Why 3D print with Nylon?
You’ve likely have used the more common materials such as PLA and ABS before. While both being great materials, they both have limitations. PLA is a great all-rounder; biodegradable, easy to print with and is typically available in a larger range of colours. ABS is ultimately stronger and more durable.
But sometimes you need to make a print with extreme strength, durability or even flexibility.
Perhaps an end-use prototype that needs to be used and abused a lot to test for optimal design? Or just a replacement part to something specialist – that otherwise would have cost you a packet to buy?
Now I don’t want to ‘sell’ 3d printing with Nylon as the wonder, all-powerful super material.
But, it is pretty incredible for a large variety of uses.
In fact I’d go as far to say, of all the materials currently available to mass-market FDM machines – 3D printer Nylon has the most versatile list of properties, and come’s up 1st place in competence for a lot of them.
Let me explain why 3d printing with Nylon is the most versatile material, and then we’ll cover how to actually print with it.
As you know, different 3d printing materials have their own traits and Nylon characteristics should be accounted for. Luckily once you’re up and running, 3d printing Nylon filament is no harder than printing with any other material, like ABS for example.
Nylon prints very nicely, the finish quality (provided it’s dry, read more below) leaves a smooth silky finish. As long as you use good quality Nylon material, the layer adhesion will be excellent producing fault-free prints. You’ll notice details are also reproduced well, lending itself to small or intricate prints as well as big stuff.
3D Printing Nylon is extremely durable.
You typically won’t find it snapping like brittle materials. When printed in thick parts, with higher density infill and wider wall thicknesses it produces a very strong part that can handle significant shock and has excellent impact resistance. However when printed thinly it becomes very flexible - think living hinges and other high use parts.
(injection molded Nylon gears, low friction)
Nylon has a very low friction coefficient.
This means Nylon is ideal for moving parts. If you need a bushing for a lower RPM shaft where a bearing would be too small or unnecessary, Nylon would be the perfect material. Or those white gears in RC car gearboxes? They’re Nylon, and they don’t need lubrication because of the low friction coefficient.
It also has incredible tensile strength.
Have you ever tried to break a cable tie, using your hands? It likely didn’t work out too well. They’re usually made from Nylon – for good reason. Nylon rope is also very common, being exceptionally strong.
What the difference between Nylon 6 filament and Nylon 12?
If you’ve not heard of either of these, then I apologise for the confusion. Like a lot of printing plastics, there are different grades available – it’s important to get a grade that matches (or exceeds) the task that you need it for.
Without getting too technical, the most common grades are Nylon 6 and Nylon 6/6 (sometimes referred to as Nylon 66). A more commonly heard make is Taulman Nylon, they also produce 618 and 645 and other versions of 6. These two grades (6 and 6/6), while offering excellent strength and hardness aren’t as thermo or chemically stable as the newer Nylon 6/12 (often just referred to as Nylon 12). Grade 12 will hold its shape more consistently over a wider range of temperatures, but also isn’t as sensitive to water absorption as the 6’s.
All Nylon is hydroscopic, meaning it will absorb water. In fact, Nylon typically can absorb 10% of its density of water in just 24 hours! So make sure you keep it locked in an air tight bag or container with desiccant. Grade 12 absorbs water at half the rate of 6 and 6/6, so all things considered you could argue it’s more suited to 3D printing.
Nylon fresh and dry Moai on the left, and Nylon left out in the air for a week Moai on the right
In the image above, you can see two Moai, printed exactly the same with the same settings. The one on the right has just been left out for a week, to absorb some moisture from the air. From the photo the difference is subtle, but look closely and you'll see some differences.
Extruded Nylon that’s absorbed water before printing will lead to poor print finishes, or even popping in the extruder. You can see the surface of the water exposed (right) Moai is frosty, with wispy stringing on the surface.
The dry Nylon filament on the right has a nice smooth sheen, and you can faintly see the large pattern infill inside, showing it's slightly transparent. There's also a lot more detail on the dry Nylon 12 figure.
In worst case scenarios you'll hear popping while printing, which will also give the print a very rough surface. Nylon delamination can also be caused by moisture, but is usually a symptom of not being printed hot enough.
Rule of thumb with Nylon? Always dry it before use.
Whereas after printing, if your Nylon absorbs moisture it can change the various properties of the material considerably – so Nylon 12 with its lower water absorption is favorable.
Only recently has Nylon 12 filament become available for 3D printing.
Want a more interesting colour selection? You can dye Nylon.
Nylon’s water absorption rate is good for something – you can actually dye Nylon with interesting results. I won’t cover how here, partially because our good friend Richrap has done a great write up of it, but also because we’ve not tried it ourselves (we’re just working on releasing it in more colours).
Just be extra sure to thoroughly dry out the filament after dying. It may be better to dye post print, so as not to affect the printing process.
In fact, always make sure to dry Nylon for 3D printing anyway.
Providing you’ve stored your Nylon spool in an air tight bag with desiccant you shouldn’t need to dry your Nylon before printing. However as it is very susceptible to absorbing moisture in a short time frame – if you’re getting an uneven finish quality or even popping during printing, then you’ll need to dry it out. Popping is caused when the moisture in the filament heats into steam quickly and expands out of the extruder. It ruins prints.
Drying Nylon filament:
Simply place your spool in the oven at around 85C (or about 180F) for a good 5-6 hours. Never leave it unattended, of course. You can also ‘recharge’ your silica gel desiccants this way too.
What's the best 3D printer for Nylon?
Well, any that can print ABS and has a heated bed tends to do well with Nylon. You just need to make sure your printer can print at the temperatures laid out below - and that your heated bed is covered with the correct material.
How to 3D Print with Nylon –Get the best results:
- Nylon extrusion temperature wants to be around 240C-260C and up. We recommend experimenting with temperatures above this, incrementally to find the best Nylon printing temperature.
- Heated bed wants to be at around 80C+. We recommend 100C or more even, as Nylon is sensitive to cooling too fast, and that causes warp.
- To aid adhesion, use a PVA glue stick on a glass or metal print bed. Blue painters tape can work also. Ultimately for best results, we suggest using PEI sheet as a bed surface. This seems to work the best for Nylon, which is prone to warping if you don't use the right surface.
- Make sure layer cooling fans are off and you’re not printing in a drafty or cool environment.
There you have it; with those guidelines, use the right Nylon printing temperature and you should be able to get excellent results. It may not be something you choose to print with all the time, but for those parts you need to last longer – or if you 3d print for business, then we highly recommend it.
Want to further improve nylon strength? You can even anneal it.
If you want to see our range of Nylon 12, just click here. You can also just order a Nylon filament 1.75 in 10m samples if you want to give it a test before committing to a 0.5KG spool.
We’ve also just launched our special Nylon PLUS – glass reinforced for extra strength and abrasion resistance. Just make sure you have a hard-wearing nozzle like steel (not brass).
Remember, as with any rigid.ink filament, please get in touch if you have any questions at any time.
Think this article is missing something or you want to add your own experience? Please comment below, we’re here to help.