1) What company has the best filament to print?
2) what is the best filament to print with?
Going through the materials as Adam emphasize the temperature of different filament to print. I have experience the difference in the print temperature located on the spool and the different setting temperature on the main interface of the printer itself, it’s different. But I was able to make the adjustment to create these fine prints.
1. Answering the question "what's the best filament brand" is exactly like trying to answer "what's the best car brand?" 😉. There's no straight answer - some filaments will be better than others at certain things. Some might prioritize price per kilogram, some might prioritize colours or special effects, some might prioritize mechanical properties. Some brands make multiple filament lines to target each niche (i.e. a "lite" lineup of cheap filaments and a "pro" lineup of mechanically superior filaments that cost more).
I've personally tried about a dozen different brands, and can honestly say that with a dialed-in printer the differences between them aren't that great. It comes down to having a print profile that is stable. If you've got a profile that pushes your printer to the absolute limit, you have less leeway for any filament-related differences. Say you found that with your filament, your printer can just about keep up at 84mm/s, and at 85mm/s the extruder starts clicking. If you do all your printing at 84mm/s, you can bet that the second anything changes slightly (not just a different brand or colour of filament, but even a different spool of the exact same colour from the exact same brand), you're going to end up with spaghetti. Now, let's say you found the limit was 84mm/s but you set your printing at a very conservative 60mm/s. You can probably throw practically any filament brand/colour at it and print hassle-free without changing settings (as long as you don't change the filament material itself, i.e. keep to brands of, for example, PLA). That's what I've done with my profiles. I found that 60mm/s and 210°C prints great with every brand of PLA I've tried (with the exception of a spool of Spectrum Dark Grey PLA that tends to be too liquidy at 210°C - but every other colour of PLA from Spectrum that I've tried has printed great at 210°C 🙃 ).
So, to answer your question in a slightly more satisfying way, the brand that impressed me most out of the ones that I've personally tried was Prusa filaments. They have a very tight diameter tolerance of just +/-0.02mm (where the industry standard is +/- 0.05mm). Now, it's important to note that Prusa isn't the only manufacturer in the world who supplies such tight tolerances, so this shouldn't be the only factor to consider. Keep in mind that their filament is also slightly more expensive than average (as with cars, you pay for extra quality, and it's up to you to decide whether it's worth the price difference in your application).
A very solid mention goes to Polymaker, who are one of the most professional companies I've encountered. They list very detailed specs of all their materials, and if I had to choose a brand to do anything professional with (like for example printing products that are sold as part of business where you need to put your mind at ease that the material is as food-safe as the manufacturer claims, or where you absolutely needed the material to reach a guaranteed minimum tensile strength), Polymaker would be near the top of my list. But again their filament is marginally more expensive than average (naturally this level of quality control doesn't come completely free).
Last honorable mention goes to Spectrum Filaments - they have a really, really wide colour selection and use RAL numbers to quantify the colour precisely. And they're very cheaply priced and come in nifty transparent spools (which look better than plain black ones). But you don't get +/-0.02mm tolerance (you get +/-0.05), and you don't get half a dozen well-characterized strength and toughness measurements on each filament's webpage (you just get a few strength measurements at most).
Personally the most common brand in my collection is Spectrum because some of the colours are amazing (bottle green is my favourite, it's a dark transparent green reminiscent of old glass lemonade bottles), but I have plenty of spools from Amolen, Ziro, Cctree, TechnologyOutlet, 3DPrima, Polymaker, Surreal, MakerBot and others. All of them print nicely.
Your best strategy is to look at pricing of filaments available to you, locally and online, and see which one makes the most sense. You can usually buy a few small 30g samples for very little cash and print a few test prints before you commit to an entire 1kg spool. This is especially important for printing lithophanes because lithophanes depend on the opacity of the filament, and this is not published in any manner on any manufacturer's website - the only way to test it is to actually print a test tile with different thicknesses and compare to other test tiles with different filaments.
2. In my opinion, the best material is PETG, but this will depend on what you want. Let's go through the common ones -
- PLA is the filament everyone starts printing with. It's odourless and really easy and forgiving to print with, however it has a very low melting point (you can soften prints just by leaving them out in the sun or by being too vigorous with a piece of sandpaper). This drastically limits their applications. You can't print something that will stay inside a car in a sunny country out of PLA for example because you'll come back to a melted print by the end of the day. Also, PLA is brittle (a bit like glass) so for anything that need to withstand impacts you have a risk of your print breaking out of PLA. Lastly, PLA is prone to a phenomenon called "creep" - which is where a material "settles" over time under the application of a constant force. In practice it means that any PLA parts get looser over time. If you design two PLA parts to friction-fit, they will come apart with no resistance after a few months of sitting, because the plastic will slowly deform over time to zero-out the forces on it. If you have a PLA clip holding onto a piece of metal, it's going to flex and deform permanently under the load from the metal, and so on. In short, don't use PLA for anything that has to hold its dimensional tolerances for any length of time under an applied force (like clips).
- PETG is similar to PLA in that it's odourless, has low warpage (no need for an enclosure to print) and is cheap. The advantages are a much higher melting temperature (so its uses are way wider), and it doesn't creep. As evidence of this, the springy clip that holds the rod that props up the bonnet of my car broke, and I printed a replacement in PETG. It's been in the hot engine compartment for several years, exposed to shocks and vibration and the constant force from the bonnet rod, and yet to date it hasn't broken, deformed or lost its grip on the bonnet rod. Mechanically, PETG is tougher than PLA (i.e. withstands impacts much better), but less stiff (i.e. bends/deforms more under the same force). Behaviour-wise, PETG tends to stick to the nozzle and smear itself all over the print, so it's not as aesthetically pleasing to print with as PLA, however its higher temperature resistance makes it much less prone to overheating, and hence makes it easy to print small structures (like the points of pyramids) without overheating and losing its crisp shape
- ABS is widely used in the injection molding world, and trumps PLA and PETG in mechanical properties, however it releases an unpleasant smell and fumes that are noxious to human health, and has high shrinkage so it tends to warp and separate from the bed unless you use an enclosure. For this reason, I don't recommend it except in cases where you absolutely need its properties and are willing to take the steps to fit filtration systems, enclosures and so on. It is absolutely not suitable for printing on a cheap desktop printer in a bedroom.
- ASA is like ABS, but with much better UV resistance. Makes it great for things that stay outdoors. Same caveats as ABS apply
- Nylon, Polycarbonate (PC), PEEK, PEI, MEEK and other exotic filaments have very high performance and very high prices to match. They tend to need special conditions to print (for example an all-metal hotend to reach the necessary temperature, a heated enclosure, sometimes special bed surfaces, a drying cannister to keep the filament spool absolutely moisture-free when printing, etc.). If you need to print with these materials, you'll have to have a very good reason (i.e. mechanical requirements that aren't met by any other filaments).
Hope this answers your question!
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