Top 3D Printing Filaments in 2023 PLA, ABS, PETG, and more

Top 3D Printing Filaments in 2023 PLA, ABS, PETG, and more

The Best 3D Printing Filament for Your Projects

You’ve set up the best 3D printer money can buy and are ready to go, but you can’t get started without some material. If you chose a fused deposition modeling or FDM printer – the most common type of 3D printer for hobbyists – you’ll require several rolls of special plastic.

Filament is the material we use for FDM 3D printing and it’s an easy material to pick up. But, there are different types of filament, each better for certain projects but not great for others. You’ll want to make sure you’re using the best filament for the job at hand, or it may fail.

What is the best 3D printing filament?

Almost everyone who uses a 3D printer uses PLA for most of their prints. You might use some of the other materials for certain things, but the day-to-day printing is likely done with PLA. The best PLA for most use cases is Build Series PLA from MatterHackers. I have used more than 100 kilos of it by now and it is still my favorite. It sands very well and prints easily on just about any FDM printer.

I’ve put together this primer of the different types, including the best PLA filament, as well as choices of the best filaments from my favorite brands. This will be updated regularly and contains some great choices for you to start. I use around 8 kilograms of filament each week and have for the last 4 years to make sure I’m offering you the best choices around.

James Bricknell/CNET

It’s important to choose both the right type of material and the right brand of that type, be it PLA, ABS or something more exotic. Here are the best of each of the five main filament types.

Polylactic acid

Polylactic acid, or PLA, is the most common 3D printing filament and the easiest to use. Unlike most plastics, it’s made from corn starches so it is non-toxic and, in theory, compostable, though it takes an industrial composter to do it. PLA uses a fairly low heat, between 190 and 215 degrees Celsius (or between 374 and 419 degrees Fahrenheit), to melt the plastic for extrusion so it is the safest of the filaments. Almost every FDM 3D printer in the world can print PLA.

PLA pros – Nontoxic – No awful smell – Easy to use for a beginner – Almost universally usable on any FDM printer – Very cheap

PLA cons – Can require a lot of sanding – Can easily warp in the sun or high-temp environments – Can be brittle

The best PLA

MatterHackers Build PLA
  • Best overall PLA filament
  • Build PLA from MatterHackers is great for projects that require finishing (sanding, painting and so on). I have about 12 rolls of it in my workshop and use it for large projects, including my Mandalorian armor or cosplay swords. The dimensional accuracy – how consistent the diameter is along the length of the roll – is good, though nothing mind-blowing. It’s well within the sweet zone.
  • Post-processing is where Build Series PLA shines. It is simple to sand and holds paint well, as long as you use a good primer and filler first. Like all PLA, it holds together well using superglue and even takes putty and Bondo without complaint.
  • Price: $21 at MatterHackers
Flashforge Burnt Titanium PLA
  • The best metallic look ever
  • The color of this PLA is hard to describe, but it is beautiful. It has a purple-blue-green hue to it and looks like metal that’s been heated up a lot. Right now it’s probably my favorite-looking filament on my shelf.
  • Price: $26 at Amazon
Elegoo Rapid PLA Plus
  • Best filament for fast printers
  • With the advent of ultra fast 3D printers, companies like Elegoo have started to create materials that work better at high speeds. Rapid PLA Plus works extremely well at high speed due to its high fluidity when melted. I’ve found it printed very well on several of my fastest machines and sands very well if you are looking to finish your prints with paint.
  • Price: $16 at Amazon
Ataraxia Art Tri-color PLA
  • The best color shift
  • Ataraxia Art already makes excellent PLA and flexible PLA but its new range of tri-color filament is some of its best yet. Tri color uses three colored filaments along its width to create a beautiful shimmering effect as you move the model so it’s perfect for projects you aren’t going to be painting.
  • Price: $30 at Amazon
CookieCad Mint Chip
  • It’s ice cream that won’t melt!
  • I have been meaning to buy some of this beautiful filament for some time now, and I’m really happy I did. The color is almost exactly the same as mint chocolate chip ice cream and the tiny flecks of marble color enhance the look even more. It prints great, with a nice glossy finish, and I found printing it at a higher temperature brings out that gloss really well.
  • Price: $35 at Amazon

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene

ABS was one of the more common 3D printing filaments a few years back, and it still has some excellent uses. The biggest downside is its toxicity. You don’t want to breathe in ABS as it melts, so you’ll need a well-ventilated area. That aside, it’s sturdier and more heat-resistant than PLA. Most printers can print ABS, but you’ll need a heated bed that can reach 100 degrees Celsius for best results, and protecting your printing job in an enclosed printer is a good idea.

ABS pros – Can withstand a lot of heat – Easy to sand – Can be smoothed with acetone for a perfect shine

ABS cons – Its fumes are toxic so it requires ventilation – It needs far more heat to print than PLA – You will need an enclosure to get good results

The best ABS

Inland 1.75mm Black ABS
  • Cheap and cheerful
  • Inland makes good filament across the board and its ABS is no different. I’ve never had issues with the dimensions, and the final product has consistent layer lines. Sanding Inland ABS is a joy as the material can be wet-sanded to a smooth finish.
  • Price: $19 at Amazon
Fillamentum ExtraFill ABS
  • Bright and beautiful
  • Fillamentum is one of my favorite ABS makers. The colors are always so vibrant, and while it costs a little more than the competition, it keeps that vibrancy even after the model is finished printing. If you’re looking for ABS that you don’t need to paint, Fillamentum is a great place to start.
  • Price: $45 at Matterhackers

Polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG)

PETG is chemically similar to the plastic that water and soft drink bottles are made of and is a great alternative to ABS. It has the heat-resistant properties of ABS without the toxic fumes and can be sanded much like PLA. Most FDM printers that can print PLA can print PETG, though it takes a little more effort to get right.

