3D printers, like all of 2D printers, need a special type of “ink” to print parts. While it is the real ink in the cartridges for paper printers, it can be plastics, metal, and ceramics for 3D printers. This article evaluates different types of materials used in 3D printing, with a special focus on the plastics since home-type printers often print with them.

3D printers have differing capabilities to produce with metals; some can print with stainless steel while the other may only print with copper. As stated above, printing with metals is far from being suitable for hobbyists; the corresponding printers are usually much bigger and dusty than printers printing with plastics. For an overview, the methods used in metal printing is also significantly different; the most common methods used are selective laser sintering (SLS) and laser engineered net shaping (LENS®).

First, it should be stated that home type printers generally use fused deposition modeling in which the printing head can move along X and Y axes and the printing bed only moves along Z axis. For home type printers, the materials required can be divided into two categories: the main material and the support material. As a general rule, the printer would need to have two printing heads instead of one in order to be able to use a support material different than the main material. Otherwise, the support would be built from the same material.