. Recently, interest in 3D printable products has inspired the design of several models of 3D printers which feature drastically reduced prices (less than $10,000 for an industrial-sized printer. Several companies are now producing photopolymerizable resins at prices as low as $80 per liter.

Photopolymers used in 3D imaging processes must be designed to have a low volume shrinkage on polymerization in order to avoid distortion of the solid object.

  • Common monomers utilized include multifunctional acrylates and methacrylates combined with a non-polymeric component in order to reduce volume shrinkage. 
  • A competing composite mixture of epoxide resins with cationic photoinitiators is becoming increasingly used since their volume shrinkage upon ring-opening polymerization is significantly below those of acrylates and methacrylates. Free-radical and cationic polymerizations composed of both epoxide and acrylate monomers have also been employed, gaining the high rate of polymerization from the acrylic monomer and better mechanical properties from the epoxy matrix.

Discover the key features of materials used in photopolymerization or stereolithography process available in our database.
Durable polymers using photopolymerization Moisture resistant polymers using photopolymerization Good toughness polymers using photopolymerization Dimensionally stable polymers using photopolymerization Heat resistant polymers using photopolymerization

Continuous liquid interface production (CLIP)

Although stereolithography was originally touted as a fast process for building prototype models, it is not fast enough for most full-production manufacturing. Conventional 3D printing processes are in reality only two-dimensional printing that is done over and over again.

Full parts may take many hours or even days to produce. Very recently, a new photopolymerization technology, called Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP), was introduced that claims speed 25-100 times faster than traditional 3D printing.4

Continuous Liquid Interface Production process
The Continuous Liquid Interface Production process
enables fast print speeds and layer less part construction

The CLIP process works by carefully balancing the interaction of UV light (which initiates photopolymerization) and oxygen (which inhibits the reaction). Part production is achieved with an oxygen-permeable window below the UV image projection plane.

This creates a “dead-zone” where photopolymerization is inhibited between the window and the elevating polymerizing part (see figure above). In this way parts that usually take hours to manufacture can be made in minutes.

Parts are not as durable as those manufactured with other AM processes

Material jetting

Material jetting creates objects in a similar method to a two-dimensional inkjet printer.

  • Material is jetted onto a build surface or platform, where it solidifies, and the model is built layer by layer. 
  • The material is deposited from a nozzle which moves horizontally across the build platform. 

Machines vary in complexity and in their methods of controlling the deposition of material. The material layers are then cured or hardened using ultraviolet (UV) light.

As material must be deposited in drops, the number of materials available to use is limited.

Material Jetting Process
Schematic representation of the material jetting process (Source: ScienceDirect)13

Materials used in material jetting process

Photopolymerizable resins are suitable and commonly used due to their viscous nature and ability to form drops. However, molten polymers can also be used with an elevated temperature printing head, and the molten polymers then solidify at ambient temperature.

Material jetting – General characteristics

One distinct advantage of this process is that it allows changing of product material during a build. In this way graded material properties are possible. Other characteristics of the material jetting process are:

  • Major sub-classification is “3D printing” using low viscosity ink.
  • Light curable materials are generally used; however, molten thermoplastic materials, polymer solutions, and dispersions can also be used.
  • Wax is often used as a support.

Advantages Weakness Major Applications
  • Good surface finish
  • High resolution
  • Allows full color parts
  • Enables multiple materials
  • Part may have low strength and durability
  • Low viscosity prevents fast build-up

  • High resolution prototypes, circuit boards and other electronics
  • Consumer products
  • Tooling

Binder jetting

In binder jetting, a thin layer of powder (polymer, metal, or ceramic) is rolled across the building platform.

  • A printer head then sprays a liquid adhesive binder to fuse the powder particles together. 
  • The binder is applied only in the places specified in the digital computer program. 
  • This process repeats until the three-dimensional object is formed and the excess powder that supported the object during the build is removed and saved for later use.

Binder Jetting Process

Binder Jetting Process – A Step-by-step Approach (Source: ScienceDirect)12

 Powder material is spread over the build platform using a roller 
 The print head deposits the binder adhesive on top of the powder where required 

 The build platform is lowered by the model’s layer thickness 

 Another layer of powder is spread over the previous layer 

 The object is formed where the powder is bound to the liquid 

 Unbound powder remains in position surrounding the object 

 The process is repeated until the entire object has been made 

Materials used in binder jetting process

The binder jetting process uses two materials:

  • A powder for part build-up and
  • A binder to consolidate the powder

The binder is usually in liquid form. Binder jetting is capable of printing a variety of materials including metals, sands, and ceramics.

