Polycarbonate Filament 101

3D enthusiasts and veterans alike know that although PLA (Polylactic acid) and ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) are popular and widely used both materials lack durability. Though strong enough for the basic application, they are not meant to withstand any sustained force or strong impacts.

So those new to the 3D printing world may ask themselves, what is the strongest material filament to use? Polycarbonate filaments are used for that reason, ensuring durability and long-lasting prints. But individuals may wonder, what makes this filament so strong and durable? Coming to the question of what is a polycarbonate filament?

A polycarbonate (PC) filament is a group of plastic (thermoplastic) that is known for its impact resistance, toughness, strength, and heat resistance. This element is also the basis of bulletproof glass. For all these reasons, using polycarbonate filaments in 3D printing has gained popularity over the years.

What Is Polycarbonate?

The material polycarbonate (PC) is a high strength material that is intended to be used in engineering applications and tough environments. The material itself has high heat deflection and impact resistance.

Why Should You Store A Polycarbonate Filament In An Air-tight Container?

A polycarbonate filament is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs more moisture from the air than usual which can affect its printing performance and its overall strength. It is recommended to store these filaments in a moisture-free and air-tight container after opening.

What Prints And Products Are The Most Commonly Made Of Polycarbonate Filaments?

Because of its main features which are high resistance to heat, incredible toughness, and optical clarity, people commonly use it in creating prints such as:

  • DVDs
  • Riot shields
  • Safety glasses
  • Bulletproof glass

How Strong Is The Polycarbonate Material?

This material can be bent without damaging or breaking it, that is why it is mostly used in applications that need minor flexibility.

On What 3D Printer Is A Polycarbonate Filament Best Used?

Polycarbonate is best printed on a machine that features an enclosed build volume and can withstand high temperatures from the printer bed to its extruder.

What Are The Factors To Consider When Using A Polycarbonate Filament?

  • Always remember that polycarbonate material needs high temperatures to extrude properly.
  • Note that polycarbonate is prone to shrinkage and warping, so excessive cooling should be avoided.
  • Polycarbonate is hygroscopic making it absorb more moisture than usual and can damage itself.

Until What Temperature Can A Polycarbonate Filament Withstand?

Having a high glass transition temperature of 150C (302F), a polycarbonate filament can maintain its structural integrity up to the indicated temperature, making it perfect for applications that require high temperatures.

It can withstand that temperature because it requires an extremely high temperature when printing if it is printed at a lower temperature, it will exhibit layer separation.

What Temperature Does Polycarbonate Filaments Fused With Other Materials Require?

But most available polycarbonate filaments in the market are laced with additives that allow the filament to be printed and processed at a lower temperature.

What Are The Benefits Of Using Polycarbonate Filaments?

  • It has high heat resistance; it can withstand the temperatures up to 135C (275F) compared to standard PLA filaments that begin to deform at 60C (140F).
  • Its high durability, making it widely used on things such as bulletproof glass, riot shields, and more.
  • Because of its strong nature and high durability, it is resistant to high impacts and shattering.
  • It is moderately flexible therefore it is widely used in the field of engineering.
  • Its transparent material makes it aesthetically pleasing and that is one of the reasons why this material is commonly used in glasses.
  • It is electrically non-conductive.

How Hard Is It To Use Polycarbonate Filaments in 3D Printing?

People may wonder that with this filament’s superior qualities why does not everyone use it in 3D printing? It is because a polycarbonate filament is not an easy material to work with, to successfully print the material, one should have a high-quality polycarbonate filament paired up with a high-performance desktop 3D printer that can print and withstand high temperatures.

What Is The Proper Ambient Temperature Of Polycarbonate Materials?

Since the material is prone to warping and shrinkage maintaining the proper ambient temperature is needed. Making a heated printer bed essential it should emit a temperature of 135C to 150C (275F to 302F).

What Are The Hardware Requirements When Using A Polycarbonate Filament?

Since polycarbonate filaments are harder to use, individuals should make sure that their 3D printers meet the hardware requirements for polycarbonate to ensure the best print quality.

