Products and Design

Materials Explainer: 3D Printing in Strong & Flexible Plastics

We recently announced that new finishes are available on our Strong & Flexible plastics (also known as XSF). But what is this material, versatile enough to use to make anything from iPhone cases to parts for remote controlled quadcopters to bikini bottoms? The rare material with which thicker areas provide structural strength yet you can also make parts thin enough to bend without breaking, like a hinge or a spring?

Strong & Flexible plastic models are printed on EOS P110, P395, and P760 printers using a technique called selective laser sintering (SLS). The laser sinters, or fuses together, nylon powder, layer by layer. As you can see in the video below, products emerge from the 3D printer in a block of nylon that is then carefully taken apart, and the finished parts are removed, cleaned, and, depending upon your instructions, polished and dyed.

 

The material guidelines will give you a good basis for designing in XSF, but it’s always good to hear from an expert, so we reached out to a member of our community, Roolz, who shared some pro tips.

Roolz is the designer behind the PMG Shapeways shop, says that Strong & Flexible plastics “allow almost any shape, so it’s hard to design something ‘totally unprintable.’” That said, it takes practice to make what you envision, and beginners may need to iterate several times. Roolz also recommends paying careful attention to the orientation of your Strong & Flexible models.

“Shapeways engineers will make an educated guess,” Roolz says, but the designer knows best how to orient their designs in the 3D printer.

  • For parts requiring assembly or tight tolerances, the X and Y axes (layers) give the best dimensional accuracy
  • For aesthetics, the Z axis gives sharper edges on “top,” smoother on “bottom”
  • For anything that will endure serious stress, mechanical properties are also lower in the Z axis

 

PMG is short for Pimp My Game, and Roolz makes board game parts that can either replace pieces you lost or enhance your enjoyment of Forbidden Stars, Puerto Rico, Mice and Mystics and many other games.

Many of Roolz’s models come in unpolished White Strong & Flexible, and you can hand-paint them, which is a lot like painting a store-bought injection-molded model:

The main difference is that the printed XSF material is porous (“drinks” the paint), and has sometimes a bit of remaining nylon powder in the deeper recesses (“drinks” the paint even more). So washing with soapy water and scrubbing and a toothbrush is important, to remove as much nylon powder as possible. You can also apply more primer coats than usual to limit the porosity.

What have you made in Strong & Flexible? Share your projects in the comments below for a chance to be featured in Shapeways Magazine.

 

Cover image: Jeep cars by PMG

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