3D Printing Materials: From Plastic to Metal to Wood and Beyond

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Shapeways 3D Printing Materials

3D Printing Materials: What You Can Make

This is a guest post by Kyle Hurst, whose bio is at the end of the article.

If you look up 3D printing on the internet you’re likely to run into a variety of objects ranging from decorative knick-knacks to full blown prototype models of new inventions. While there’s a lot of emphasis on all of the cool ideas that concept designers have come up with, there is relatively little hype about the development of the various materials and techniques being developed and that are now floating around in the 3D printing community. Here is quick look at the variety of different materials available on the market today.

Hard Plastics

This is the most common material and you can find it all over the internet, or even make your own out of garbage plastic using a home extrusion machine. “Hard” is usually a relative term and depends heavily on the number of layers in your model. Being the first and most prolific material it’s used for lots of different ideas from sculptures, to graphic design, to mechanical models. Sometimes they’re even used to make functional parts and tools.

Flexible Plastics

This is a very significant advancement in printing technology because it allows people to print objects with flexible parts in them to build composite structures. That means that printed items don’t have to be stiff, greatly broadening the variety of functional objects that can be effectively produced. Because it’s a lot more rubbery in consistency it’s very useful not only for making flexible objects, but for any number of practical applications such as shoe soles, handgrips, or grips on the undersides of objects to prevent them from sliding around.


Selective Laser Sintering has been around for decades, but it hasn’t ever been put to this type of use, and it definitely hasn’t been affordable for a private person. The incorporation of laser sintering into 3D printing allows people to build much more durable and heavy objects. While that means producing machine parts that typically have to be cast or ground by machine tools, it could also be applied to make less glamorous everyday objects like a hammer, or a screwdriver.


While some people were out chasing the dream of home manufacturing, others got a bit more creative. Considering that at the end of the day we’re using a robot to dab droplets of sticky things strategically into predetermined shapes, it was only a matter of time before someone thought to use chocolate. Perhaps in the future we won’t be so lazy as to buy a box of chocolate hearts for valentines day, but instead design and customize chocolate sculptures as gifts? The idea might be a bit too romantic, but at least it’s tasty.

Wood Composite

Designed to appeal on aesthetically as well as economically, a German company found a way to create printable wood. It’s made of wood fibers and a lignin based polymer that behaves similarly to plastic. Depending on temperature it will print with different colors, allowing for the addition of artificial “tree-rings” in printed items. The material looks and feels essentially like wood, but more important is that it’s actually made of wood and natural ingredients. That means that we don’t need to rely on artificial non-renewable plastics for 3d printing purposes.

3D printing is becoming increasingly ready to make the jump from fun design toy to essential home-manufacturing tool. If we’re lucky then in 10 years we’ll be sitting in our homes with our own 3D printers building many of the items that we buy at the store today.


About the author: Kyle Hurst has a background in 3D modeling and B2B marketing. He’s currently pursuing his education further and writing about 3D plastic printing in his free time.

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Shapeways Materials Sample Kit photo by Shapeways used under Creative Commons license.

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2 Responses to 3D Printing Materials: From Plastic to Metal to Wood and Beyond

  1. [...] 3D Printing Materials: From Plastic to Metal to Wood and Beyond [...]

  2. […] Related: 3D Printing Materials Overview […]

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