Some materials, like sand, require no additional processing. Other materials are typically postured, sintered, or sometimes infiltrated with another material depending on the application and final density requirements for the part.

Binder jetting is unique in that it does not necessarily employ heat during the build process. Other additive techniques utilize a heat source which can create residual stresses in the parts. These stresses must be relieved in a secondary post-processing operation.

Additionally, the parts produced via binder jetting are supported by the loose powder, thus eliminating the need for a build-plate. Spreading speeds for binder jetting outperform other processes. Binder jetting has the ability to print large parts and is often more cost-effective than other additive manufacturing methods.

Binder jetting – Characteristics

Other notable characteristics of the binder jetting process are:

  • Uses fine polymer powders (100 mm) and jetting of a liquid polymeric binder to bind the powder, subsequent infiltration is possible

Advantages Weakness Major Applications
  • Low waste
  • Relatively fast and simple process
  • Allows for full color
  • Uses a wide range of materials
  • Rough surfaces
  • Prototyping
  • Tooling

Material extrusion

Material extrusion is becoming one of the most prominent additive manufacturing processes. In this process, the part is made by depositing an extruded material layer by layer. Generally, a thermoplastic filament is unwound from a coil and supplies material to an extrusion nozzle.

  • The nozzle is heated to heat the filament and provide for a semi-molten polymer to be extruded in either horizontal or vertical directions. 
  • The plastic hardens immediately after being extruded and bonds to the layer below as shown in the figure below.
  • The entire system is contained within a chamber which is held at a temperature slightly below the melting point of the plastic. 

Material extrusion additive manufacturing process

Material Extrusion Additive Manufacturing Process (Source: Research Gate)11

Materials used in material extrusion

Several materials are available for this process. ABS is the most widely used polymer, but other polymers have also be used such as:

  • Polycarbonate
  • High density polyethylene
  • Polyphenylsulfone
  • High impact polystyrene, and
  • Polycarbonate/ABS blends

In addition, parts have been produced from biopolymers such as polylactic acid and from processed plastic waste (See table below).

Materials and their Characteristics
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and ABS Blends

An ABS prototype has up to 80% of the strength of injection molded; this means that ABS printed products using FDM are extremely suitable for functional applications.
  • ABSi is an ABS type with high impact strength. The semi-translucent material is USP Class VI approved. It has a good blend of mechanical and aesthetic properties.
  • ABS-M30 is 25-75% stronger than the standard ABS material and provides realistic functional test results along with smoother parts with finer feature details. It is biocompatible (ISO 10993) and an ideal material for medical, pharmaceutical and food packaging industries. It is sterilizable using gamma radiation or ethylene oxide (EtO) sterilization methods.
  • ABS-ESD7 is a durable and electrostatic dissipative material suited for electronic products, industrial equipment and jigs and fixtures for the assembly of electronic components.
Polylactide (PLA)

Polylactide (PLA) is a popular plant-based thermoplastic material used in 3D printing.
  • It is both light and strong. 
  • The wide range of available colors and translucencies and glossy feel often attract those who print for display or small household uses. 
  • When properly cooled, PLA seems to have higher maximum printing speeds, lower layer heights, and sharper printed corners. 
  • Combining this with low warping on parts make it a popular plastic for home printers, hobbyists, and schools.
Polycarbonate (PC) and PC Blends

Polycarbonate is the most widely used industrial thermoplastic in 3D printing. In FDM products it is accurate, durable, and stable for strong parts. PC has superior mechanical properties, heat resistance, and high tensile strength.
  • PC-ABS is a blend of polycarbonate and ABS plastic which combines the strength of PC with the flexibility of ABS. It has superior mechanical properties and heat resistance of PC, excellent feature definition and surface appeal of ABS, and high impact strength.
  • PC-ISO is a strong, heat-resistant engineering plastic commonly used in food and drug packaging and medical device manufacturing. It is biocompatible, gamma and EtO sterilizable and complies with ISO 10993 and USP Class VI. The material gets its name from being a polycarbonate (PC) material with ISO certification.
Polyimide (PI)

ULTEM™ Resin 9085 is a high-flow polyetherimide blend that is strong, lightweight and flame retardant (UL 94-V0 rated). It was developed primarily for the aerospace industry and also has applications in other niche industries. It is an ideal candidate for functional prototyping and end-use parts applications. In aerospace, it has a high strength-to-weight ratio and a high heat deflection temperature (160°C).
Polyphenylsulfone (PPSU)

PPSU is a thermoplastic with the highest heat and chemical resistance of all FDM Materials. It has great strength and is sterilizable by all processes. PPSU is ideal for applications in caustic and high-heat environments.

