Deciding which material you want to 3D print can be a tricky task. Each 3D printed material has its own benefits and cons, and some are much more durable than others. But how long will each different type of 3D printed material last over time?
3D printed parts in general can be just as strong and durable as similar components manufactured from other materials. There is a reason why many car manufacturers use 3D printed parts to test a concept.
However, a lot of the strength and durability comes from how your 3D printed object was created. Elements such as the thickness of walls and infill density can have a major impact on the long term durability of a 3D printed object.
Introduction to 3D printed objects durability
Without a doubt, the most popular 3D printing material for years has been PLA. This is a type of plastic that comes in a filament and is used with FDM 3D printers. This is by far one of the most cost-effective and accessible materials to print with.
However, over the past few years, much more exotic materials such as nylon and resins have become much more accessible.
If you spend much time on the internet looking at 3D printing you will see how easy it is for a 3D printed object to fail, especially if it hasn’t been printed correctly. Materials such as PLA can easily break apart along the layers if incorrectly printed. But other materials such as resin do also have limitations in the strength department.
Each different form of 3D printable material will have its own unique durability, with some being much stronger and more durable than others.
In this guide, I’ve looked at the most popular 3D printed materials to see just how durable each material is, and how long each material can last.
How durable is a PLA 3D printed object?
As mentioned above PLA (Polylactic Acid) is one of the most popular and widely used types of filament used in 3D printing. It is easy to work with and low cost in comparison to other materials. This gives the user more flexibility on elements that affect core strength such as infill density.
It is reasonably easy to work with PLA, as you can print it on a wide variety of FDM 3D printers. It doesn’t require extreme temperatures to work with and is hugely accessible.
With a tensile strength of 7,250psi, it is one of the strongest 3D printing materials you can work with.
PLA does have weaknesses though. It can become brittle making it not the best choice if it is being used under heavy load. It also has a rather low melting point, meaning under more extreme heat it can start to weaken, bend or even melt. If you pass around 40°C, you will notice PLA will start to warp or bend and lose rigidity.
How durable is an ABS 3D printed object?
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is another commonly used type of filament. The tensile strength of ABS is 4,700psi, which is less than PLA. Although it does have different characteristics when compared directly to PLA.
PLA will melt under higher temperatures (anything above around 40°C will cause weakening). And it is also prone to being overly brittle, meaning it can shatter completely under heavy load.
In comparison, ABS has an extremely high melting point of around 200°C making it much more durable in hotter temperatures. It also has added flexibility which PLA doesn’t have. This means that under heavy load, ABS will tend to bend rather than shatter.
Is PLA or ABS more durable?
While PLA is technically stronger due to its higher tensile strength, ABS tends to be more durable over time. Thanks to its ability to flex rather than shatter, it can withstand a much heavier impact. This makes ABS less likely to break when dropped, thrown or crushed compared to PLA.
How durable is an SLA resin 3D printed object?
SLA 3D printing is most commonly used to achieve a more detailed appearance compared to FDM printing. Resin 3D prints don’t have the classic layer lines that are found in filament objects, and the details are often sharper. This makes it fantastic for 3D printing miniatures for tabletop games such as Star Wars Legion.
The main downsides of SLA resin 3D prints are both cost and strength. Resin is a more expensive 3D printing process than FDM printing, and typically won’t be as durable. However, the overall strength and durability will come down to the type of resin you use.
Resins come in many forms, including acrylate-based or epoxy-based resins to name a couple. Tougher industrial resins can have a tensile strength of up to 8,000psi, making them extremely durable. However, more commonly used resins such as the Anycubic 3D Printer Resin has a tensile strength of just 3,300psi.
3D printed resins do have some strength benefits over filaments. A filament 3D objects strength is heavily dependant on the orientation that you print. This dictates the orientation of the infill, and how strong the object will be in any direction.
A resin 3D printed object doesn’t have this limitation. Resin 3D objects are just as strong when pushed or pulled in any direction. SLA 3D printing rarely relies on infill, meaning it maintains rigidity across all axis.
How durable is a nylon 3D printed object?
Nylon is another increasingly popular filament to 3D print objects with. Much like ABS, it provides more flexibility giving it a better chance of being able to not break as forces are applied. You will often find nylon is the most popular material to 3D print with for industrial uses compared to ABS or PLA.
With a tensile strength of around 7,000psi, nylon sits just underneath PLA in the overall strength chart. There are different forms of nylon filaments meaning tensile strength will vary between them.
Rather than shattering or breaking like PLA, nylon has the tendency to bend under pressure. It has more flexibility than ABS, which in turn has more flexibility than PLA. This makes nylon a strong contender for the most durable 3D printable material.
The melting point for nylon is around 220°C, making it a good material choice when used with high temperatures. Despite nylon being very durable, it is trickier to 3D print compared to ABS and PLA. It needs to be printed slower, with a hotter extruder temperature.
The best way to make 3D objects stronger
The strength of your 3D printed object or part is heavily reliant on the techniques used for printing. The infill density and thickness of your walls are two of the most important factors when creating your model. Also, the number of walls is important, as well as the material you print with.
What is infill density and how does it affect strength?
You should look at infill density as the supports between walls. Infill is the technique for filling the insides of walls with more 3D printed material to increase strength and durability. The higher the infill density, the more material is between walls supporting them.
Increased infill density will make your 3D printed object or part more durable and stronger by providing extra support. It will also make the part heavier, and you’ll use more material which in turn will increase the cost of printing.
You will often find the most common forms of infill come in a honeycomb or grid pattern. This provides a lot of small supports which when together increase overall durability.
Are 3D printed objects fragile?
3D printed objects don’t have to be fragile. If they are printed using the correct techniques, they can last for a very long time. Of course, if you print a small object or part with low infill density or thin walls then it can have weaknesses in certain areas.
As shown above, the strength and durability of a 3D printed object come down to a few different factors. When looking at long term durability, you can’t just take into account pure tensile strength. You also need to look at elements such as how the object behaves under load, whether it will break or bend, and how it performs under high temperatures.
While PLA is the most commonly used 3D printing material, and it is extremely strong, it doesn’t necessarily have the same amount of durability as ABS or nylon.
Whichever 3D printing material you choose, you should know the object can be as strong and durable as you desire. A lot of the overall durability will be down to the methods that you use when designing the model and printing it.