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7 Reasons Why You Should Be Using Nylon 3D Printing Filament

Written by Justin R. Shook on September 12, 2016.
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Full Disclosure: Shook Ideas now sells 3D printing filaments after years of personal and commercial usage. You don't have buy from us, but we honestly believe that we use and sell the best 3D printing filaments available on the market. Or else, we wouldn't be selling it!

Just about this time last year, I was having a conversation with a fellow 3D printing enthusiast, and he asked:

"What's your favorite 3D printing filament?"

I thought about it and then I told him that it was like choosing between pizza and strawberries. If I just got back from the gym and want to make a smoothie, I'm probably going to opt for strawberries. If I've had a couple beers downtown on Saturday night, I'll take a slice of pepperoni at the local pizza joint. It all depends on your goals and the situation.

Ketchup Smoothie Meme

As an engineer, when I design something I need material options assuming I'm going to use the 3D printed parts I make. And, the number of options is growing every day.

I've owned several 3D printers and tested scores of different filaments and suppliers over the last 5 years. When I first started 3D printing as a hobby in 2011, the only material options available to the masses were PLA and ABS.

Nylon 645 Tensile Strength

As it stands today, there are more filaments and manufacturers than I can count and they all offer different value propositions on how they will optimize or expand your 3D printing experience.

Unfortunately, a lot of this is just hype. Carbon fiber filament doesn't have mechanical properties anything like actual carbon fiber parts on cars, bikes, etc. Stainless steel filament can't be used to replace metal parts in the kitchen or workshop. Wood filament smells like wood, but it is terribly unreliable in the printing process which makes it more frustrating than anything.

So, where does that leave us? Nylon! Here are the 7 reasons why I think nylon and nylon copolymers are the greatest thing to hit desktop 3D printing since 3D printers moved to the desktop:

Reason #1: Functional, End-Use Parts

Alloy 910 Drop Test Parts

Nylon is my first choice on almost any customer product development project. I've found that Nylon gives my clients and I the best value dollar for dollar vs. anything else on the market. The goal is almost always to make functional prototypes that will have the best chance of lasting through testing and physical evaluation. On top of that, there are tons of different mixes of Nylon to accomodate whatever goal you have in mind.

Reason #2: Price

One of the most exciting parts about desktop 3D printing is the low operating cost. Since Nylon is being used more and more in the marketplace, the prices of the material are very comparable to ABS and PLA.

In the table below I've summarized some of the costs of different filaments from the most well known USA filament suppliers

Price Comparison Table

Supplier Material Price Size
Shook Ideas Bridge Nylon $40.00 1 kg
Shop 3D Universe PLA $34.00 1 kg
Lulzbot Village Plastics PLA $42.95 1 kg
Maker Geeks Maker Series PLA $24.55 1 kg

Reason #3: Material Test Data

Anyone that has any experience with 3D printing knows that only being able to use PLA and ABS really limits your applications. Not to mention, FDM 3D printed parts are inherently weaker than injection molding, machining, and other manufacturing methods. So, between limited material choices and weak parts, there were very few applications available for the emerging desktop 3D printer market.

If you've ever heard of 3D printing as being "Over-Hyped" , this is one of the main reasons why.

To make things even worse, most 3D filament maufacturers don't publish their material test data. That is, if they do any testing at all. Once again, very concerning for anyone trying to get more out of their 3D printers.

Most nylon filament manufacturers seem to understand that people are putting their materials through their paces, so it's important that they publish test data. The same thing can't really be said for PLA/ABS.

Of course there are tons of variables such as print settings, 3D printer brand, ambient conditions, etc. Regardless, I always look for material test data to give me a baseline of expectations. For example, here is the test data on the Nylon 645 material which is the 3D printing equivalent of Nylon 6-6:

Nylon 645 3D Filament

Nylon 645 Tensile Strength

Esinger TecamidĀ® 6-6 Extruded Nylon

Nylon 6-6 Tensile Strength

With the extruded nylon as the baseline, Nylon 645 3D filament only has about 45% or roughly half the strength in tension. This is a pretty striking piece of data considering that the materials are probably almost identical on the molecular scale.

The moral of the story is to buy filament with published test data and compare it with traditional manufacturing techniques to know where stand with your parts.

Reason #4: Durability

I've been disappointed time and time again with ABS and PLA. ABS delaminates pretty easily and loves to warp during the printing process on larger, flat objects. PLA on the other hand is very easy to print with, but the finished parts are only good for static loading situations. In other words, when you start bending, pulling, or introducing impacts, PLA cracks.

Nylon, on the other hand, can take a beating as long as your print settings are tuned in correctly. Here's a cool little video from Guy in a garage on Youtube showing some high stresses on a 10x10x50mm test bar.

Reason #5: Easy To Print

If you're worried that you're going to have a hard time 3D printing with Nylon, then let me put those worries to rest. The basic print settings are published for all of the Nylon materials that Shook Ideas carries. From there, you only need to know a couple tips:

The first is to always use a "brim" on your parts. This will prevent the part from peeling off of the build plate while the part is 3D printing.

3D Printed Brim Setting

The second is to always keep the cooling fans off unless the part is very small. Although your parts may look like they turned out fine upon first inspection, you'll later find out that layers didn't have enough time to properly bond to each other making a weak part. One of the best parts about nylon is that it's strong adn theoretically 100% bonding between layers, so you definitely want to avoid the fans and dial in your nozzle temperature.

3D Printed Delamination Example

Reason #6: Hybrid Materials

I'm not a chemical engineer or a chemist by any means, but Nylon seems to be like wine. It comes in several different variations and forms to create a whole spectrum of choices. Basically, you just need to ask yourself, "What do I want my parts to do when I'm done 3D printing them?". There are Nylon mixes to be soft and flexible all the way up to rigid and ultra-strong with everything in between.

Here are my top 3 favorites Nylons:

  • Alloy 910: Good temperature resistance, high strength, and good impact resistance. Overall, this is one of the highest performance 3D printing materials on the market.
  • Bridge Nylon: Best material for your budget, medium strength, great impact resistance, some flexibility
  • PCTPE: Hybrid material that combines the strength and durability of Nylon with the flexibilty and elasticity of TPE (thermoplastic elastomer)

Reason #7: Colors

Did you say colors? That's right. It may look like on the surface that Nylon is only available in natural and black. The characteristic you probably didn't know is that Nylon is hygroscopic. Simply put, it means that Nylon absorbs moisture or humidity from the environment. Although this material characteristic requires you to take extra precaution before 3D printing, it allows you to add color to your parts after you get done 3D printing.

How? RichRap has created a nice video explaining the process using clothing dye.