By Phil Cotton, Teacher and learnbylayers founder (3 minute read).
How to print with flexible filaments
3D printing with flexible filaments can be a challenging but rewarding experience. Flexible filaments like TPU and TPE have gained popularity in recent years for their rubber-like texture and ability to create flexible parts. However 3D printing with them can be a challenge.
In our intermediate lesson pack, we have a lesson where we explore the use of flexible filaments and how they compare to more rigid filaments. Printing with them can give impressive outcomes however ensuring you have the right settings is crucial. We have outlined below the best practice for printing with flexible filaments.
1. Adjust the print settings: When printing with flexible filaments, it’s important to adjust the print settings to accommodate the material’s unique properties. This includes adjusting the printing speed and extrusion temperature. In general, slower speeds and higher temperatures work better for flexible filaments.
2. Use a slightly larger nozzle. The default nozzle size for most 3D printers is 0.4mm, however, we have found that changing to a 0.6mm or 0.8mm nozzle makes printing much easier. You do get more visible layer lines, but prints do seem to have been more successful with a larger nozzle.
3. Use a direct drive extruder where possible: A direct drive extruder is better suited for printing with flexible filaments because it eliminates the need for a Bowden tube. Bowden tubes can cause problems with flexible filaments, such as clogs and jams. We have printed on Bowden style machines successfully though, we advise to slow the speed right down to around 20mm/s and print at the higher range of the recommended printing temperature of the filament. printing adhesives such as Magigoo that are engineered for the task.4. Use the right bed surface: Flexible filaments tend to stick to the build plate, so a smooth and clean bed surface is necessary. A build plate coated with PEI or a similar material works well. You can buy specially formulated 3D
5. Avoid over-extrusion: Over-extrusion can cause flexible filaments to buckle and curl. To prevent this, ensure that the filament is being extruded at the correct rate and that the extruder is not pushing out too much material.6. Experiment with infill settings: The infill density and pattern can have a significant impact on the final print quality. For flexible filaments, it’s best to use a lower infill density and a simple infill pattern.
In conclusion, 3D printing with flexible filaments can be challenging, but with the right adjustments to print settings, use of direct drive extruder, proper bed surface, avoidance of over-extrusion and experimentation with infill settings, you can create high-quality prints with a rubber-like texture.