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Beginner’s FFF Metal 3D Printing Guide

FFF Metal 3D Printing, Copper Coliseum
Roman Coliseum in Copper

Let’s take a look at FFF Metal 3D Printing. 3D printing used to be the stuff of sci-fi movies. Creating 3D structures in homes based on your own designs represents a significant advancement in technology.

Nowadays, that old dream has become a reality. Anyone can create 3D prototypes, artwork, and functional accessories at home with an off-the-shelf 3D printer.

More excitingly, it is now possible to print metals like pure copper, Bronze, Stainless Steel. In addition, providers like The Virtual Foundry can turn nearly anything into a 3D printing material.

But how do you get started with FFF Metal 3D printing? This guide will walk you through all the essentials you need to know.

What is FFF Metal 3D Printing?

First, let’s remove any uncertainty around the terminology. FFF stands for Fused Filament Fabrication. The FFF 3D printing process is an additive manufacturing process that pushes material through a heated nozzle.

Then, the material is layered to create 3D objects. 3D printing has been around since the 1980s, but only in the last ten years has FFF really taken off and become a lower-cost solution viable for designers at home.

FFF 3D printing is used for manufacturing as it can create tooling and replacement parts. In addition, it’s used for prototyping complex parts with cheaper materials and in arts and design, where 3D models come to life.

The most commonly used materials for FFF 3D printing are plastic polymers, which find countless uses. However, by combining polymer with other material fibers, you can 3D print carbon, metal, glass, and many other materials.

Why Should You Use FFF 3D Printing with Metal Materials?

Metal compounds for your 3D printing are an exciting new direction because of the material qualities. Copper, for example, conducts heat and electricity, is resistant to corrosion, and even fights off bacteria and viruses.

This means as a material, it has vast applications in engineering and medicine. 

3D printing is also one of the most efficient ways to work with these relatively expensive metals. This is because you only use the exact amount of metal needed for each print rather than producing waste material.

Finally, metals achieve a more luxurious and elegant look for your 3D projects. In addition, they come with natural color and sheen, making FFF 3D metal printing ideal for anyone designing sculptures and jewelry.

What 3D Printers Can Handle Metal 3D Filaments?

Good news! Metal filaments and Pellets for 3D printing are open architecture materials. This means that you don’t require any special hardware to start printing. If you have a 3D printer that uses 1.75mm or 2.85mm filament, you likely have everything you need. But, of course, the success of your prints still depends on the quality of your printer. Suppose you have noticed drawbacks to your current machine. In that case, you will likely experience the same problems when printing with metal filaments. They work fundamentally the same.

Metal fills can be abrasive, so we recommend ensuring that your printer is equipped with a hardened steel nozzle. A single hardened steel nozzle will print any of the materials in our store.

Considerations for 3D Metal Printing

Before you start metal printing, here are a few things to consider:

The metal powder in the filament will make the final print much heavier than standard PLA, even when you use the same settings and consume the same amount of material. 

This is a worthy consideration when choosing your FFF 3D printing material. Some parts may benefit from extra weight, while others aim to be lighter.

You’ll also want to consider that the high metal content in your filament will make your prints more prone to breaking. You can avoid this by carefully following the instruction of the filament in use. 

You should also reduce friction as much as possible by placing the spool so that the filament comes straight into the feeder. Then, use a Filawarmer to guide the spool to the printer.  The high loading of metal powder can weaken the filament. To overcome this issue we make a Filawarmer to keep the plastic pliable and reset the memory of the filament to shape around the spool. It warms, strengthens, relaxes, and anneals the filament. 

Heat only the strand going into the printer, as heating the entire spool can make your filament extremely brittle.

Lastly, don’t forget that metal filament becomes clay-like with heat. This means it can be carved and sculpted. Pieces can be added, and seams smoothed.

FFF 3D Metal Printing Best Practices

Before wrapping up this guide, here are a few best practices for printing with metal to ensure your FFF 3D printing goes smoothly.

Never print Metal filament directly onto glass build plates, as it will weld to the base. Instead, apply a layer of blue painter’s tape or glue stick and heat the build plate before removing the print for easier removal.

Filamet™ provides fewer design limitations than similar materials from BASF. There really are few direct limitations. Overhangs are not a problem, just use support material as you would with any other 3D print.

Thin walls are not a problem. Large masses can be challenging to debind. As you heat your part during the debind process., the plastic becomes a gas. If you heat the part quickly, the gasses will accumulate more quickly than they can escape from the print. So to debind large solid areas greater than 10mmx10mm we recommend a slow debind cycle. We typically recommend a ramp rate of 150°F per hour to 900°F, then hold for 2 hours.

Lightweighting and Latticing techniques are very favorable to parts made with Filamet™. Open internal cavities work well with this process and creates paths for gasses to escape during the Debind Process.

Lastly, set the temperature to 210°C and the flow rate to 125% to start and follow the recommended print settings – you can find technical data sheets listing filament compatibility and settings online. We recommend a .6mm nozzle. Clogged nozzles are very rare with a 0.6mm nozzle.

Are You Ready to Start Using FFF Metal 3D Printing?

FFF Metal 3D printing at home is an excellent way to prototype parts and create exciting jewelry and accessories.

With our use-at-home filaments that work with any off-the-shelf printer, you can start your own metal printing project today. 

Choose from our wide range of print metals or check out our 3D metal Getting Started bundle. This includes everything you need to get started. Looking for something else? 

Get in touch with us to learn about our custom metal filaments – we can help you make any concept 3D printable.

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