Material extrusion – General characteristics

Material extrusion is somewhat restricted in the variations of shapes that can be fabricated. Other notable characteristics include:

  • Material extrusion additive manufacturing is also known as fused deposition modeling (FDM) or fused filament fabrication (FFF)
  • Thermoplastic filament (3mm in diameter) has become a commonly available build material
  • Multiple materials can be used for both the product build and support

Advantages Weakness Major Applications
  • Multiple materials and colors can be used
  • Availability of equipment
  • Parts have good structural properties
  • Inexpensive and economical
  • Surface quality may require post-processing
  • Relatively slow build times
  • Requires strong filament and
  • High processing temperatures
  • Prototyping
  • Tooling
  • Office manufacturing

Materials extrusion is one of the simplest and least expensive additive manufacturing process. In fact a toy 3D printer5 including software that will be on the market in the fall of 2016 for a price of $299.

FDM printers use two kinds of materials:

  • A modeling material, which constitutes the finished object, and 
  • A support material, which acts as a scaffolding to support the object as it is being printed. Support materials are usually water-soluble wax or brittle thermoplastics, like polyphenylsulfone (PPSF). 

Because thermoplastics are environmentally stable, part accuracy (or tolerance) doesn’t change with ambient conditions or time. This enables FDM parts to be among the most dimensionally accurate.

Once an object comes off the FDM printer, its support materials are removed either by soaking the object in a water and detergent solution or, in the case of thermoplastic supports, snapping the support material off by hand. Objects may also be sanded, milled, painted or plated to improve their function and appearance.

Discover the key features of materials used in material extrusion or FDM process available in our database.
High strength polymers using Fuse deposition modeling Dimensionally stable polymers using Fuse deposition modeling FDM grades with excellent printability Amorphous polymers using FDM process Durable polymers using FDM process

Powder bed fusion

Powder fusion is similar to binder jetting, except the layers of powder are fused together using a heat source, such as a laser or electron beam. This process is also known as selective laser melting (SLM) or electron beam melting (EBM) when using metal powder. An alternative method to liquifying the powder by heat is to use sintering.

Selective laser sintering (SLM) is the process of compacting and forming a solid mass of material by heat and/or pressure without melting it to the point of liquifaction.

All processes involve the spreading of the powder material over previous layers usually with a roller or a blade as shown in the figure below. A hopper or a reservoir below of aside the bed provides fresh material supply.

Some other additive manufacturing processes, such as stereolithography (SLA) and fused deposition modeling (FDM), often require special support structures to fabricate overhanging designs. While SHS does not need a separate feeder for support material because the part being constructed is surrounded by unsintered powder at all times, this allows for the construction of previously impossible geometries.

Materials used in powder bed fusion

Polymer powders used in powder bed fusion processes can be either amorphous or crystalline thermoplastic particles. Typical polymers are:

Polyamide 12, either pure or blended is the major option. The utilization of polyamide 11, polyamide 6, and elastomeric polymers such as TPE and TPU are growing.

Thermosetting powders such as epoxy have also been used to produce pure plastic parts or as a binder to use with metal or ceramic particles. Kruth, et. al., provides an excellent dissertation on the consolidation of polymer powders by selective laser sintering,6 and Schmid, et. al., provides information regarding the combination of intrinsic and extrinsic polymer properties necessary to generate a polymer powder likely for SLS application.7

Polymeric powders are commonly produced by ball milling. However, most SLS machines use two-component powders, typically either coated powder or a powder mixture. In single-component powders, the laser melts only the outer surface of the particles (surface melting), fusing the solid non-melted cores to each other and to the previous layer.

The shape and surface of the particles determine the behavior of the resulting powder to a great extent. In case of SLS powders, the particles should be at least as feasible formed spherical. This is in order to induce an almost free-flowing behavior on the part bed of an SLS machine. Certain particle size and distribution are necessary to be processable on SLS equipment. This distribution is favorably between 20 μm and 80 μm for commercial systems.

Thermoplastic Polymers Used in Selective Laser Sintering
Thermoplastic Polymers Used in Selective Laser Sintering (in Red)
(Source: Science Direct)10

Powder bed fusion (and selective laser sintering specifically) is considered a forward-looking additive processing technology mainly because parts with high mechanical strength can be created.

