In partnership with:
Thanks also to CKAB for providing some of the filament samples.
There are so many new PLA suppliers appearing every month that it is hard to keep track of the market offering. Here at 3D Matter we wanted to help users understand which are – in our opinion – the best PLA suppliers based on performance, quality and process. We teamed up with DOOD, a company developing 3D printers, to develop a testing process on their machines. Here are the high-level results from our study:
Regular PLA filaments show a wide range of price points, but it didn’t seem justified considering the slim differences between them. Not considering price, Makerbot tested best on the aggregate assessment. With price in mind, Dutch Filaments offers a great filament at a low cost.
Modified filaments are quite different from regular ones and therefore may qualify for a higher price point. While the performance is not on par, the quality of the prints is significantly improved and unique. They offer very promising prospects for filament 3D printing.
About the testing procedure
Here are the key evaluation criteria for the performance, quality and process tests:
The tests were carried out while controlling for all environmental parameters, all filaments being printed on the same printer with the same settings:
- Temperature: 200C
- Speed: 120mm/s (performance), 40mm/s (quality)
- Layer height: 0.25mm (performance), 0.15mm (quality)
Detailed results: Performance test
| Box: testing procedure
The performance test is comprised of tensile tests and compression tests performed on multiple specimens of each filaments (see below). The tests were performed at room temperature.
We plotted stress-strain curves using a universal testing machine (UTM) to obtain the 3 key evaluation criteria: strength, elongation at break and rigidity
Example stress-strain curve: 4th test for the Faberdashery filament
We performed the tests at the Navier lab of the Ecole des Ponts Paristech. The data was aggregated and averaged to build the following table (note: the “low / medium / high” characterization used here is relative within this filament selection and does not represent an absolute assessment):
If you would like to get more details about the actual numbers behind this table, as well as the stress-strain curves, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
In this table we try to offer an aggregate assessment of the filaments’ performance but please bear in mind that the performance of the material will depend on the application it is used for. Therefore the aggregate assessment can be misleading if only one criterion is sought after (e.g. the application does not require any strength but needs to be rigid).
Performance variations between regular PLA filaments are not tremendous but more expensive filaments tend to show better performance.
Regular PLA filaments show significantly better strength than the modified PLA samples studied. Modified PLA filaments also show very different rigidity and elongation from regular PLA filaments, leading to interesting potential niche applications.
Detailed results: Quality test
We printed the .stl file called “the owl” (downloaded from Thingiverse) multiple times per filament. Then we had four different people rank each batch from “best looking” to “worse looking”, and also group them by quality categories. Based on these rankings, the following conclusions were drawn:
As a general comment, the quality difference between regular PLA filaments was small compared to the differences linked to printer quality and printer settings. For example, a change in the extruder quality, in the printing speed or in the layer height will influence the quality outcome much more than a change in regular PLA supplier.
Bigger differences come with modified filaments: the nature of the material printed leads of course to a different appearance, but the finish was also clearly better. The copper blend from Colorfabb (see below) was outstanding once post-processed.
Detailed results: Process test
The assessment of how easy it is to process a given filament depends on one-off issues and is therefore harder to characterize than quality or performance. However, we wanted to point out obvious or recurrent process-related characteristics we observed when using the filaments.
In particular, we gave a better grade if the filament was sold with a spool, if it was easy to feed into the printer, if the filament was not getting tangled, and if there was no or limited post-processing needed.
We do not pretend to have an exhaustive and perfect test. In particular, the test does not account for the following parameters:
- Printer specificities: we used only one 3D printer to do the tests and we believe there may be some differences depending on the machine used
- Ease of procurement: depending on your location or the volume required, it may be cheaper and/or simpler to get filament from a given supplier and affect your choice
- Toxicity: we didn’t measure the toxicity of each filament. While we assume that PLA filaments are comparable in terms of toxicity, it may be a limitation if we extend the study to more material types
- Color variety: if you are looking for a specific color or a wide range of options, it may influence the supplier you choose.
- Customer service: Some suppliers will provide assistance if you are struggling with the filament, and this could compensate some of its apparent shortcomings