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Types of Flexible Filament

Types of Flexible Filament

While there are several materials on the market that have flexible properties, the two major types of flexible filament are Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) and Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE). Both of these are made from thermoplastic elastomers which are derived from a blend of hard plastic and soft rubber. While terminology is often mixed, thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) is the most commonly used flexible material within the 3D printing industry.

How is Flexible Filament Measured?

What sets many flexible filaments apart is the degree of flexibility they offer. Most materials are measured on a “Shore Hardness/Durometer” scale which is the measure of the resistance a material has to indentation.

Durometer_web

Typically the durometer of a flexible material is denoted as being on either the Shore A or Shore D scale.  Softer materials such as flexible filament for 3D printing are measured on the Shore A scale, while Shore D is reserved for harder rubbers.

Durometer-Chart_web

Flexible Filament for 3D Printing

Flexible Thermoplastic Urethanes (TPU) filaments within the 3D printing industry range between Shore A 60 – 90 and are classified as being ultra-flexible to semi-flexible. Depending on the application, there is a flexible filament that provides the necessary properties to meet the demands of its users.

Semi-Flexible TPU

The most rigid flexible filament MakeShaper offers is a semi-flexible TPU with a Shore A Durometer of 90 (90A). This material is ideal as an introductory to printing flexible filament because its shortcomings are lessened by its degree of hardness. A Shore A 90 material is classified as a hard material and depending on the infill, it can be printed in a manner that is rigid while maintaining flexible properties. It is an ideal material when you need a degree of flexibility but still need structural stability and can be successfully printed on a Bowden-type extruder.

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semiflex_tire

OpenRC F1 Tire Printed at 30% infill
https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1193309

OpenRC F1 Tire Printed at 30% infill
https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1193309

Flexible TPU

The most common flexible filament MakeShaper offers is a Flexible TPU with a Shore A Durometer of 85 (85A), which is comparable to other flexible filaments offered on the market, such as NinjaFlex. A Shore A 85 material is classified as a medium-hard material but it is actually quite flexible and offers a wide variety of flexibility depending on infill. While an 85A flexible filament can be printed on a Bowden extruder, it takes a well-optimized setup due to its steep learning curve. It is ideal for items such as gaskets, grippers, hinges or RC tires and components.

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Ultra-Flexible TPU

The most flexible filament MakeShaper offers is an Ultra-Flexible TPU with a Shore A Durometer of 60 (600A). A Shore A 60 material is classified as medium-soft material but it is extremely flexible, even with a high degree of infill. It is highly recommended to use a well setup direct drive extruder or a Flexion Extruder from Diabase Engineering to even print with it. An ideal application is overprinted parts (such as rigid components with incorporated gaskets) or soft robots.

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OpenRC F1 Tire Printed at 30% infill
https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1193309