3D printing will never be more useful than the materials that the various printing technologies can build from. 3D printing has been around since the ‘80s, but now seems to be the time of heavy material R&D. Every new material that’s developed means potentially new customers and even new industries that adopt 3D printing. For instance, the thousands of printed hip implants weren’t possible before printable titanium was created. For this reason companies both big and small, as well as makers everywhere, are dedicating millions of dollars and much time to researching new materials. For your convenience I’ve compiled a semi-but-never-complete list of currently available materials, as well as a few in development. I hope it leads to someone 3D printing something that they previously thought impossible.
At first glance, it’s easy to get the impression that 3D printers simply produce a bunch of plastic trinkets, but that’s far from the truth. From metal and paper to chocolate and wood, printers are becoming more and more capable. There’s even a solar-powered printer that makes glass objects out of sand by concentrating sunlight. And the beginning of the “Holy Grail” of 3D printing, printed electronics, has already been realized in producing smartphone antennas. I’m really looking forward to when these technologies are combined, where solar energy is used to print plastics and electronics on the same machine. The recent development of modular print heads that can be interchanged is one path to bringing more materials to individual printers.
By browsing the directory, it becomes clear that there are plenty of choices out there, and of course the list is incomplete. Objet has over 100 materials in their portfolio, but they’re mostly all different variations of colors and flexibilities of plastic. More materials will likely be released this year and we’ll be updating the page as new materials become available. Let us know in the comments of any that we miss.