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4 Flexible Filaments Reshaping 3D Printing Design

Flexible 3D printer filament can bring more versatility to your projects. However, you’ll get the best results by knowing which flexible filament options to choose and their associated characteristics.

3D Printing with flexible filaments

What Are the Advantages of Flexible Filament?

Flexible 3D printer filament features rigid and rubber-like properties. That means the material is durable but has ample flexibility. Flexible filament is a good choice when individuals are working on projects to create 3D-printed watch bands, shoe soles or other items that should move with the person using them.

Relatedly, flexible filament can provide good shock absorption and tolerate vibration. These qualities make it suitable for industrial applications, such as tools for the ends of robotic arms.

Depending on the type you choose, these filaments can also offer chemical resistance and perform well despite extreme temperature exposure. Consider how people will likely use the 3D-printed item, including the typical setting. Those assessments will help you determine the desirable filament properties.

What Are Some Downsides of Flexible 3D Printer Filament?

Despite their many benefits, flexible filaments also have some cons you should know before using them. The main issue is that there are more opportunities for errors, especially when people work hastily or try to use their 3D printers at excessively high speeds.

Jerky motions from the extruder can make the printed part set poorly. Plus, flexible filaments are at a greater risk of adhesion issues than rigid ones. Setting up the 3D printer so its nozzle and extruder operate slowly and smoothly is a practical way to give the filament enough time to set, creating the foundation your part needs for good performance. Slower print speeds generally lead to better-quality results, making it worthwhile to take your time.

Which Flexible Filaments Should You Consider?

Anyone considering using a flexible 3D printer filament should consider the printed item’s purpose, how quickly the printing must happen, and whether they’re producing just one part or several. The answers to those questions will make it easier to make specific filament decisions.

1. Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU)

Thermoplastic polyurethane offers excellent resistance to wear, making it a smart choice if your part must tolerate repeated rubbing. 3D-printed items such as wheels or belts are good examples of items you can make with TPU.

Also, if you’re making something people will hold frequently and possibly drop occasionally — like a soft, stretchy phone case — TPU has the impact resistance and comfortable feel users will love.

One creative person even made an engine gasket with a 3D printer and TPU filament. He used it in a carburettor and verified that the part tolerated fuel exposure. Since TPU is a flexible material, it can tightly conform to hard surfaces such as engine components, providing the necessary performance features for gaskets and seals.

2. Thermoplastic Polyamide (TPA)

Due to its Shore hardness rating of approximately 80A, TPA has properties similar to rubber. Companies that sell TPA often feature Shore A ratings in product specifications. It indicates how well the material resists localized deformations, such as pinpricks. All Shore A ratings will include a number followed by an uppercase letter A. The larger the number, the more resistant the material is and the less flexibility it shows.

Anyone who has ever worked with nylon will notice TPA has many of the same properties, including chemical stability and abrasion resistance. However, TPA is more flexible.

Some companies also sell specialized flexible 3D printer filaments made from TPA. One option includes 50% virgin and 50% recycled materials. It could be worth putting on your shortlist if sustainability is a priority for your projects. This flexible filament also tolerates extreme temperatures, making it suitable for specific industrial, outdoor or otherwise demanding environments.

3. Soft Polylactic Acid (PLA)

Soft PLA is a type of biopolymer polylactic acid chemically treated to bring the desired flexibility. Although PLA is generally a brittle material, soft PLA is a specific type that suits the needs of people who print with flexible filaments. Besides being strong and durable, soft PLA is a biodegradable material, with cornstarch and sugar cane frequently used in its manufacture.

One company offers a flexible PLA material with an 89A Shore hardness rating and below-average print temperatures. It’s a popular choice for people who need to make realistic masks, accessories or other additions for cosplay events. Users can also order this flexible 3D printer filament in Pantone colours, making it easy to choose the precise hue to meet a project’s needs.

4. Thermoplastic Copolyester (TPC)

TPC offers a wide range of printing possibilities. This 3D-printing material works well whether you need to create a flexible cover for a moving part on an industrial machine or want to make a medical device prototype finished with injection moulding.

TPC retains its mechanical performance features at low temperatures and offers excellent chemical resistance. These characteristics make it popular for parts used outdoors.

However, if you’re considering using this filament, read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Some commercially sold types of TPC filaments for 3D printing include instructions about bringing the product to an ambient temperature before opening the packaging. That prevents moisture condensation on the filament.

This flexible filament can also absorb moisture in its environment. The best way to stop that from happening in your 3D-printing workshop is to keep the filament package closed in storage. TPC is another option commonly available with partially recycled materials.

Are You Ready to Choose a Flexible 3D Printer Filament?

These are some of the most popular and widely available flexible filaments for 3D printers. Besides considering these four broad types, it’s best to get details about manufacturers’ specific offerings. Schedule chats with sales representatives, especially after getting to the point where you’ve decided what you want to print and what purposes it will serve. They can advise you about specific products and why they’re best for your needs.

If this is your first time using flexible filaments, consider keeping detailed notes to document how the performance differs from or matches your expectations. That information should help you feel more confident when choosing other types for future projects.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over six years experience writing articles for the tech and industrial sectors. Subscribe to the Revolutionized newsletter for more content from Emily at