Why 3D Print With Polycarbonate & How to Get Best Results

Are you and your printer hungry for something new? Do you want to try printing with a thermoplastic that opens up new creative possibilities? Maybe you want a material that will give your designs impressive tensile strength and impact resistance, but also is easy to work with and provides impressive results.

If that’s the case, then polycarbonate filament could be the thermoplastic material that you’ve been looking for. In this article, we’re going to take a look at polycarbonate, what it is, what it does, how it performs and some of the best ways to get great results when printing with it.

Polycarbonate (PC) is an extremely strong, lightweight and transparent thermoplastic. Marketed under the trade name Lexan, it is used to make products as varied as CDs and DVDs, bullet proof glass, riot gear, sunglass lenses, scuba masks, electronic display screens, phone and computer cases and much more.

PC has a very high impact strength, far greater than glass and more than ten times that of an acrylic material like PMMA. At the same time, it has less than half the density of glass, but with comparably high level of transparency. In fact, polycarbonate transmits visible light better than many kinds of glass. It is this relatively light weight and transparency, combined with incredible strength, which makes polycarbonate such an attractive material choice for a wide variety of commercial uses.

Or even, just miniature vases like this one that we 3D printed at the TCT Show:

polycarbonate_filament_vase

 

Polycarbonate is also an attractive choice as a 3d printing filament.

Its high impact resistance insures that it can stand up to a variety of demanding applications. It also has a relatively high heat resistance and can be bent at room temperature without cracking or breaking. Other transparent thermoplastics, like PMMA, have a lower impact resistance and will crack and break if bent. This makes polycarbonate an excellent choice for making functioning prototypes, especially where transparency and non-conductivity are desired.

In addition, PC can stand up to wear and tear. It is not delicate and won’t deform or break when handled. Finally, its clarity and ability to transmit light means that polycarbonate printing material will produce beautiful printed objects when used correctly.

We’ve taken a look at some of the benefits of using polycarbonate printing filament, now let’s take a look at its features:

  • Strong, impact resistant thermoplastic;
  • Machine bendable at room temperature;
  • Extremely durable;
  • Transparent with excellent light transmittance;
  • Dichloromethane soluble;
  • Printing temperature from 260C – 300C;
  • Recommended printing bed temperature of 90C or higher.

A look at the data stats of polycarbonate confirms the impressive strength of polycarbonate. Polycarbonate has a specific gravity of 1.18 g/cm³. This density makes it comparable to PMMA and PLA and about one fifth denser than ABS. It has a Rockwell hardness of R 121, making it harder than PMMA, ABS and PLA.

Yet, as we’ve been discussing, it’s the category of overall strength that sets polycarbonate apart from other thermoplastics. It has a maximum tensile strength of 11,200 psi (77.22 M/pa) which is comparable to PMMA. However, it has a tensile break strength between 75% and 150%. Compare this to the tensile break strength of PMMA (1.8% - 7.2%), PLA (1% - 12%) and ABS (4.6% to 27%). What this means is that while both polycarbonate and PMMA are strong and hard, the ability of polycarbonate to withstand torsional stress far exceeds any other thermoplastic.

So, with polycarbonate you get a strong and durable material that can carry weight and survive rough handling, but is also flexible enough to withstand tensile forces that shatter, deform or break other materials. It also transmits light better than most types of glass. So, if you’re looking for a strong, tough and flexible 3d printing material that’s also transparent, you need to give polycarbonate printing filament a spin.

polycarbonate_filament_mid-print

 

3D printing with polycarbonate isn’t hard, as long as you keep a few things in mind...

First of all, polycarbonate is heat resistant up to 116C. It also has a glass transition temperature of 150C. Therefore, polycarbonate needs a high printing temperature, the closer to 300C the better.

If your extruder has a problem with temperatures this high, don’t worry. Polycarbonate has a relatively slow transition temperature. This means that it will successfully print at a lower than optimal temperature, albeit more slowly. This brings us to our second “How to 3d print with polycarbonate” tip.

In general, the lower your printing temperature, the slower your printing speed should be. We’ve found that 30mm/sec at a temperature of at least 265C will produce good results. If you can get a higher temperature out of your extruder, you can experiment with a faster printing speed, say 60mm/sec. However, at the end of the day, slow and steady wins this particular race.

You also want to keep the temperature of your printing bed at 90C or higher to avoid warping of the polycarbonate printing material. A higher printing bed temperature will also help to eliminate any delaminating issues that might arise.

When printing, keep in mind that polycarbonate filament is extremely hygroscopic. This means it will absorb moisture from the air. The more water there is in the air, the more moisture the polycarbonate will absorb.

Polycarbonate that has been exposed to humidity will exhibit problems when being extruded, mainly bubbles and inconsistent flow that will tend to ruin your design. Storing your filament in an airtight container will minimize these problems.

It’s our goal to make sure that your print jobs are a success the first time, every time you print. When what you print is less than successful you not only waste material, you also waste time.

Low cost filament seems like a bargain, but it’s not.  

Yes, you don’t pay as much upfront for your printing material. However, when design after design is ruined because of imperfections in the filament, the cost of buying replacement filament begins to add up.

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Our polycarbonate printing filament is the best you’ll find. Sure, everyone says that. But we carefully manufacture our polycarbonate to super-tight tolerances of just +/-0.03mm either side of the diameter you purchase. This means that when you use our polycarbonate you save time and money and get a successful print run, time after time.

What's more, we back it up with excellent service, and a 60-day moneyback guarantee. 

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