3D Printing Material: Plastic
Here you will find all the information, tricks, know-how, and advice to help you print your 3D model in our plastic material. You will learn about the:
- General Information & Printing Techniques
- Color & Finishing Options
- Design Guidelines
- Technical Specifications
General information & Printing Techniques
Our Plastic Material
The plastic objects printed through Sculpteo are created from a fine polyamide powder, more commonly known as nylon. The material is both solid and flexible, unlike some of the other materials offered by Sculpteo. Plastic is great for both experienced professionals and beginning designers because of its high precision and low cost. Unpolished, the material is white, granular, and somewhat porous - these options can be further refined with Sculpteo’s in house polishing and dyeing processes. It is also possible to polish and paint your objects at home using material-specific techniques. To learn more, refer to our paragraph about finishes and colors for polyamide models.
Processing Times and Pricing
The printing price of your design is calculated automatically the moment it is placed online. As you modify your object (changing size, using batch control or hollowing feature, etc.) you will note that the price changes automatically. The pricing is based on a series of factors, including: total volume, object size, and bounding box - to name a few.
White, unpolished plastic has the quickest turn around time of our materials. Your object is estimated to arrive in 2-3 business days. Polishing, painting and particularly large objects can extend the processing time by 1-2 days on average. The estimated shipping time is also calculated automatically as the object is uploaded.
Delivery time should be added to processing time and depends on the delivery option you choose.
Sculpteo uses a process called Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) for all polyamide plastic prints. After your design is uploaded to the Sculpteo website, it undergoes a couple steps before it is physically created:
- Model transferred to 3D printer
- Object is 3D printed
- Removal from Batch
- Brushing and Sandblasting
- Polishing and Dyeing
Once you upload your 3D model to our website, it is received by a Sculpteo team member, who expertly places the model into the next available batch. The specific printer from which it will be printed is determined mainly by the dimensions of your object or batch, the larger prints being reserved for the larger printers. We have multiple printers available including: the EOS Formiga P100, P110, P395, and P730
SLS uses a highly specific laser that sinters thin layers of polyamide powder together one layer at a time. After each round of lasering, the printing bed is lowered and another layer of powder is evenly swept across the top for another round of sintering. This process is repeated at a layer height of either 150 - 100 µm or 60 µm until the object is completed.
After the printer cools, the block of sintered powder is removed from printer and the printed objects are removed by hand. A part of the powder that was not sintered is recycled back into the printer for a future print.
The object is then brushed, which removes a large portion of the powder, and sandblasted, which removes the fine powder that the brush may have missed.
From there the object can be polished and/or died depending on the finishing and color you chose. Our polishing technique involves small stones in a rotating/vibrating cauldron - as the stones brush up against the object, small imperfections in the surface are smoothed. We also dye objects by plunging the entire object into the desired tint. To learn more, refer to the paragraph on finishes and colors for polyamide models.
Uses and Maintenance
Polyamide offers great flexibility when 3D printing, especially complex models, as it is flexible, durable, and food safe. As a result, the objects in this material have a wide range of uses from mechanical (prototypes, geared systems, articulated objects, etc.), ornamental, or even educational (bone structures, etc.).
Technical properties of polyamide change depending on the thickness of your model. With a 0,8 mm wall thickness, your model will be flexible. With a 2 mm wall thickness, it will be rigid. Please check our blog post on elastic modulus measurements for more information on flexibility.
With regards to water qualities, polyamide is water-resistant but not waterproof. Thus the 3D object must not rest in contact with water for extended periods of time. In terms of temperature, if the plastic is subjected to heat above 120°C (248°F), it is possible that the physical form of the object can significantly altered.
The somewhat rough surface of polyamide objects can attract dirt and other discolorations. This can often be remedied with soapy water and a cloth, letting it dry thoroughly. However, we strongly recommend avoiding strong friction with your colored objects to prevent surface degradation.
Finishes and colorings
Color & Finishing Options
There are multiple coloring and finishing options available through Sculpteo.
- Raw: sandblasted but unpolished, surface remains somewhat rough, most economical.
