Which 3D printers print the toughest parts?

There’s a myth floating around that 3D printed parts are not as strong or as tough as traditionally-manufactured parts. This simply isn’t true. While this is certainly the case with some applications, it is perfectly possible to 3D print parts as strong as – and if not stronger than – traditionally-manufactured parts. We’ve seen this first hand, and companies like Open Bionics wouldn’t be using 3D printing to create bionic hands if this were the case.

The strength of 3D printed parts comes down to what they are printed from. If you print with a thermoplastic or reinforce parts, then you are going to produce parts as strong as their traditionally-manufactured brethren.

And so if you have the need to manufacture high-strength prototypes and end-use parts, you can rely on 3D printing to get the job done – but you will need a printer that supports a printing material with high-strength properties.

Below we have listed some of the best 3D printers on the market which will happily print super-strong parts. We’ll start with perhaps the best of them all:

Markforged Mark One

Mark One

The Mark One can print functional parts with a higher strength-to-weight ratio than aluminium. It prints using Composite Filament Fabrication (CFF), a patent-pending technology, alongside Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF).

The Mark One can print composites including carbon fibre, Kevlar and fibreglass. The core printing material is high-grade nylon, which itself is a durable material, but this is taken to a whole new level when you reinforce parts with continuous strands of carbon fibre, Kevlar or fibreglass. Printed parts are 24x stronger than ABS, and just as strong as 6061 aluminium.

There are two versions of The Mark One – The Mark OneStandard and The Mark One Professional. The Standard model can print nylon, carbon fibre and fibreglass, while the Professional model can print all those plus Kevlar. They both feature a dual extruder set up with one CFF nozzle and one FFF nozzle. These combine to infuse parts with reinforcement.

The potential applications for the Mark One are endless. Recently, we wrote about how a team of engineers 3D-printed a doggy cart for Tazo, a disabled dog with the Mark One.

Here’s a video of the Markforged Mark One in action:

We recommend the Mark One to any engineers or companies with a need to produce extremely strong and tough parts.

Formlabs Form 2 (with Tough Resin)

Formlabs Form 2

The Formlabs Form 2 was launched in mid-late 2015 as the successor to the Form 1+ 3D printer. It’s Formlabs’ most advanced 3D printer with a generous 145 x 145 x 175 mm build volume and the ability print at a layer thickness up to 25 micron. It uses stereolithography to print, and for the toughest parts, you really want to be using Tough Resin.

Tough Resin is a special material developed to withstand extreme stress and strain. It balances strength and ductility to offer more durability and impact resistance than parts printed using traditional filaments, such as ABS. For example, the yield strength of ABS is 34-51MPa while the yield strength of Tough Resin is 52.2MPa, and you get this consistently.

Tough Resin is ideal for high-impact and high-stress components, machining and cyclic loading. You can create durable and sturdy prototypes that deform under pressure and parts that absorb force and flex. Parts can also tolerate mechanical friction and as a result creating gears, hinges and snap-fit parts is perfectly possible with Tough Resin. In fact, that’s what Formlabs’ recommends it for.

Here’s a video of Tough Resin in action:

We recommend the Form 2 for engineering environments with a demand for parts that are incredibly tough.

Zortrax M200 (with Zortrax Z-ULTRAT)

Zortrax M200

If you are looking for a 3D printer that offers tough parts but is also value for money, then little can beat the Zortrax M200. Zortrax proclaim the M200 to be one of the most reliable 3D printers on the market and we’d have to agree. It can get through hours of work with no problems at all, and with a 90-400 micron dimensional accuracy, it’s bloomin’ accurate too.

For the toughest parts, you want to print with Zortrax Z-ULTRAT filament. Zortrax Z-ULTRAT is a durable thermoplastic filament that produces semi-matte prints. Most consumer and commercial products today are composed of thermoplastics, which is testament to just how durable – and cost-effective – they are for prototyping and mass production.

Z-ULTRAT has medium elasticity properties and a low level of deformation and a high hardness level. It is stronger and more durable than Z-ABS. It’s been designed for working parts in machine prototypes. It is also ideally suited to mechanical and chemical post-processing.

Zortrax list the following properties for Z-ULTRAT: Hardness – High. Elasticity – Medium. Impact Strength – Medium. Tensile strength – Low. Shrinkage – Low.

If you require a material with high impact strength, then you should consider the Zortrax Inventure 3D printer which uses Z-ULTRAT Plus filament which also has the benefit of a soluble support system to reduce the need for mechanical processing.

Here’s a video of the M200 in action:

We recommend the Zortrax M200 to industrial designers, architects, educators and production engineers.

Ultimaker 2+ and Ultimaker 2 Extended+ (with ColorFabb XT filament)

Ultimaker 2 Extended Plus 2016

Launched at CES 2016 as the successors to the Ultimaker 2 and Ultimaker 2 Extended, the Ultimaker 2+ offers a 223 x 223 x 205 mm build volume and an X,Y,Z accuracy of 12.5, 12.5, 5 micron while the Extended+ offers a 223 x 223 x 305 build volume. Those are the same specifications as their respective predecessors, however the 2+ and 2 Extended+ have been upgraded with a new geared feeder, swappable nozzle system and improved cooling.

Crucially, the Ultimaker 2+ has an open filament system, so you can use any compatible third-part filament you like but for really strong and tough parts, we recommend you use ColorFabb XT filament. ColorFabb XT has extremely high strength and toughness properties. It’s produced from Amphora™ 3D Polymer by Eastman Chemical Company, a unique material with a special formula of polyesters for strength. Parts printed with this material look fantastic and they have a superior melt strength and greater dimensional stability than ABS parts.

ColorFabb XT is also FDA food contact complaint, odour neutral and BPA (Bisphenol A) free, making it perfectly safe. We recommend the Ultimaker range of 3D printers with ColorFabb XT because they work extremely well together.

Here’s a video of ColorFabb XT in action:

We recommend the Ultimaker 2+ for industrial environments and educational environments. However, it’s also compact enough to be used in an office or at home, and it’s also incredibly easy to use.