When most people think of 3D printing they picture simple, mono-colored pieces of plastic, but with Shapeways there’s way more you can do. Since launching in 2007, we’ve added over a dozen different materials and finishes. Everything from multi-colored sandstone to nylon plastic to gold is available now for your 3D-printing pleasure.
Here’s a quick guide to some of the most amazing materials you can design and 3D print with right now.
If you’re looking for the most accurate 3D printing material, one of the best options is frosted detail plastic. We use a multi-jet process, printing and curing each layer one at a time to create high-definition designs that are perfect for model trains, miniature figures, and other small objects.
Frosted detail plastic comes in Ultra and Extreme Detail options—the latter is best for incredibly detailed features like engravings. Both versions of the material can also be painted over easily for a splash of color.
We use a top of the line HP Jet Fusion 3D 4200 to print strong and functional objects out of nylon plastic. It’s perfect for phone cases, camera mounts, and drone parts, but it’s also smooth enough to make jewelry, toys, and home decor.
Nylon plastic is also cheap to print, and comes in black or gray. If you’re designing with it, keep in mind that stiff, thicker objects are less likely to warp. Smaller details will also show up more clearly in black.
This is the only metal material other than steel that we can directly print (rather than 3D printing wax and creating a mold). Aluminum’s strength makes it an ideal choice for mechanical and other load bearing parts. Additionally, Aluminum is perfect for bike accessories and other products that will be exposed to the environment due its high corrosion resistance. It’s not cheap to print, but it’s still not as expensive as other metal materials like gold.
If you’re designing in aluminum, remember that sharp edges on your object could get rounded down. The material also isn’t accurate enough for complex interacting parts like screws and nuts, though it does support interlocking parts.
If you want a multi-colored object, Sandstone is the way to go. It’s a fantastic full-color 3D printing material and it’s pretty cheap too, making it the perfect choice for figurines and lifelike models.
Shapeways special printing process for Sandstone involves creating one layer of color at a time.The finished product will look amazing on your desk or up on a shelf, though it’s too brittle to be handled on a regular basis.
Finally, we come to precious metals. Yes, you can create gold objects with Shapeways in either 14 karat (gold, rose gold, or white gold) or an extra vibrant 18k gold option. For truly special objects, you can also choose to 3D print in platinum.
The process involves 3D printing a wax model which is used to create a plaster mold. The plaster mold is used to pour and cast the material, and it works for platinum too. It’s perfect for creating small rings, earrings and other jewelry. Of course, gold and platinum don’t come cheap, but if you’re looking to create an extra special piece of jewelry, this is a great way to do it.