Best 3D Printing Filament for Outdoors? UV Resistance Guide

Alright, Carolina here, the tech enthusiast who is passionate about all things tech! Let’s dive right into the mesmerizing world of 3D printing and UV rays.


The Impact of UV Rays on Polymer Dynamics
Exposure to UV radiation is notorious for its capacity to trigger photochemical reactions within polymer matrices. This characteristic can be a boon, especially when discussing resin-based 3D printers (SLA) which leverage UV lasers for printing. However, a flip side to this is the potential deterioration it induces in certain plastics. Crafting a model meant for daylight outdoor exposure and aiming for UV resilience? You’re in the right place. This discussion will illuminate (pun intended!) the best material choices for enduring the sun’s onslaught. Do note: PLA lacks UV resistance and, over extended exposure, sunlight can compromise its properties. While ABS offers improved UV resistance, the crown for the utmost UV-resilient filament goes to ASA—an ABS variant. ASA not only presents a smoother printing experience compared to ABS, but also boasts enhanced durability.

Delving Deeper: How UV Rays Interact with Predominant 3D Printing Materials
Now, let’s dive deeper into the world of PLA, ABS, and PETG.

PLA (Polylactic Acid)
Derived from renewable sources like sugarcane and cornstarch, PLA is a biodegradable plastic. However, its biodegradability doesn’t automatically doom it under sun exposure. While it may become somewhat brittle, for the most part, it retains its primary form and strength, as long as it isn’t load-bearing. Thus, for decorative outdoor elements, PLA is suitable; but for functional parts like a bracket or holder, think twice.

A fascinating study by Makers Muse revealed how PLA responded after a year in the sun, featuring intriguing UV-reactive PLA variants. Dive into my article on the mysteries of PLA’s brittleness. PLA, being biodegradable, is naturally susceptible to weathering compared to other 3D printing plastics. UVC exposure, especially between 30-90 minutes, can expedite PLA’s degradation. To truly decompose PLA, specific conditions involving high temperatures and pressures are required—far beyond the capabilities of mere sunlight. Interestingly, certain animals might fancy PLA as a snack due to its organic origin!

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)
When considering outdoor applications, ABS showcases several advantages over PLA, primarily owing to its non-biodegradable nature. With superior temperature resilience and commendable tensile strength, it’s suitable for brief outdoor adventures. Prolonged sun exposure, though, isn’t its best friend. Pure ABS can resist absorbing energy from UV rays which could otherwise spawn free radicals. Over time, the sun’s relentless assault can discolor ABS and make it brittle. As a solution, consider using a UV-protective lacquer. My go-to choice is the Krylon Clear Coatings Aerosol—efficient and budget-friendly!

Amongst the popular 3D printing materials, PETG, a glycol-modified version of PET, reigns supreme under extended UV exposure. Its innate clarity and smooth finish shield it from radiation and heat. Still, despite its UV resilience, it can show wear outdoors due to its softer surface. Searching for an exceptional outdoor-ready PETG? Overture PETG Filament is my recommendation.

Champion in Sunlight Resilience?
While PETG might be UV-resilient, it isn’t the unrivaled choice for all outdoor scenarios. Enter ASA (Acrylic Styrene Acrylonitrile)—the perfect amalgamation of strength and UV endurance. Designed as an ABS alternative, ASA, although challenging to print, offers myriad benefits. Its resilience to UV, wear, temperature variations, and impacts makes it ideal for applications like external electronics housing and vehicle exterior components. Polymaker PolyLite ASA is a trusted and reasonably priced ASA filament that I personally recommend.

Choosing Materials for Automotive Components
For automotive interiors, stick to the trusty ABS. For external elements, ASA is the star. And for lightweight, sturdy prototypes, materials infused with carbon fiber, like carbon-fiber-reinforced ABS, are game-changers.

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