PETG pros – Easier to print than ABS – Holds a finish well – Easier to store than other filaments

PETG cons – Requires high temps, which can damage printer parts over time.

The best PETG

Protomaker Translucent PETG
  • Almost like glass
  • This USA-made PETG has an excellent glassy look that is hard to achieve in melted plastic. The aqua color is subtle and gives the appearance of a stained glass window when printed at the high end of its temperature scale. Printing with it was easy, though the roll is a little big for printers like the Bambu Lab X1, that has an enclosed filament system.
  • Price: $33 at Protomaker 3D
MatterHackers Pro series PETG
  • Glorious colors
  • The Pro series filament from MatterHackers is a much nicer product than a lot of standard PETG. Yes, it costs a little more, but it’s designed to help reduce some of the issues that filament suffers from. It reduces shrinkage, so the part you make is as close to the part you designed as possible. This is a great material for those who make 3D printed models for a living, rather than a hobby.
  • Price: $43 at MatterHackers
Overture PETG Filament 2-pack
  • Stock up on your PETG
  • Overture PETG is a favorite because it comes in an economical two-pack, making it ideal for multiple or larger jobs. I’ve used a lot of Overture products, including PETG and PLA, and they always print well. I once printed an 11-foot-long Masamune sword using Overture and it came out looking awesome.
  • Price: $39 at Amazon

Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU)

TPU is a flexible material that can make cool rubbery models. Most people use it to 3D print phone cases, but more serious modelers often use it to create connectors or flexible hinges to other materials. It can be a difficult material to work with and is best used on a direct-drive 3D printer such as the Prusa Mk3s, rather than a Bowden printer like the Anycubic Vyper. A direct drive printer places the gears to move the filament directly on the print head, while a Bowden setup has them on the frame of the printer.

TPU pros – Flexible – Won’t warp in the heat – Available in fun colors

TPU cons – Terrible for making solid prints – Hard to work with on budget printers

The best TPU

MatterHackers Build Series TPU
  • For everyday use
  • MatterHackers Build Series Materials sit in the perfect balance between usability and cost. Yes, I’ve had failures with the Build Series, but once you get it dialed into your printer, you can make dozens of fun, springy models. I like to use it to make fun toys for my kid’s preschool as they can be thrown around with no fear of breaking into small, sharp pieces.
  • Price: $29 at MatterHackers

Exotic filaments

Exotic filaments are ones that are outside the normal five choices, or interesting variations on those choices. They’re often PLA mixed with carbon fiber or glow-in-the-dark chemicals and something that prints outside the normal parameters of a 3D printer. You’ll often need to upgrade your printer nozzle to use these. It’s advanced stuff, but I wanted to show you my favorite glow-in-the-dark filament, which is fun to print with.

Amolen PLA Filament Glow-in-the-Dark Multicolor PLA
  • Get a good glow on!
  • Glow-in-the-dark filament normally comes in a standard “radioactive” green, but this beautiful roll transitions through multiple colors. It’s simply gorgeous.
  • Price: $30 at Amazon

Filament FAQ

What filament should I start with? If you’re buying a printer for the first time, the best choice of filament is PLA. It is the easiest to print with, the safest in terms of fumes, and the most readily available. Think about laying in a store of PLA when you first start. A 1-kilogram roll feels like a lot, but once you get the itch, materials get eaten up quickly.

Are there different sizes of filament? Yes. There are two main thicknesses of filament and if you get them mixed up, your machine won’t print. 1.75mm filament is the most common. It’s been adopted by most of the 3D manufacturers in the world and if you have an entry-level printer, it’s likely to run on 1.75mm filament.

Are all filaments toxic? When 3D printing with any filament, it is important to remember that you are essentially burning plastic. Inhaling that kind of thing is never going to be good, but not all filaments are equally bad. Of the four main filament types, ABS is easily the most toxic. You shouldn’t think about printing it unless you have a well-ventilated space away from your day-to-day living spaces. Both PLA and PETG are considered nontoxic, though you still want to keep your area ventilated as you use them. Both filaments are safe to print inside your home, and while the fumes can smell pretty bad, they’re not classed as carcinogenic. While other forms of TPU can be toxic, the filament you use for 3D printing is considered nontoxic and nonreactive, so you should be fine printing with that as well.

Does the filament keep the same color after printing? Normally yes. If your printer isn’t calibrated well, it could burn the filament, which would discolor it. But normally the color accuracy is pretty close.

How we test filament

The testing of filament is mainly focused on a few details: dimensional accuracy, winding precision, and printing quality. Winding precision is a visual test where I check to make sure the filament works well on the spool, without any crossovers that can cause snags while printing. Print quality is done using an ENBLE calibration test that I use to test all of the 3D printers I review. When checking for filament quality, I’m looking for noticeable roughness and missing filament where moisture or other contaminants have interrupted the process of melting and cooling.

Dimensional accuracy is perhaps the most important test as it measures the consistency of filament. As you move along, the filament changes in diameter will cause the 3D printer to over- or under-extrude filament. This creates noticeable scarring in your model, or worse, complete failure. You want the material to have the same diameter the whole way through. To measure the accuracy, I take a 5-meter piece of filament from the beginning, middle, and end of the roll and measure the diameter at four equally spaced points. Most modern printers use 1.75mm filament, so you want the filament to be as close to that as possible. Great filament has a variance of +/- 0.02mm, good filament is +/- 0.03mm, and rough filament is anything +/- 0.05mm. All of the filaments we have recommended here are at least 0.03mm on average.

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