When printing thermoplastics with dual extrusion, one extruder is typically dedicated to printing a support material and the other a core material.
We have covered core materials before (FFF plastics, SLA resins, FFF metals), but what of the support materials used in FFF plastic printing?
This article introduces 3D printer support materials, shedding light on what they are and how they work.
Let’s jump in!
What is support material?
A support material prints alongside the core material, creating props for elements that would otherwise not have structural stability. For example, support structures can support overhangs and features that are suspended.
Types of support materials
Support materials come in three types:
Breakaway support materials are designed to snap away from the printed structure, although the ability to snap supports free with your bare hands depends on the thickness of the support. Sometimes you need to use a cutting tool.
Breakaway support can be a dedicated breakaway material, or it can be ABS. ABS can be snapped away or dissolved in acetone.
Depending on the support material, soluble support materials melt away when submerged in liquid – either water or limonene. For example, PVA dissolves in water while HIPS will only dissolve in limonene.
The most common support materials
These are the most common support materials in 3D printing:
ABS is used as a support material for small support clusters that aren’t dense. ABS can be used alongside ABS as the core material.
HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene) dissolves in limonene and is used as a dense support structure for ABS and other high-temp filaments.
PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol) dissolves in water and is used when printing at low temperatures, working particularly well with PLA. You can make your own DIY PVA removal water bath or using a professional removal station like the Ultimaker PVA Removal Station you are able to speed up the removal process.
Breakaway is an Ultimaker filament that is solid but brittle, letting you snap supports away from the printed structure with ease. Suitable for ABS, Nylon, PLA, CPE, and CPE+.
BVOH filament from Verbatim is a water-soluble support material for printing at lower temperatures, such as in combination with PLA, PET and PP.
It’s important to remember that not all 3D designs require support structure, and when they do, specifying a support material is a matter of temperature.
For instance, you wouldn’t use HIPS for PLA but PVA for PLA. The extruder’s temperature is crucial to ensuring compatibility between the materials and a high-quality finished product.
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