However, a major disadvantage has been the limited spectrum of suitable materials due to the high cost for cryogenic processing of powder and the available powder properties (size, molecular weight, melt flow, etc.) required for manufacturing.

Powder bed fusion – General charcteristics

Other notable characteristics of the powder bed fusion process are:

  • Part is embedded in a block of unsintered powder which acts as a support that must be removed.
  • Part can be produced in a vacuum to reduce porosity.
  • Various thermal energy sources can be used, and as a result, there are several variations of this process: Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), Electron Beam Melting (EBM), Selective Heat Sintering (SHS), Selective Laser Melting (SLM), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS).

Advantages Weakness Major Applications
  • Low waste
  • Relatively fast, complex structures are possible
  • Wide range of materials
  • No support required
  • High heat and chemical resistant materials
  • High equipment cost
  • Aerospace
  • Automotive
  • Medical products
  • Tooling
  • Dental implants

Discover the key features of materials used in laser sintering process available in our database.
Good surface finish grades using laser sintering process Good chemical resistance grades using laser sintering process High strength grades using laser sintering process Good dimensionally stable grades using laser sintering process Recyclable grades using laser sintering process

Sheet lamination

Metal Sheet LaminationIn the sheet lamination additive manufacturing process, thin sheets of material are bonded together using adhesives or a heat source to form a three-dimensional product. The sheet lamination processes are also known as:

  • Ultrasonic additive manufacturing (UAM) when ultrasonic bonding is used to laminate thermoplastic sheets together
  • Laminated object manufacturing (LOM) when adhesives are used for lamination

Materials used in sheet lamination

Polymers are often used but paper or metal foils are also typically processed and find application in cases where heat-sensitive materials cannot be used, and low costs must be realized. Almost any polymer can be used as long as it is available in thin sheet form and can be bonded by either adhesives or heat.

Sheet lamination – General characteristics

Advantages Weakness Major Applications
  • Low material cost
  • Availability of many substrates (e.g., paper, film, foil)
  • Process does not require a closed environment
  • High volumetric build rates
  • Allows combination of materials and embedding components
  • Bonding equipment can be simple (even by hand) or automated
  • Complex geometries are difficult to produce
  • Less accuracy than other AM processes
  • Large parts
  • Tooling

Directed energy deposition

Directed energy deposition processes generally do not use polymeric materials but employ metal wire or powder. High energy heating sources such as a laser are directed at the material to melt it and build-up the product.

Directed energy deposition is considered to be a more complex and expensive additive manufacturing process, but it is commonly used to repair or add additional materials to existing components.

Directed energy deposition
Directed energy deposition (Source: Research Gate)9

Directed energy deposition – General characteristics

Other characteristics of directed energy deposition include:

  • Similar to powder bed fusion except the material is first injected into an energy field
  • Common substrates are metal, metal wire, glass, and ceramics

Strengths Limitations Major Applications
  • Can operate in open air
  • Multiple materials can be used
  • Large parts are possible
  • High single point deposition rates
  • Not limited by direction or axis
  • Expensive equipment lower resolutions and reduced ability to manufacture complex parts
  • Final machining is often required
  • Repair or build-up of high volume parts

3D processing methods – Quick summary

The table below provides a quick recap and description of these processes.

Process Description Technology
Photopolymerization A vat of liquid photopolymer resin is cured through selective exposure to light (via a laser or projector).

This then initiates polymerization and converts the exposed areas to a solid part.
  • Stereolithography (SLA)
  • Digital Light Processing (DLP)
  • Continuous Liquid Interphase Production (CLIP)
  • Scan, Spin, and Selectively Photocure (3SP)
Material Jetting Droplets of material are deposited layer by layer to make parts.

Common varieties include jetting a photo-curable resin and curing it with UV light, as well as jetting thermally molten materials that then solidify at ambient temperature.

This process was the origin of the term “3D Printing”.
  • 3D Printing (3DP)
  • Multi-Jet Modeling (MJM)
  • Drop on Demand (DOD)
Binder Jetting
Liquid bonding agents are selectively applied onto thin layers of powdered material to build up parts layer by layer.

The binders include organic and inorganic materials. Metal or ceramic powdered parts are typically fired in a furnace after they are printed.

  • Drop on Powder (DOP)
  • Powder Bed printing
Material Extrusion
Material is extruded through a nozzle or orifice in tracks or beads, which are then combined into multi-layer models.

Common varieties include heated thermoplastic extrusion (similar to a hot glue gun) and syringe dispensing.
  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
  • Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)
Powder Bed Fusion
Powdered materials are selectively consolidated by melting them together using a heat source such as a laser or electron beam.

