Lamp design 3D printed in Nylon 12 material

Selecting the right material for a part or product is key to ensuring it takes shape and performs as well in the real world as on the drawing board. When it comes to 3D printing materials, Nylon 12 plastic is quickly rising to the forefront of many applications. But what exactly makes this additive manufacturing material desirable and when does it make sense to use it? Here’s a look at everything you need to know about 3D printing with Nylon 12 material.

Understanding Nylon 12 Plastic

Nylon 12 is one of the most common types of plastics used in manufacturing today. In the same family as other popular Nylon materials (notably Nylon 6, Nylon 6,6, and Nylon 11), Nylon 12 is rising in popularity for its unique suite of properties and reinforced formulations. Initially developed for conventional production techniques like injection molding, Nylon 12 is now able to be 3D printed, opening up new realms of geometrical and functional possibility. Popular for its mechanical properties, tensile strength, durability, abrasion resistance, biocompatibility, and overall suitability for making functional parts, Nylon 12 offers great benefits when used appropriately.

Nylon 12 in its various forms is also known as Polyamide 12, PA 12, Versatile Plastic, Strong and Flexible, PA 2200, MJF PA12 Plastic, MJF PA12 Glass Beads Plastic, and other formulation-specific names. Each of these formulations is compatible with a specific production process and offers specific properties. While glass bead-filled PA 12, for example, is infused with glass beads that improve product stiffness and structural integrity.

Polyamide 12 has a relatively low concentration of amides and relatively low moisture absorption. These qualities may make it trickier to 3D print, but also imbue Nylon 12 with desirable qualities like chemical and abrasion resistance, strength, and durability. Thinner parts or part sections made using this material can also offer some flexibility. Further, Nylon offers a low coefficient of friction. All of these qualities taken together create an in-demand material often favored for functionality. This can mean functional prototypes or parts that need to move, like gears or living hinges.

3D Printing Nylon 12

As briefly mentioned above, Nylon 12 has been formulated for 3D printing via several different processes. Extrusion-based (FFF), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), and HP’s Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) technologies are among the most popular options for 3D printing Nylon 12.

Shapeways offers Nylon 12 in its SLS (Versatile Plastic) and MJF (MJF PA 12 and MJF PA 12 Glass Beads) services. Parts 3D printed in these materials initially have a relatively porous surface — which can be ideal, as it happens for a variety of finishing options including polishing and dyeing.

While SLS-made Nylon 12 parts will naturally be white, dyeing options at Shapeways offer a rainbow of options: Black, Pink, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Purple. If the initial rough surface finish won’t suit a given application, a multi-step tumbling, polishing, and dyeing process creates a consistent color and surface finish that takes away any graininess or layered look.

On the MJF side, MJF PA 12 is a grey material with its own set of finishing options to take a matte, porous print to a glossy, smoothed black part ready for a final look. Black or Black Smooth finishes create finely finished parts — including smooth internal cavities and watertight qualities — that maintain the structural integrity of an original design.

Applications for Nylon 12

Understanding the general properties of Nylon 12 for additive manufacturing, a natural question arises: where might it best be used?

As the name Versatile Plastic suggests, Nylon 12 is an incredibly versatile material. Valuable from rapid prototyping through to finished high-end product, 3D printed PA 12 can be the right fit for a wide variety of applications. SLS or MJF 3D printed Nylon 12 offers strength and dimensional accuracy with high density, fine surface detail capabilities, and a variety of finishing options to give the right end-product look.

Depending on the 3D printing process used, design parameters specified, and finishing process(es) employed, Nylon 12 parts often include:

  • Functional prototypes
  • Mechanical and structural parts
  • Fixtures
  • Kinetic parts
  • Robotics
  • Drones
  • Housings
  • Cases
  • Mounts
  • Tech accessories
  • Medical parts (e.g., braces, prosthetics)
  • Jewelry
  • Figurines
  • Art and home decor

Strong and durable carabiner 3D printed in Nylon 12

Because the material is durable, can be flexible, can produce moving parts, is chemical resistant, and is safe for extended skin contact, usage is applicable to a variety of areas — and more emerge every day. Shapeways customers have employed Nylon 12 in building successful projects from medical industry products to architectural features for the home.

Costs and Comparisons: Nylon 12 Among 3D Printing Material Options

How does Nylon 12 shape up compared to other 3D printing material options? As with any material selection, there are pros and cons to Nylon 12 plastic.

Nylon 12 is most commonly compared to ABS when it comes to 3D printing. Shapeways has taken a deep dive on the comparisons and contrasts between these two materials here. In short, while Nylon 12 is more expensive than ABS, it typically out-performs the material. Premium performance, as always, can command premium pricing. The speed of SLS and MJF 3D printing processes also outpace that of FFF 3D printing, where ABS is most often employed. Working with Shapeways enables immediate access to industrial SLS and MJF 3D printing equipment, as well as the expertise of the teams maintaining the hardware. These 3D Printed parts are thus higher in quality and accuracy, which are crucial to successful industrial applications. This type of access is important to consider when choosing materials, manufacturers, processes, and comparing costs.

Nylon 12 FAQ

Are there any design guidelines for Nylon 12?

  • Material design guidelines for all types of Nylon 12 — and all other materials — that Shapeways offers are available here. Understanding the unique qualities of each material and potential finish ensures the right fit, such as designing interlocking or otherwise kinetic parts.

What qualities do 3D printed Nylon 12 materials offer?

  • Versatile Plastic is dishwasher safe, heatproof to 163C/325F, skin-friendly, and offers good chemical resistance.
  • MJF PA12 Plastic is skin friendly, has a heat deflection of 95C/203F, watertight, and offers good chemical resistance.
  • MJF PA12 Glass Beads Plastic has a heat deflection of 114C/247F, is skin-friendly, and offers good chemical resistance. 

What colors and finishes are available from Shapeways for these materials?

  • Versatile Plastic:
    • Natural: This finish has a slightly rough surface and a matte finish
    • Processed: This finish removes some material to create a smoother surface
    • Premium: This is our smoothest finish with good scratch resistance
    • Colors: Versatile Plastic is naturally white. We also offer Black, Pink, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Purple. Colors other than White are dyed and will wear through over time with handling.

  • MJF PA12 Plastic:
    • Gray: Medium gray with a matte and slightly grainy surface finish
    • Black: Dyed black with a matte and slightly grainy surface finish.
    • Black Smooth: Dyed black with a smooth and slightly glossy surface finish.

  • MJF PA12 Glass Beads Plastic:
    • Gray: Natural gray finish, blasted with oxide beads and air
    • Dark Gray: Blasted with oxide beads and air, finished with a dark gray color

When Nylon 12 is the right material for your job, upload your 3D model to Shapeways for a quote to get the project started!

Sarah Goehrke is the founder of Additive Integrity, offering dedicated editorial services to the additive manufacturing industry. She is a regular contributor for Shapeways, on the Board of Directors of Women in 3D Printing, and the Managing Editor of Fabbaloo,