Taking the time to understand material and printer capabilities and limitations will allow you to design for manufacturability and set realistic expectations when ordering 3D prints. In this article, we will go over common types of 3D printing and what to expect with each.
Acceptable File Types
You may place a 3D printing order using any of the file types listed under the 3D Printing header in this article. Please note we will not print files that contain multiple bodies. These orders will be rejected and canceled after submittal.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
FDM printers create layers by extruding molten thermoplastic material through a nozzle. Because of the nature of FDM printers, certain features may have a very thin string of material that will need to be removed by hand. (Imagine a taking hot slice of cheese pizza from the pie and the tendency of the cheese to stretch.) Parts that feature overhangs or other tricky features will require support material, which may affect the final finish of the part. At Fictiv, we use hobby-grade machines for parts printed in PLA to keep costs low, and professional-grade machines for parts printed in ABS to preserve accuracy and strength. Parts with internal cavities will be printed with a 20% infill density. Due to the low resolution of many part files exported in STL or OBJ format, some curved surfaces will have visible steps and will not appear as a smooth transition. Resolution refers to the layer height, not the dimensional accuracy and ability to hold tolerances.
PLA: PLA is great for early-stage, low-detail prototyping. It is inexpensive and recommended for parts where dimensional accuracy and aesthetic appeal are not as critical as proof-of-concept or basic form/fit. This is a low-resolution material (.2mm) with visible layer lines. Some features may require support material which is manually broken off after printing, potentially leaving noticeable residue. All internal cavities may have support material inside. We can only guarantee quality for walls greater than 1mm in thickness.
ABS: ABS is also a relatively cost-effective material known for its strength. Because of the professional grade printers used for ABS on our network, this material can handle complex geometries, though tolerances cannot be guaranteed. Unfinished ABS prints will have visible layer lines due to the low resolution (.25mm). We can only guarantee quality for walls greater than 1mm in thickness. All internal cavities may have support material inside.
PETG: The most commonly used plastic in the world due to its use in water bottles, PETG is considered a good middle ground between ABS and PLA because it is more flexible and durable than PLA and easier to print than ABS. The flexibility, strength, and resistance to both high temperature and impact makes it an ideal material for parts which might experience sustained or sudden stress, such as mechanical parts, printer parts, and protective components.
PolyJet printers work by jetting layers of liquid photopolymer and instantly curing them with a UV light. These machines are capable of creating hi-res prints and can handle complicated geometries with ease. PolyJet printers use a water-soluble, gel-like material to support overhangs and complex geometries. The support material is easily washed away by hand, assuming it is accessible (e.g., not enclosed in an internal cavity--this is strongly discouraged as the material will be trapped). To prevent warping on parts with long, flat features, consider adding ribs to increase support and structural integrity. The materials used in PolyJet printers are VeroBlack/White/Clear, ABS-Like, and Rubber-Like.
VeroBlack/VeroWhite: Vero is great for fit testing late-stage prototypes and creating visual models where aesthetic appeal must be considered. It is a high-resolution material with minimally visible layer lines. We can only guarantee quality for walls greater than 1mm in thickness; anything 1mm or below cannot be guaranteed to print successfully. We do not recommend internal cavities when printing with Vero as the water-based support material may be impossible to remove and will expand over time, changing the geometry. Support material that is visible and easily reachable will be cleaned off by our manufacturing partner. Vero is used in PolyJet printers.
VeroClear: VeroClear is a translucent material that can be sanded and painted for increased transparency. It is a high-resolution material with minimally visible layer lines, assuming the print is optimally oriented on the print bed. We can only guarantee quality for walls greater than 1mm in thickness; anything 1mm or below cannot be guaranteed to print successfully. As with Vero, we do not recommend internal cavities when printing with VeroClear as the water-based support material will be impossible to remove and it will expand over time, changing the geometry. Support material that is visible and easily reachable will be cleaned off by the manufacturing partner. VeroClear is also used in PolyJet printers.