The powder surrounding the consolidated part acts as support material for overhanging features.
  • Selective Heat Sintering (SHS)
  • Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
  • Electron Beam Melting (EBM)
  • Selective Laser Melting (SLM)
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS).
Sheet Lamination
Sheets of material are stacked and laminated together to form an object. The lamination method can be adhesives, ultrasonic welding, or brazing (metals).

Unneeded regions are cut out layer by layer and removed after the object is built.
  • Selective Deposition Lamination (SDL)
  • Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM)
  • Ultrasonic Additive Manufacturing (UAM)
Direct Energy Deposition
Metal powder or wire is fed into a melt pool which has been generated on the surface of the part where it adheres to the underlying part or layer.

The energy source is usually a laser or electron beam. This process is essentially a form of automated build-up welding.
  • Laser Metal Deposition (LMD)
  • Electron Beam Free-Form Fabrication (EBF3)
  • Direct metal deposition (DMD)
  • Laser Engineered Net Shaping (LENS
Additive Manufacturing Processes as Defined by ASTM F42

Now that you’ve reviewed the seven major additive manufacturing processes as classified per ASTM F42, let's discover the various types of polymer materials used in the additive manufacturing process.

Polymers Used in Additive Manufacturing

Polymers Used in Additive Manufacturing

The specific chemical types and forms of the polymer materials that are used in each process are identified in the table below. Although at first glance, this may seem to be an abundance of materials, there is a growing need to develop and process a much greater variety of materials than currently possible.

The general feeling is that the materials that now exist for additive processing processes do not meet the requirements of the majority of industrial products, and materials need to be developed specifically for additive manufacturing processes and end-user applications.

Polymeric Materials for Building 3D Parts Photo-polymerization Material Jetting Binder Jetting Material Extrusion Powder Bed Fusion Selective Heat Sintering Sheet Lamination
Epoxy resin X X X
Acrylic resin X X X
Binder/powder hybrids X
PA 12 X X
PA 11 X
ABS – PC blend X
Starch X X
Elastomer / cellulose X X
Polyester film X
Polyolefin film X
Polyvinyl copolymer film X
Other thermoplastic film X
Other thermosetting film X
ABS/PC blend X

Properties of Polymeric Materials for Additive Manufacturing

The penetration of these industries is still limited, and this limitation has much to do with the types of materials that are available. The properties of new materials must be compatible with the deposition tool as well as the application. Some of the properties for new, sought-after polymeric materials include:

  • Mechanical Stability: The material should maintain its form during processing including the support of subsequent layers. High mechanical stability of the final part allows it to be handled quickly and provides property imitation of conventionally processed materials (e.g. by injection molding).

  • Chemical Stability: The material has to have a consistent chemical structure and it must be inert when in contact with other materials during and after processing. This will allow possible combination with other materials without undesirable reactions.

  • Thermal Stability: The material should have properties (melt flow, particle size, adhesion, etc.) that are required for the additive manufacturing processes chosen. It should also have thermal properties (glass transition temperature, creep resistance, low and high temperature strength, etc.) required for the end-use application.

  • Biocompatibility: Biocompatibility will become important in AM parts that are manufactured for biological applications such as bodily implants and orthodontics. It will also become significant in parts that must be recycled or deposited in a waste facility. The parts should have low or no toxic effect on the environment and be biodegradable when necessary.

Select 1100+ 3D prinitng polymers available in our database

  1. Wohlers Report 2017, Wohlers Associates & 1a. Transparency Market Research, 3D Printing Market, Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast 2017 - 2025
  2. Wendel, B., et. al., “Additive Processing of Polymers”, Macromolecular Materials and Engineering, Vol. 293, 2008, pp. 799-809.
  3. Negi, S., et. al., “Basic Applications and Future of Additive Manufacturing Technologies: A Review”, Journal of Manufacturing Technology Research, Vol. 5, No. 1/2 , 2013, pp. 75-95.
  4. Tumbleston, J.R., et. al., “Continuous Liquid Interface Production of 3D Objects”, Science, Vol. 347, March 20, 2015.
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2 Comments on "How to Select Polymers for 3D Printing?"
GOURDON B Jan 6, 2023
C'est une excellente revue sur les techniques de FABRICATION ADDITIVE . C'est clair avec de bonnes explications MERCI pour toute cette synth├Ęse Bernard GOURDON
A treasure for AM enthusiasts Being an academician, I find this very useful for a beginner. The online course will surely benefit the aspirants and those in the field of AM / 3D printing

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