  • 3D printer bed – A heated bed is required since polycarbonate filaments need high temperature in its printing process, the heated bed should be able to emit a temperature of 80C to 120C (176F to 248F) and an enclosure on the printing device is required also.
  • Build plate or Build surface – Make sure to have Commercial Adhesive, PEI (Polyetherimide) that is commonly used as a building surface for all 3D printers, and a glue stick.
  • Extruder – Used to complete the extrusion process needed. An all-metal hot end is required, and it should be able to emit and withstand a temperature of 260C to 310C (500F to 590F).
  • Cooling – Since a polycarbonate filament is prone to warping and shrinkage and relative lower temperatures, a part cooling fan is not required for this material.

What Type Of Build Surface Is Appropriate For Polycarbonate?

PEI (Polyetherimide) is the best build plate or surface for a polycarbonate filament. Standard build plates have commercial adhesives and glue sticks break down at the high temperatures required to print Polycarbonate. A PEI sheet can consistently hold on to Polycarbonate at 110C (230F)

How Many Top Layers Should You Use When Printing This Material?

Due to the high temperatures needed, the extruded filament will droop if it is not supported. 4 layers should be used to ensure the top layers are smooth. It is recommended to print solid infill layers slowly so they can successfully bridge the space between the infill lines.

What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of A Polycarbonate Filament?

Advantages

  • This material is impact and shatter resistant.
  • Due to its high-temperature requirements when printing, naturally the material itself has a high resistance to high temperatures.
  • Because of its natural transparency, this makes it the perfect material for glasses, riot shields, and more. Making it more aesthetically pleasing.
  • A polycarbonate filament is bendable, making it a perfect material for applications in the field of engineering.

Disadvantages

  • This material requires extremely high printing temperatures.
  • Polycarbonate materials are prone to warping and shrinkage when exposed at low temperatures or have been excessively cooled.
  • Because of the high printing temperature, it needs, the oozing is inevitable when printing.
  • Being hygroscopic, polycarbonate absorbs more moisture from the air that can cause problems in the print.

Should You Adjust The Printing Settings Before Printing A Polycarbonate Filament?

Because of the extreme printing temperature requirements of the material and low cooling fan speeds, stringing and oozing is a possibility. To avoid this, increase the retraction speed and distance in the printing settings.

Should You Adjust The First Layer Settings Before Printing Polycarbonate?

Because of polycarbonate being prone to warping, the first layer is vital when printing this material, it sticks the best with slow thick extrusions on the first layer.

What Are The Different Applications Can You Use For A Polycarbonate Filament?

Polycarbonate filaments are extremely durable, flexible, heat resistant, and highly effective for a wide range of applications.

Some of the common professional-level applications are:

  • This material is commonly used in telecommunications and electrical devices since it is electrically non-conductive making it a safe material to dabble on.
  • Polycarbonate filaments is also commonly used in the construction, automotive, and transportation industries because of their high durability and incredible strength.
  • Since this polycarbonate material is transparent and strong, it is also used in data storage discs such as DVDs, CDs, and Blu-ray discs.
  • Everyday consumer products such as cell phones, computer cases, water bottles, sunglasses, and food containers are made of polycarbonate.

What Is The Nozzle Temperature Required For Polycarbonate Filaments?

Polycarbonate requires a hot end, that can withstand the temperatures of 290C to 300C (554F to 572F). However, if using a composite PC filament that is commonly sold at markets, these can be printed in lower temperatures but the quality will not be the same as a pure polycarbonate print.

What Should You Do When Parts Of The Print Are Overheating?

If the parts of the print are curling, drooping, or overheating, set the fan to 0% for the first layer, ensuring good bed adhesion, after increase the fan speed up to 40% after 4 to 5 layers are added.

What Should You Do When Too Much Moisture Has Been Absorbed By The Material?

Being hygroscopic, polycarbonate materials are prone to absorbing too much moisture that can damage the print, if this is the case, lower the printing temperature to 280C (536F) or below. This prevents the bubble or artifacts to form in the print due to the moisture content.

Is Polycarbonate Filament Worth It?

A polycarbonate filament is reasonably priced compared to other materials such as metal filaments. Polycarbonate is exceptionally durable and can withstand strong impacts and flexural stress. This material is worth every penny because people can make strong and durable prints that can last for an awfully long time.

Still unsure if PC filament is right for your project? Read up on other filaments types to help make the decision easier.

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