- Polished: polished through mechanical polishing, smoother to touch, layers still somewhat visible on rounded objects.
smoothed through a physico-chemical process, the objects finished
with our exclusive Smoothing Beautifier process have a glossy
surface. This brand new process aims at closing the gap between
the surface quality of injection molded parts and 3D printed
parts. The process brings smoothing to every section of the
object and works by sealing the porous surface of your plastic
This finish is recommended for organic shapes, figurines, but also for electronic enclosures. The Smoothing Beautifier delivers a surface finish that is as smooth as injection molded surfaces.
Due to the nature of this patent pending process, the result may vary from one part to another. The physico-chemical reaction can indeed induce some transformation on the part such as minor geometrical changes or a loss of details. Designs that includes very intricate geometries, hollowed parts or sharp angles/edges can suffer appearance transformations.
This finish is available on white plastic and black plastic parts for now.
Objects are printed in a white color and colored through dyeing. The available colors for dye include: black, blue, yellow, red, green, beige, brown, pink and orange.
The piece is dyed in multiple steps:
- The color’s pigments are mixed in a lukewarm water bath
- The object is completely submerged within the color mixture
- Final cleaning and shipment
The dye bath and polishing process introduce a size restriction on your object, as the object will need to be completely submerged in the tint and/or abrasives. To learn more please check out size restrictions.
Your object can also be colored through our painting process. The painting process gives a color to the material in any of the available paints with specific RAL. The colors are spread on the material using a spray gun, allowing a uniform and smooth surface while maintaining every detail of the printed object. Unlike dye, paint is very durable and retains the same shade without losing intensity.
For every painting color, we offer two different finishes:
- Matte : the surface is cleaned and keeps a matte appearance.
- Glossy : your object is coated with a varnish to give it a shiny appearance and protect it from UV.
We offer also black or grey polyamide based on black and grey powder. The continuous coloring is resistant to abrasion. Please check the black plastic material or grey plastic material pages for more information.
Paint and glue your polyamide parts
It is also possible to arrive at finer levels of finishing at home with various DIY techniques. To learn more, you can refer to our tutorial about gluing and painting polyamide models.
|Standard layer thickness||100 - 150µm|
|High Definition layer thickness||60µm|
|Accuracy||± 0.3% (with a limit of ± 0.3 mm)|
Sculpteo has two layer definitions available. A standard definition of between 100 - 150 µm and a high definition of 60 µm.
Enabling batch control opens the ability to orient your objects within the printer bed. This allows for precise control over the direction of the layers as the object is printed, which is important when considering the aesthetic and functional aspects of your object.
The polyamide objects we 3D print have a maximum precision of ± 0.3mm for pieces 99mm or smaller and a global precision of ± 0.3% for pieces 100mm or larger.
|Maximum size white/unpolished||677 x 368 x 565 mm|
|Maximum size colored||180 x 220 x 220 mm|
|Maximum size polished||
300 x 220 x 200 mm
x+y+z ≤ 540 mm
|Maximum size polished 60µm||170 x 160 x 150 mm|
The maximum size of your models are limited by the physical size of our 3D printers - nothing can be printed larger than the printer bed. The same goes for our polishing and painting tanks - if it doesn’t fit, it can’t be used.
There is no minimum size for polyamide prints, keeping in mind minimum thickness for walls and structural aspects, to ensure the object will not break is 0.8 mm.
Minimum Thickness and Geometry of Your 3D Model
|Minimum wall thickness (flexible)||0.8mm|
|Minimum wall thickness(rigid)||2mm|
|Minimum wall thickness stemmed elements||
0.8mm with support
1mm without support
|Minimum wall thickness particular design aspects||1-2mm|
The walls of your design must adhere to a minimum thickness of 0.8 mm in order to guarantee the structure will not break. If the walls of your model are less than 0.8 mm, you can add a support structure to maintain stability.
A stemmed element is a design aspect which is at least twice as long as it is thick. For unsupported and stemmed elements or parts of the design with a particular design constraint, it is also important to respect a minimum thickness of 1 mm in order to guarantee the object will not break.
Add a support structure to maintain stability. For example, if you are modelling a bust of a person, you can attach thin aspects of the design like the ears in more places around the model’s head. Doing that will avoid cantilevered and easily breakable elements in the final print.
With a 0.8 wall thickness, your design will be slightly flexible. To obtain more rigidity, we advise a 2mm wall thickness.
Thin walls supporting large, heavy plastic models can warp under the weight of itself.
Sculpteo offers an online solidity check tool which highlights parts of the print that may be too thin for a print. From there you are able to tweak your design in order to create an object that is an appropriate thickness. To use it, you just need to upload your 3D file, select your material and click on “Verification” tab.
