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Polycarbonate (PC) 3D Printing – All You Need to Know

Aug 9, 2019 by Eldon Burr

Polycarbonate is a famously tough yet challenging material to 3D print due to its unique properties. Ensure success with polycarbonate 3D printing using this helpful guide!

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Polycarbonate 3D Printing What Is It?

PC printed on a Prusa 3D printer.
PC printed on a Prusa 3D printer. Source: richrap.blogspot.com

Polycarbonate (PC) refers to a group of plastics that are known for their strength, toughness, and heat resistance. Marketed for years under the trade name “Lexan”, PC is used in many application areas, including engineering parts, DVDs, and “bulletproof glass”. As a nice bonus, it’s also optically transparent!

For all of these reasons, polycarbonate 3D printing has gained some popularity over the years, even if it is a little challenging. Let’s take a closer look at this fascinating material!

Polycarbonate 3D Printing Printing Challenges

Printing with low temperatures results in jamming, as seen here.
Printing with low temperatures results in jamming, as seen here. Source: richrap.blogspot.com

As we’ll cover in more detail below, polycarbonate has certain properties that make it a bit more difficult to work with. Needless to say, you’re going to need to be prepared to tackle the following three challenges if you want successful prints:

  1. PC requires high temperatures to extrude properly.
  2. PC is prone to warping and shrinkage.
  3. PC absorbs moisture.

If you don’t have access to a printer capable of handling the high temperatures required for PC, consider using a 3D printing service. Through Craftcloud, All3DP’s 3D printing and price comparison service, you can easily find the best price for your needs.

Polycarbonate 3D Printing Benefits

This motor holder was made by a hobbyist out of PC for extra durability.
This motor holder was made by a hobbyist out of PC for extra durability. Source: Knickohr / Thingiverse

Polycarbonate (PC) filament printing differs from PLA and other filaments in a number of ways. This affects not only the properties of prints, but what you must do to achieve success.

PC is more durable and flexible than PLA but less so than nylon. It’s harder than ABS, PLA, or PMMA, while also being lighter and less dense than ABS. It’s ability to withstand torsional stress is superior to other thermoplastics, and it’s flexible enough to be machine bendable at room temperature.

In summary, PC is

  • heat resistant up to 135 °C (for reference, PLA can begin to deform around 60 °C)
  • highly durable
  • impact and shatter resistant
  • moderately flexible
  • transparent
  • electrically non-conductive
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Polycarbonate 3D Printing Printing Recommendations

A plexiglass enclosure intended to keep ambient temperatures toasty for PC printing success.
A plexiglass enclosure intended to keep ambient temperatures toasty for PC printing success. Source: Schlem / Instructables

Ambient Temperatures

Polycarbonate 3D printing can be difficult if you don’t take the proper precautions. The material is prone to warping and shrinkage, so it’s imperative that a consistent temperature be maintained. This makes a heated bed essential. The bed should ideally be between 135 and 150 °C. There are also third party adhesives you can try that claim to be useful for maintaining bed adhesion.

Sometimes, layers may not adhere, separating or cracking as the material cools and warps. This can be prevented by maintaining the ambient temperature with an appropriate enclosure, which will ensure a more stable ambient temperature and allow layers to adhere properly. If you don’t have access to a 3D printer with an enclosure, there are also a number of DIY enclosure options.

Nozzle Temperature

PC requires a really hot hot end, one that will ideally get to between 290 and 300 °C. If you’re going slow or using a composite PC filament, you may be able to get away with lower temperatures. If using a composite, however, you may not get all the great qualities of the material. Thus, if your printer can handle it, you should definitely consider pure PC.

Temperatures too low or speeds too fast may cause jamming. So before you begin 3D printing with PC, you’ll need a printer that will reach these temperatures. And if you’re in the market for such a machine, our list of the best professional printers is a good place to start.

Moisture

Remember that PC absorbs atmospheric moisture, so keep it dry when not in use (in a sealed container) and buy quality filament to avoid bubbles in your extruder and failed prints. Moisture will not only affect the integrity of the print, but also prevent it from being optically transparent.

PC is similar in this way to PLA. Its contained moisture vaporizes during printing to create bubbles in your prints that can make them less durable and cloudy-looking. Avoid this by keeping your filament stored sealed containers with dessicant packets. You can even dry your filament before printing.

Polycarbonate 3D Printing Common Applications

Make tough and functional parts with PC.
Make tough and functional parts with PC. Source: Polymaker

As PC is commonly used in many consumer products, there is an incredibly large amount of PC pollution in the environment. The good news is that 3D printing with PC opens up the possibility of recycling material into new products. Because it is so durable and transparent, even recycled PC can be used to make fully functional prototypes and beautiful designs.

Also, due to it’s transparency, PC can be used to prototype windows and other clear products that would cost much more if produced with other materials. High heat resistance means it can also be used to create functional prototypes where even ABS would warp under heat or stress.

Feature image source: rapidsol.org

License: The text of "Polycarbonate (PC) 3D Printing – All You Need to Know" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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