3D printing materials like thermoplastics continue to trend upward for industrial projects, whether manufacturers are engaged in creating 3D printed architectural models for client presentations, functional automotive prototypes to test for form and fit, or high-performing end parts using additive manufacturing for aerospace applications.

The history of nylon plastics is long, especially for traditional manufacturing. Polyamides like nylon offer a high melting point and are extremely popular because of their high ductility–allowing manufacturers to engineer flexible parts for thinner structures, but more rigid pieces with thicker parts. 

Understanding Nylon 12 3D Printing Plastic

Nylon 12 serves as an exemplary model of a polyamide used for conventional methods like Injection Molding, but is also at the forefront of many applications for 3D printing plastic. In the same family as other popular Nylon materials (notably Nylon 6, Nylon 6,6, and Nylon 11), Nylon 12 is revered due to its unique suite of properties and reinforced formulations. 

Popular for its mechanical properties, tensile strength, durability, abrasion resistance, biocompatibility, and overall suitability for making functional parts, Nylon 12 has a relatively low concentration of amides and relatively low moisture absorption. These qualities may make the material trickier for 3D printing plastic, but they also imbue Nylon 12 with desirable qualities like chemical and abrasion resistance, strength, and durability. Further, Nylon 12 offers a low coefficient of friction. All of these qualities create a versatile material favored for 3D printed prototypes and end-use, functional parts featuring gears or hinges.


3D Printing Nylon 12 with Selective Laser Sintering and PA12 Material with Multi Jet Fusion

Shapeways 3D prints materials like Nylon 11 [PA11 (SLS)] and Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] via Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). Developed as one of the first 3D printing technologies, SLS is one of the most powerful rapid prototyping tools across all industries. Manufacturers rely on 3D printed nylon plastics for functional, end-use products in applications like aerospace and drones, and automotive. Using intensive lasers that melt nylon powder fast and evenly, SLS technology is advantageous for industrial manufacturers seeking accurate, high-performing parts that are strong and isotropic. Users are not saddled with sacrificing mechanical properties, as SLS parts are excellent in both tensile strength and modulus.

MJF is a 3D printing process developed from HP’s long-standing expertise in inkjet technologies. Droplets of fusing and detailing agents are applied along with thermal energy on top of the powdered material to define the part’s geometry. The precision of inkjet technology is such that builds can be controlled at the 3D voxel level. Shapeways uses MJF technology to 3D print the following PA 12 material: Nylon 12 Full Color (MJF), Multi Jet Fusion PA12 (MFJ PA12), and Nylon 12 Glass Beads [MJF Plastic PA12GB].

Both SLS 3D printing and MJF 3D printing offer clear advantages to any designer or engineer due to the expanded and outstanding freedom in design. This is accentuated by the ability to avoid the use of supports as surrounding and lingering powder bolsters 3D prints in p-ogress, streamlining the design process and eliminating myriad headaches. Both SLS and MJF 3D printing technologies allow for smart packing, resulting in hundreds or even thousands of parts ‘nested’ together in one build. Sustainability also plays an important role as the extra powder can be re-used in consequent builds. This is possible when reused materials are mixed at a minimum of 50/50 with virgin 3D printing powder.

Print time is relatively comparable for both processes as SLS and MJF technology can accommodate larger parts. The biggest differences lie in the precise mechanical properties of chosen 3D printing materials, finishing options, and desired timing. Find out more specifics of each 3D printing plastic below:


Nylon 11 [PA11 (SLS)] 

Nylon 11 [PA11 (SLS)] is the most flexible 3D printing nylon material due to its high elongation at break. It has slightly higher strength than the other materials. This combination of high strength and good elongation at break makes Nylon 11 [PA11 (SLS)] the most impact-resistant of 3D printing plastic material available from Shapeways in nylon. 

This material is biocompatible and known for its ductility, allowing for both durability and flexibility. Nylon 11 [PA11 (SLS)] has higher temperature resistance and is based on renewable resources, making it more environmentally friendly.

Typical 3D printing applications for Nylon 11 [PA11 (SLS)] include:

  • Automotive
  • Loaded functional prototypes
  • Orthotics and prosthetics
  • Mechanical parts including hinges
  • Sports equipment

A natural white finish is available for this material. Find design guidelines for Nylon 11 [PA11 (SLS)] here.


Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic]

While Shapeways offers over 90 different materials and finishes, Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] tops the list as an industry favorite, living up to its name. Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] is known for high ductility, allowing for flexibility with thinner structures and a rigid nature for thicker parts. This material is known for durability and strength, making it popular for structural components. Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] is dishwasher safe, heatproof to 163C/325F, skin-friendly, and offers good chemical resistance.

Typical applications include:

Colors and finishes available for Nylon 12 [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: Relying on ceramic media tumbling, this finish removes material to create a smooth surface.
  • Smooth: This finish has a smooth surface and slight shine, created using a physio-chemical process with vapor.
  • Colors: Versatile Plastic is naturally white. Shapeways also offers Black, Pink, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Purple. Colors other than White are dyed and will wear through over time with handling.

Find design guidelines for Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] here.


Nylon 12 Full Color (MJF)

Nylon 12 Full Color (MJF) possesses superior mechanical properties, dimensional stability, and good resistance to impact–as well as chemicals like oil, grease, and more. Defined by the capacity to deform under tensile stress, Nylon 12 Full Color (MJF) is flexible for structures with a thinner design but becomes rigid for use with thicker parts, offering the durability and density required for end-use parts. This material is easily recycled and is also safe for skin contact.

Nylon 12 Full Color (MJF) is also available in Natural and Smooth glossy finishes and a vast array of colors. This material is suitable for applications like:

  • Industrial jigs and fixtures 
  • Braces and casts
  • Moving and interlocking components
  • Structural parts and mounts
  • Medical models 
  • Presentation models
  • Functional prototypes to test for form and fit

Explore design guidelines for Nylon 12 Full Color (MJF) here.


MJF Plastic PA12 (MFJ PA12) 

MJF PA12 possesses similar properties to its SLS counterpart; however, HP’s nylon plastic is known for superior mechanical properties. This material presents high elongation at break, and great elasticity, making it more resistant to breakage. MJF PA12 provides excellent resolution of small details, and a surface that is slightly more sealed than parts 3D printed via SLS. As a result, watertight properties can be achieved for some parts. Strength, durability and stiffness make MJF PA12 a great choice for functional parts. This material is skin friendly, has a heat deflection of 95C/203F, and offers good chemical resistance.

Typical applications include:

  • Drone technology
  • Eyewear frames
  • Home decor
  • Mechanical and structural parts
  • Orthotics and prosthetics
  • Tech accessories

MJF PA12 colors and finishes:

  • 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

Explore design guidelines for MJF PA12 here.


MJF Plastic PA12 Glass Beads (MJF PA12GB)

MJF Plastic PA12 Glass Beads are a nylon material infused with glass beads, improving product stiffness and structural integrity. This material is 40% glass-filled, reducing warpage during the 3D printing process and over the product’s life. MJF PA12GB is an excellent choice for functional parts that require high strength and dimensional accuracy. This material has a heat deflection of 114C/247F, is skin-friendly, and offers good chemical resistance. 

Typical applications include:

  • Drone technology
  • Cases
  • Fixtures
  • Housing
  • Robotics
  • Tooling

Colors and finishes:

  • Gray: Natural gray finish, blasted with oxide beads and air
  • Dark Gray: Blasted with oxide beads and air, finished with a dark gray color

Explore design guidelines for MJF Plastic PA12 Glass Beads here.

Shapeways has been privileged over the years to collaborate with innovative customers involved in very impressive work. Highlighting nylon materials for 3D printing plastic, industrial designers like Flamingo Works 3D printed engaging learning platforms and simulators for robot-assisted surgeries. Architectural design firm Tapperworks collaborated with Shapeways to 3D print The Village, using a variety of materials to complete a complex architectural model of an apartment complex in the Netherlands. Companies like BeeHero have also been able to streamline technology for beekeepers and farmers, 3D printing sensor housings for smart hives created to improve pollination. 

About Shapeways

Enjoy the benefits of this advanced technology and a wide range of materials from Shapeways for 3D printing your creations with accuracy, complex detail, and no minimum or limits in terms of mass customization or single part orders. Shapeways has worked with over 1 million customers in 160 countries to 3D print over 21 million parts! Read about case studies, find out more about Shapeways additive manufacturing solutions, and get instant quotes here.