It is also important to keep in mind that the object is to be printed into real life. Thus if a thin aspect is supporting something that is too heavy for it, it may break - even though it is possible within the physics provided by your 3D modeling software. We recommend adding a bit of thickness to the places that will get a lot of handling, or that support the most weight.
Keep in mind that our solidity check tool does not detect physical aberrations such as floating parts, unstable position, parts supporting too much weight relative to its thickness, etc. Particular care must be given to the geometry of your design and the most stressed parts must be thickened.
|Minimum size of details||0.3 mm|
|Minimum height and width details||
Embossed : 0.4 mm
Engraved : 0.5 mm
|Minimum height and width for a readable text||0.5mm|
A detail’s minimum precision is mainly determined by the resolution of our 3D printers. However, during the cleaning process, a fine layer of detail can also be lost. In order for a detail and text to be visible we recommend following our recommended sizes at the very least.
It’s possible that particularly fine embossings and engravings will not be visible, as the carving could get filled with excess powder that is later unable to be cleaned out. If an embossing or engraving is an essential part of your design we recommend making them as deep as possible. To ensure a better powder removal (thus a better detail visibility), the width of your details must be at least as big as depth.
Enclosed and Interlocking Volumes
|Enclosed parts ?||Yes|
|Interlocking parts ?||Yes|
Our plastic material has the ability to print the most complex designs of our materials. An example of a complex design is a volume enclosed within another volume, like a chain or maraca. Our printers have the ability to print a fully interlocked chain our of the printer, with no support structures to remove.
Minimum Spacing and Clearances
|Minimum spacing between fixed walls||0.5 mm|
|Minimum clearance between parts||0.5 mm|
For a successful 3D print a minimum clearance between objects is required to allow excess material to be sand blown out. If this space is not left within the design, the object will be a solid. This is particularly important for articulated objects - as the space left between the walls will define the object’s ability to move.
Clearance should be at least 0.5 mm and depends on your objects size. For big sizes, the clearance should be greater. The heated zone of your object depends on the size, the larger the object the more time it will be exposed to high temperature : if the space left between the walls is too small, it will be weld because of heat spreading. In some cases, holes should be added to allow us to drain for the excess powder material within the clearance.
Clearance should be at least 0.5 mm, however that is the minumum for small objects. Larger objects require more space between their parts. This is due to the SLS printing process. Our printer beds are heated during the process, and larger objects are heated for longer periods. A small space between marge objects runs the risk of melting together as it remains under heat for a long period of time. In some other cases, holes should be added to allow us to drain for the excess powder material within the clearance.
Piece Assembly Restrictions
|Minimum space||0.5 mm|
Objects printed in polyamide can be printed to be assembled. As long as a width of at least 0.5 mm is left between the different parts of the object.
Our online hollowing optimization tool has the ability to greatly reduce the price of a print by reducing the amount of material used.
Using the tool requires adding two holes to your model, which will serve as the drain for the excess powder material within the object. The minimum size of these holes is determined by our website. Otherwise it is possible to hollow your object manually in your 3D modeling software.
Files with multiple objects
|Files with Multiple Objects ?||No|
It is not possible to 3D print a 3D file containing several objects with our 3D plastic printers.
|Density of laser-sintered part||EOS-Method||g/cm3||min. 0.90 / max. 0.95|
|Tensile Modulus||DIN EN ISO 527||N/mm2||1700 ± 150|
|Tensile strength||DIN EN ISO 527||N/mm2||45 ± 3|
|Elongation at break||DIN EN ISO 527||%||20 ± 5|
|Melting point||DIN 53736||°C||min. 172 / max. 180|
To learn more about polyamide technical specifications, refer to the following documents:
Other materials available on Sculpteo:
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Flexible Plastic is an off-white powder-based material. Strong, with outstanding flexibility, it makes a top choice for 3D prints resembling soft products or for innovative uses as a final product....
A plaster-like material that is colored as it prints. Excellent for purely decorative items but its brittle nature means shocks or friction should be avoided. Contact with water should also be...
Our Titanium creates 3D printed objects from a fine metallic powder principally composed of titanium (88-100%), aluminum (5.5-6.5%) and valadium (3.5-4.5%). Titanium is used to offer light and strong...