Shapeways 3D Printing Materials: Checking Out the Top Five

From durability to high ductility—and from requirements in flexibility to great strength—the study of materials science is vast. Knowledge and expertise in this area is critical to quality manufacturing though, and 3D printing is no exception. There is a lot to learn, but for industrial 3D printing, the most popular materials are easily narrowed down into the following five, all of which are commonly used in even the most advanced applications.

Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic]

Strong and durable carabiner 3D printed in Nylon 12

Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] currently tops the list in terms of popularity, and epic versatility. Reinforcing one of the greatest benefits in 3D printing with the ability to create complex geometries not possible in traditional manufacturing, Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] is used with Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) for 3D printing everything from detailed medical models and surgical planning tools to fine jewelry. Because no supports are required in powder-based SLS 3D printing, designers are afforded greater freedom in creating, and production departments are able to nest hundreds or even thousands of parts together in each build.

Used for rapid prototyping as well as high-performance, functional parts, Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] is unique because in its thinner form it is flexible, making it suitable for springs and interlocking parts—and in its thicker state, strong enough for end-use parts in critical applications like medicine. Shapeways offers Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] in standard white, but it can be dyed in eight different colors, and is available in Natural, Processed, and Premium finishes. Find out more in the design guidelines here.



PA11 is also used with SLS 3D printing technology, but many are surprised to learn that it is derived from castor beans, making it environmentally friendly and easy to recycle. Not only is PA11 a flexible material, but it is also known for durability, good tensile strength, and impact resistance with high elongation at break too, meaning that it will be less likely to break under stress. This nylon material is also biocompatible, making it suitable for 3D printed exterior medical devices like knee braces or prosthetics.

High ductility also makes PA11 an excellent choice for end-use parts that must hold up during rigorous conditions, to include offering protection in sports with customized equipment, as well as during harsh weather conditions—and especially heat. Because of its high impact resistance, PA11 is also excellent for use in industrial applications like automotive and aerospace. Shapeways offers PA11 in white, with a slightly rough surface as a standard finish, as well as matte. Find out more in the design guidelines here.

MJF Plastic PA12

Black Smooth MJF

MJF Plastic PA12 is another popular 3D printing material that is similar to Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic]. Used with HP’s revolutionary Multi Jet Fusion technology—a powder-based method relying on inkjet technology—MJF PA12 is unique because it is printed at a lower layer thickness and provides higher resolution for intricate features, as well as overall uniformity. MJF PA12 also offers flexibility in its thinner material form and is known for greater elasticity and less breakage, while offering strength and durability for thicker designs.

Used in many industrial applications due to its ability to support sophisticated geometries, MJF PA12 is known for low porosity as well as possessing excellent mechanical properties, and is recommended for applications like drone technology, medical devices like prosthetics, and mechanical parts. Offered in gray or black with a slightly grainy finish, MJF PA12 is available in natural, smooth, and a slightly glossy finish. Find out more in the design guidelines here.

MJF Plastic PA12 Glass Beads


MJF Plastic PA12 Glass Beads is definitely a unique material, employing glass beads to add strength and stiffness to parts. Although 40% of this material is infused with glass beads, MFJ PA12GB still offers good flexibility like its MJF PA12 counterpart. PA12 Glass Beads are also relied on to ensure structural integrity and dimensional accuracy for industrial parts, along with offering continued accuracy and repeatability whether using Multi Jet Fusion to 3D print customized parts in volume or on demand.

MJF PA12GB are recommended for large pieces, especially when issues like warping must be avoided in high-performance parts. This material is recommended for applications like robotics, drones, medical devices, mechanical devices, and tooling. Shapeways offers MJF PA12GB in gray and dark gray. Find out more in the design guidelines here.

Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU)

Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) is a well-known material used in numerous types of manufacturing, to include injection molding. Created in a German lab in 1937, TPU is made up of both thermoplastic materials and rubber. Shapeways offers TPU in standard white for use with SLS technology using EOS 3D printers, as well as Ultrasint TPU01 material from BASF, available in gray, using Multi Jet Fusion 3D printers.

Offering great opportunity for versatility and customization, TPU is known for resistance in terms of chemicals, heat, and abrasion, along with excellent load-bearing capacity, good elongation at break, and high tensile strength—defining the amount of strain a part can handle before fracturing. TPU is suitable for applications like automotive, robotics, medical devices, sports gear, and even footwear. Find out more in the design guidelines here.

Great Durability

Materials like Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] rate at the top for durability, exemplified by work with Shapeways customers like 67 Designs. With an ongoing dedication to 3D printing—even for high-volume printing—SLS technology was the perfect fit for their luxury off-roading accessories like the MagMount, a device meant to hold tablets in place during outdoor adventures.

MJF PA12 and MJF PA12GB offer greater durability too due to the deep absorption of thermal energy during 3D printing with Multi Jet Fusion. The addition of glass beads to MJF PA12GB allows for further strength and stiffness. Materials like PA11 are suitable for products requiring durability also due to a wide range of material characteristics making it suitable for sturdy end-use parts, as well as prototypes that won’t break down over time.


Several popular 3D printing materials are strong and durable, yet in some cases also offer great flexibility. This is true of Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic], as well as PA11; however, TPU is the clear stand-out in terms of elasticity due to its composition of thermoplastic material and rubber, making it highly suited for medical devices like braces, prosthetics, and implants. Soft robotics are another popular application for TPU, as flexible parts are required for actuators, simulated digits and limbs, and flex grippers.

Heat Resistance

Resistance is often a key factor in making a choice between materials. Heat resistance is particularly important in applications like aerospace and automotive where parts are consistently exposed to high temperatures.

Materials like PA11 are suitable for these types of environments, as well as harsh weather conditions, making it highly attractive for industrial applications. PA11 is also resistant to a wide range of chemicals. MJF PA12GB offers stiffness and strength for larger, flat parts, with thermal resistance helping to avoid warpage.


Many functional parts require sealants for waterproofing. Again, materials like Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] top the list. Although this material is moisture-resistant, a variety of different sealants or coatings can be used to make it completely waterproof. Shapeways customer Verner Architects designed a six-foot-long vanity for a children’s bathroom in a luxury re-modeling project. After Shapeways 3D printed the vanity and shipped it to Verner Architects, they coated it with polyurethane to ensure continued water resistance over the years.

About Shapeways

Shapeways offers over 90 materials and finishes, and is always interested in sourcing other materials customers may be interested in using too. Contact Shapeways now to enjoy the benefits of advanced technology and materials for manufacturing creations with accuracy, complex detail, and no minimum or limits in terms of mass customization or single part orders.

Shapeways has worked with over 1 million customers in 160 countries to make over 21 million parts! Read about case studies, find out more about Shapeways solutions, and get instant quotes here.

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