One major perk of 3D printing is its flexibility – both literally and figuratively. If you have a niche material requirement, chances are there’s a filament for it. For instance, flexibility can be desirable in models to increase durability or ease of use, among other things.
Most flexible filaments are made from a polymer of hard plastic and rubber, called thermoplastic elastomers. The flexibility of the material depends on the ratio of these two compounds. So it’s possible to print objects that are completely malleable but snap back like a rubber band, all the way up to objects like car tires that flex when pressured but otherwise maintain a firm shape.
There are a few types of flexible filament out there, all with their own characteristics and strengths:
Flexible filaments are great at dampening impacts and vibrations, have a long shelf life, and are extremely durable, but they are more difficult to print than filaments with stiffer base materials.
You can improve your chances of a good flexible print by using a direct drive extruder, which makes the distance between the drive gear and the melt zone as short as possible within the printer. This makes it easier for the flexible filament to travel through the printer without getting bunched up.
Alternatively, if you really don’t trust your setup (or don’t have one), you can also turn to a 3D printing service and reap the benefits of professionalism. Find the right provider (and price) at Craftcloud, All3DP’s 3D printing and price comparison service.
As we mentioned above, soft PLA is a special type of PLA 3D printing filament. It’s made with natural materials, such as cornstarch, tapioca roots, or sugarcane. Pellets of those materials are melted down into a liquid that is shaped, dried, and hardened into a long, thin filament and wound onto a spool for 3D printing.
Soft PLA is treated with additional chemicals to take away much of the natural brittleness of regular PLA. When those chemicals are added, the PLA gains characteristics of rubber. It’s able to withstand manipulations to its shape when pressure is applied, springing back to its original shape once the pressure is taken off.
Soft PLA also retains the ability of rubber to absorb vibrations and impacts. It’s useful for objects like tires that need to keep their shape to work but are constantly exposed to pressures that would break or crack a material without any give.
In the following, we’ll break down soft PLA’s characteristics into pros and cons and then see how it compares to TPU filament.
Soft PLA’s advantages over regular PLA include:
The biggest challenge when using soft PLA filament is learning what does and doesn’t work to make it do what you want. It’s got a few downsides that also stem directly from its added flexibility properties:
Soft PLA and TPU have a lot in common, but there are a few notable differences:
Interested in giving soft PLA a shot? We recommend trying MatterHackers’ Soft PLA.
(Lead image source: Casual Collisions / YouTube)
License: The text of "What’s Soft PLA Filament & How Does It Compare to TPU?" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.