SameDay Vero: While "SameDay Vero" isn't a specific material other than Vero, it is an option that you will see on eligible parts. Parts printed with the SameDay Vero option will print in either black, white, amber, or clear--this all depends on what color is pre-loaded on our manufacturing partner's printer. To be eligible for SameDay Vero, parts must not exceed a certain size, and orders must be placed by 10am for same-day turnaround. The rules that apply to Vero apply here as well.
ABS-Like: ABS-Like has the same hi-res look as Vero, but is much stronger and more durable. It is great for high accuracy parts. As with other 3D printing materials, wall thickness must be greater than 1.0mm in order to reduce the risk of breakage during printing and cleaning. Internal cavities are strongly discouraged as the water-based support material will expand over time, affecting the geometry. Support material that is visible and easy to reach will be cleaned off. ABS-Like is used in PolyJet printers.
Rubber-Like: Rubber-Like is a black elastomer that mimics the flexibility of rubber parts, although it is not as elastic. It’s great for printing overmolds, soft-touch finishes, non-slip surfaces, and water-tight seals. It’s available in shore values ranging from 27A to 90A. Though it is high-resolution, build lines may be more visible due to the nature of the material. Due to the nature of Rubber-Like material, the minimum wall thickness is 2.0mm; anything below cannot be guaranteed to print successfully. As with all other PolyJet materials, we do not recommend internal cavities when printing with Rubber-Like as the water-based support material will be impossible to remove and will expand over time, changing the geometry. Support material that is visible and easily reachable can be cleaned off.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
SLS printers create layers by sintering Nylon powder that is spread evenly on on the print bed. SLS printers do not use a different support material; rather, the Nylon powder acts as the support material during the build. For this reason, we strongly discourage internal cavities and other tight features which may trap the Nylon powder. Unlike our FDM printing standards, SLS printers will produce solid infill.
Depending on the size of the part, the process of cooling the finished parts may take just as long as the print time, which contributes to the reason why SLS Nylon carries a longer lead time than our other offerings. Cooling layers too quickly can result in warpage of large parts. Large, flat parts are especially susceptible to cooling unevenly and warping. To combat this, consider adding ribs to flat parts if possible, and avoiding printing large flat parts with SLS.
Nylon: Nylon is not as hi-res as our PolyJet offerings, but it is still superior to the FDM resolution. Nylon is strong, durable, and has some flex, making it great for snap-fit components, brackets, and clips. Nylon is also great for thermal applications, as it can withstand temperatures of up to 177-degrees Celsius (350-degrees Fahrenheit). The texture of Nylon SLS parts is similar to that of fine grit sandpaper with a matte finish.
Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
MJF is a powder bed fusion 3D printing technology similar to SLS. Nylon powder is deposited over a build platform, where a nozzle sprays fusing agent onto areas that need to be hardened. An infrared light then passes over the bed to create the layers by sintering the sprayed material. Parts made using MJF are highly accurate and durable, which makes it an optimal process for both precision prototypes and production parts. MJF parts have a comparable surface finish and slightly better resolution when compared to SLS parts, and are more cost effective at higher production quantities.
Nylon: Like with SLS, Nylon parts printed on MJF printers are not as hi-res as PolyJet parts, but are still superior to the FDM resolution. Compared to SLS, Nylon parts printed with MJF have superior flexibility, heat deflection, and strength. Nylon is also well-suited for thermal applications, as it can withstand temperatures of up to 175-degrees Celsius (347-degrees Fahrenheit). Due to the dark color of the fusing agent, MJF parts have a light grey appearance by default, but can be dyed black to achieve a more uniform aesthetic.
Designing for Manufacturability
Please keep in mind we do not offer DFM review for 3D printed parts other than monitoring for walls that are too thin to print reliably, and we cannot control printing orientation. However, with the above capabilities and expectations in mind, you should be able to design for manufacturability and set realistic expectations.
For a more in-depth look at our processes, materials, and finishes, as well as downloadable material data sheets, please check out our Capabilities Guide.