3D printing has been changing and growing by leaps and bounds in the last few years, with more and more options opening up, especially in terms of what materials can be 3D printed. Nylon, plastic, many metals…there are a lot of materials that can be used to 3D print an object.
However, the technology is still fairly young and does have limits. Many materials cannot be 3D printed (yet). This is tied to the way these materials work as well as the way 3D printers function.
3D printers need material that can be melted or (in the case of metals) turned into a powder then turned into a hard material again. The technology came into use with plastics which can be turned into a form that can be manipulated, then harden again once in the desired shape. This is how all forms of 3D printing work. We’ve found ways to do it with metals using sintering techniques and binders as well as ways to hurry the hardening process along.
Any material that does not work like this cannot be used in 3D printing. It’s also important that, even if a material can be melted into a pliable form and then hardened once in a desired shape, it needs to do so within a certain time frame under open-air (or at least not-too-specialized) conditions. Materials that can’t be used in normal 3D printing include wood and ceramics.
If you want a genuinely wood object, you need to carve it or use some other subtractive manufacturing techniques.Wood doesn’t melt under high temperatures; it catches on fire. It is possible to 3D print plastic that has wooden fibers mixed in that give it a wood texture and feel. It is not as durable as hardwood and lacks the same feel, but it is a start.
For ceramics, the limitation is found in its cooling methods. This is changing as technology does and several companies have developed ceramic printers that are about to come to market. Ceramics are used for many industrial applications, making them highly desirable as a 3D printing material.
3D printing can handle a lot of materials once they have been modified, including glass and various metals. The typical limitation is cost. Modification can be extensive- turning glass and metal into a powder that interacts properly with a binder or laser can be difficult and expensive, for instance. Some materials are simply expensive to get in the first place, like copper. 3D printers have been developed extensively by copanes, universities, and other groups, so it is possible to print glass and even nano-materials, but that does not mean it is easy. 3D printers have been used to create food, but it is still cheaper to make food normally for most of us. This is always changing, as the potential of 3D printing means that a lot of money and time is getting invested in expanding its capabilities and reducing its cost.
At Jawstec, we stay up-to-date on the latest developments of 3D printing technology and materials. Whether you’re looking for a prototype or a finished product, 3D printing can provide answers for you and your projects. Contact us for a 3D printing design quote so we can answer your questions and get your project started today.