Unprintable: The Limits of 3D Printing Materials & Shapes

Hey Tech Lovers! Carolina here, your passionate tech devotee who never misses an opportunity to delve deep into the universe of innovation. Let’s unlock the magic of 3D printing!


3D printing is an astounding advancement that holds remarkable potential across various domains, primarily because of its prowess in churning out robust components with unconventional geometries. There are certain shapes that even cutting-edge tech struggles with, but not 3D printing! So, let’s address a burning question: what are those materials that defy 3D printing?

It’s noteworthy to understand that elements like wood, textiles, paper, and stone are resistant to 3D printing. Why, you ask? They would char before they reach a state suitable for extrusion through a nozzle.

Diving Deeper Into the 3D Printing Galaxy:

Unprintable Materials in 3D Printing:
At its core, the process involves melting substances into a semi-fluid form that can be extruded. If we explore FDM 3D printers’ modus operandi, they process thermoplastic materials with impeccable precision, often within a ±0.05 range. Thus, any material that combusts rather than liquefies at soaring temperatures poses a challenge. However, if the material ticks off the semi-fluidity and precision criteria, you’re good to go!

Moreover, there’s an alternate route using metal powders in a technique known as Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), where lasers sinter these powders to craft a solid model.

Materials that resist 3D printing include:
– Genuine wood (though a fusion of PLA and wood particles is possible)
– Textile fabrics
– Paper sheets
– Rocks (excluding some molten varieties like basalt)

Wondering About the Printable Stuff?

With the undeniable growth spurt in 3D printing, numerous materials have become game players:
– Metals like titanium, stainless steel, etc.
– Polycarbonate
– Edible goodies (Yes, food!)
– Bio-substances (even living cells!)
– Ceramics
– Exquisite metals like gold and silver (through an intricate wax-to-metal transformation)
and the list continues!

The Shape Spectrum in 3D Printing:

Decoding the unprintable shapes can be challenging. Still, with platforms like Thingiverse, you’ll come across ingeniously intricate designs. Normal 3D printers may falter with:
– Shapes with minimal bed contact (e.g., spheres)
– Super fine, feathery edges
– Designs with substantial overhangs or mid-air prints
– Huge structures
– Shapes with paper-thin walls

But fret not, tech enthusiasts! With methods like SLA printing (resin curing with lasers) and FDM, most challenges become surmountable. From using supportive structures for overhanging portions to segmenting models for easier printing, the possibilities are expansive.

The Enigma of Shapes with Scanty Bed Contact:

Such geometries, with minimal foundation, can’t be printed conventionally. A sphere, for instance, has tiny surface contact, making it susceptible to dislodgement during the process. The solution? Employ a raft – a foundational mesh of filaments.

The Mystery of Delicate Edges:

3D printing super-thin structures, resembling a feather’s edge, demands impeccable precision, usually achievable with machines boasting micronic accuracy.

The Conundrum of Extended Overhangs:

Major overhangs present printing obstacles. Thankfully, a strategy known as bridging can be advantageous, especially with tools like Cura. Additionally, support towers can provide the necessary framework for these overhangs.

And the Gargantuan 3D Prints:

Locating a printer capable of producing vast structures is a hunt. Yet, the largest FDM printer I’ve discovered is the behemoth Modix Big-180X, weighing a whopping 160kg. Meanwhile, for most of us, segmenting models, printing them independently, and assembling post-printing remains the strategy.

Let’s continue to marvel at how 3D printing reshapes our world, enabling personalization and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible! Dive deep, explore, and always stay curious. Cheers!