3D printer filament. Source: Maker SHED
3D printer filament. Source: Maker SHED

3D Printing Filament is the material used in printers that use Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology. Today’s filaments are made of either Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) or Polylactic Acid (PLA). Each plastic type has unique characteristics and strengths and weaknesses depending on the application.

Standard diameters for filaments are 3mm and 1.75mm. Plastic filaments also come in a wide variety of colors.

Many consumer desktop and commercial 3D printers provide their own filament on a custom spool or cartridge. However, there are third-party filament suppliers that produce and sell filament compatible with many popular 3D printers.  

ABS Filament

ABS is the plastic used in Legos® toys. It works best if used with a heated build plate in a heated environment. The plastic has a tendency to bend vs. break and is good material in many 3D printing applications.

PLA Filament

PLA is environmentally-friendly plastic derived from renewable resources like corn starch, sugarcane, and other plant-based derivatives. PLA is more rigid than ABS and has a tendency to break vs. bend. It is a popular choice for 3D printing because there are little-to-no fumes or strong smells emitted from heated PLA.