How to 3D Print HIPS Filament – And It’s Not Just a Support Material

What do you do when you want to print a more complicated design, one that has overhanging parts that require support or involves a lot of detail? How about a situation where you want to print a prototype, one where painting or gluing will be involved.

Or maybe you simply want to stretch the envelope a bit and try printing with a thermoplastic that you haven’t tried before, one that’s fairly easy to use.

If any of these situations apply to you, then HIPS could be the support filament you’ve been looking for.

However, HIPS isn’t just a support material. It’s also a very capable 3D printing material in its own right. In fact, we think it’s one of the most underrated available.

In this article were going to take a look at HIPS and see what it is, examine its main features and benefits and give you some tips on how to 3d print with HIPS so that you get the best results.

HIPS stands for high impact polystyrene. High impact polystyrene is a synthetic copolymer that is strong, durable, non-toxic and recyclable. In addition, HIPS is soluble in Limonene, an easily obtainable solvent that is derived from the skin of lemons.

Chemically, HIPS is a graft copolymer incorporating pure polystyrene and polybutadiene rubber. It combines the hardness of polystyrene with the elasticity of rubber to produce a high impact thermoplastic that is tough and strong without being brittle.

Commercially known by the trade name Bextrene, HIPS is widely used to manufacture toys and appliances. It is also used for product packaging and cases.

In 3D printing, HIPS makes an excellent soluble support material.

When is support material needed? Well, all 3d printers, by necessity, start printing an object from the bottom of the design and then progress upwards.

Because of this, if you have a design that incorporates overhangs, areas in the print job that don’t have any underlying support, you’ve got a problem. You see, your printer can’t successfully extrude filament onto thin air.

HIPS can be used to provide the necessary support that these overhanging areas require. The printer first lays down HIPS under where the overhang will be and then lays the selected printing material down on top of the layer of HIPS. The HIPS supports the overhanging material and prevents the warping, deformation and collapse that would occur without the support.

Once the printing is complete and the object has cooled, you remove the HIPS by submerging the object in Limonene. After 24 hours, the Limonene will have dissolved the HIPS leaving you with a print job that has clean, crisp angles, corners and overhangs.

There is no need for knives, scraping or sanding. The solvent does all the work leaving you with beautiful results.

HIPS works really well as a soluble support material when ABS is used as the printing material. If your support material and your printing material have significantly different printing temperatures you run the risk that the one will warp and deform the other due to this difference. HIPS and ABS share nearly identical printing temperatures. This means they will lie together cleanly without any warping or deformation due to heat.

HIPS also makes an excellent printing material in its own right. It is harder and stronger than either PLA or ABS, but is just as easy to use. It won’t warp as easily as ABS.

HIPS 3D printer filament can be glued using any one of number of specialty adhesives. It also handles sanding well and can be painted with ease. This makes HIPS an excellent choice for mockups and prototypes.

Now that we know some of the benefits of using HIPS, let’s take a look at its features:

  • Strong and durable printing material with good impact resistance;
  • Excellent soluble support material;
  • Good machinability, easily paintable and works with a wide variety of adhesives;
  • Food safe, non-toxic and recyclable;
  • Non-hydroscopic;
  • Printing temperature from 230C – 240C;
  • Recommended printing bed temperature of 90C to 100C.

The data stats of HIPS back up its ability to be used in a wide variety of applications. HIPS has a specific gravity of 1.05 g/cm³. This is comparable to the density of ABS but is less than other thermoplastics such as PLA or PMMA.

HIPS has a Rockwell hardness of R 95 which, again, is comparable to ABS, slightly more than PLA and significantly less than PMMA.

It also has a maximum tensile strength of 5801 psi (40 MPa) which is also, you guessed it, right on the money with the maximum tensile strength of ABS.

So, with HIPS you get a material that shares many properties with ABS, but is also easily soluble and can be machined, sanded, glued and painted.

It is this versatility that makes HIPS printing filament an excellent choice for a soluble support material, prototyping and as an all-round general printing material.

When it comes to comparing HIPS vs PVA (polyvinyl alcohol) as soluble support materials, it quickly becomes apparent that the two are apples and oranges. The lower printing temperature of PVA works means that it will work much better with a material like PLA while, as we’ve discussed, HIPS and ABS are more suited to each other.

Both are equally soluble, PLA in water and HIPS in  Limonene, so the only reason to pick one over the other as a support material comes down to what printing material you are using for your job.

When it comes to printing with HIPS, there are a few things to keep in mind in order to get the best results possible. First, HIPS prints best at a temperature between 230C and 240C. Don’t be afraid to play around with temperatures in this range to see what works best for you. 

Next, your printing bed should be set to a temperature of anywhere from 90C up to 115C. Again, experiment with temperatures in this range to find the sweet spot that allows HIPS to properly adhere without curling or warping.

After your print job has finished, wait for it cool completely before removing it from the printing plate. HIPS can still be workable when warm and it will bend if you try and remove your object too early.

If you’re using HIPS as a soluble support material, you want to immerse your printed object completely in Limonene and wait at least 24 hours for the HIPS to completely dissolve. It can help move things along if you give the container the object is in a couple of gentle shakes now and again.

When a print job that you’re running gets ruined because of inferior product, you’ve not only wasted your time, you’ve also wasted money. Low quality filament yields low quality results.

In the end, you’ll actually spend more on replacement filament than you would have spent stocking up on quality product. Make sure you choose a high quality HIPS filament (or any filament, for that matter) when printing. 

We carefully manufacture our HIPS to super-tight tolerances of just +/-0.03mm either side of the diameter you purchase. All of this means that when you use our HIPS you save time and money and get a successful print run, time after time.

If you have any questions about HIPS, please comment below, or email us for more details. We’ll only be too happy to help.

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