Metal Filament 101

What are metal filaments?

3D printers are known to build and create objects from plastic, they can use several different types of plastic such as ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), PLA (Polylactic acid), and Nylon.

They use different technologies to turn these plastic materials into parts. Plastic is the main choice of material for all desktop 3D printers, people can use materials to print objects that are laced with metal, this type of material is called Metal filament. But individuals may get confused, since we have established that 3D printers use plastic, they may ponder on what is a metal filament?

A metal filament is a customized material that comprises of normal filament with some added finely powdered metal elements such copper, brass, stainless steel, and bronze. Basically, people mix other materials with metals to create products that look and feel like metal.

What are metal filaments made of?

The percentage of metal powder used in individuals’ filaments vary on the manufacturer, but it is thought to be made of 80% metal and 20% plastic. but they are mostly comprised of copper, brass, stainless steel, bronze. But the most commonly used metals are Brass and Copper.

What Makes It Different From The Standard PLA (Polylactic acid)?

The added presence of the individual metal powders makes metal filament heavier than standard plastic. Printed parts with metal filaments will weigh more than products made from standard PLA. They are abrasive and they are extruded through the hot end.

What are the benefits of metal filaments?

  • The primary reason most people use metal filaments is because of its final print product which portrays superior aesthetics.
  • The use of metal filament can have the luster of real metal even though it is a composite material.
  • Because of its high density, metallic prints are hefty and look more realistic compared when using other filament materials.
  • They are rigid and durable though not as durable as full metal prints.
  • A metal filament does not require extremely high printing temperatures, so a standard desktop 3D printer should suffice.
  • Products made with metal filament is not prone to shrinkage, so when people accidentally cooled the prints too quickly, it should not be a problem.

What type of Nozzle is recommended?

The standard brass nozzle used on 3D printers is too soft will wear down fast, especially when printing using a metal filament, since they are too abrasive. Upgrade to a wear resistant nozzle to print this filament efficiently and smoothly. A steel nozzle is recommended for this.

How strong are metal filaments?

Metal-filled plastics are not commonly used in manufacturing, the actual composite material lacks the durability, strength, and malleability of pure metal, adding metal powders into the standard PLA filament makes it more brittle than pure PLA.

How long does it take to print with metal filament?

Because of the metal powder fused into the normal filament, it allows the metal filament to heat up faster when entering the hot end. Allowing people to print faster compared to pure plastic filaments.

Note that the thermal conductivity varies on the type of metal fused into the filament. Printing metal filaments at a speed of 50mm/s is recommended and eventually increase it when working your way up.

What are the pros and cons of using metal filaments?

Pros

  • The product is more aesthetically appealing because of its metallic finish and effect.
  • When making a print made of a metal filament it does not need a high-temperature extruder.
  • Because it has some metal components in it, it is heavier than standard filaments.

Cons

  • The printed parts tend to be very brittle.
  • This material can cause partial clogging over time.
  • It has poor bridging and overhangs often.
  • Awfully expensive.

What’s the difference between metal filaments and full metal.

Full metal filament – If the individuals want to use a metal filament that has actual metal in it, it is advised to check if it is composite or metal filling. Manufacturers list the percentages of metal fills they used for actual metal filaments.

Metal filament – If it is not listed as composite or having a metal filling, chances are it does not have actual metal in the filament, only powdered metals, which is the standard giving prints the aesthetic of a metal product but not actually being durable.

How to prevent poor bridging and overhanging?

Because of the heavy nature of a metal filament, they tend to do poorly when printing, it usually overhangs or bridges. It is recommended to reduce the number of overhangs to avoid these problems, try minimizing the layer height to 0.1mm or 0.15mm to improve the overhang performance of the metal filament.

Use Cases for metal filaments

Since metal filaments are relatively rare there are many unique applications people can do when using these specialty filaments.

Some of the common applications used are:

  • Jewelry – With the use of metal filaments, professional designers can create a prototype design and print production pieces.
  • Replicas for museums – Since the metallic filament produces realistic prints, it can be used for museums to replicate different statues and more.
  • Sculptures and busts – The same reason for application in replicas for museums, its realistic products make it a good alternative in creating historic sculptures and busts.

Get started and learn how to 3d print?

Read our how to get started guide