Can 3D printers print rubber? No. This is because external factors have no effect on the properties of rubber. This material undergoes vulcanization, a process that makes rubber solid. Once the rubber undergoes this process, it can never return to a fluid form. Since rubber can’t become fluid, you can’t 3D print this material. However, there are rubber-like materials that you can use if you want to 3D print rubber. Here are some of them.
If you want to prototype or produce extremely precise flexible parts such as custom grips, wearables, gaskets, or stamps, you should consider using flexible resins. These materials are also a good option if you want to make your assemblies ergonomic. Flexible resins feel like rubber when printed. These materials will also compress and bounce back to their initial form. However, resins are usually made for specific printers.
Flexible filaments such as TPEs (thermoplastic elastomer) feel just like rubber as well. These materials can be used for different applications such as sealing rings, shoe soles and flip-flops. Before, designers encountered a lot of problems while printing flexible filaments because these materials were very soft and didn’t print properly.
The pushing string effect of most extruders affects the end product. When a filament with rigidity was pressed towards the nozzle, it twisted or bent due to its softness. Printing flexible filaments is now possible by using direct-drive extruders. Just remember that flexible filaments are made by different manufacturers and this means that the formulas for these materials differ significantly.
Printing Flexible Filaments
How successful the result will depend on your 3D printer’s setup and calibration. You have to use direct drive extruders since even the smallest opening in the path of the filament will cause the material to “escape” and ruin your print.
Although these are a lot of considerations when printing flexible filaments, these materials continue to gain popularity as people discover new techniques to improve their craft. Flexible filaments are usually used to create robot parts, RC tires, grip, and other items that require a rubber-like function or feel.
You just need to follow the right procedures for using such materials because if you don’t, the consequences won’t be pretty. Printing using elastic filaments, at times, can be difficult for 3D printers. The more flexible the material, the harder it is to use.
When using flexible filaments, you should print slowly because these materials don’t print properly under high speeds. They need more traction from the extruders. This means that flexible filaments take longer to print than traditional filaments. Unless you have specialized extruders, it is best that you start with 15 to 20 mm/s.
It is also important to start with the right temperature for the material. You can adjust the temperature until you get your desired print quality. It’s impossible to get good results when the temperature is not right. Make sure that it is not too cold or too hot. If the print has excessive stringiness or a lot of bubbles on the edges, it might be too hot. If the print breaks up easily between layers or looks under extruded, it might be too cold.
You also need to make sure that the extruder is inside the model. It shouldn’t go outside the model walls. This way, oozing will occur inside the model. Since most slicers are equipped with a setting for this function, you only need to choose the right setting. If you are using Ultimaker Cura, just go to Travel settings and enable Combing Mode.
You should check retraction as well. 3D printers typically retract tougher, plastic filaments back into the nozzles to prevent the molten plastic from oozing all over the place. That’s not the case for flexible, rubber-like filaments. Retraction will twist the rubber-like filament and cause blockages, so you should either turn it off or reduce it.
Here are some tips to make the 3D printing process a success.
- Choose the filament. Flexible filaments come in various blends and brands. Each of these materials has different price tags and levels of elasticity. Pick the filament that suits your needs and bud
- Expect some stretching. When printing items that need a snug fit, you should make it smaller than required. The model won’t stretch out over a period of time. You can make the model 2 to 3 mm smaller, but it all depends on the material’s elasticity. Try different measurements until you find the right one for the filament you are using.
- Seek help. Ask your family members or friends with knowledge or experience in 3D printing for tips on how you can improve your prints. You can also visit forums dedicated to printing rubber-like filaments and read about their experiences. Members of such forums often provide 3D printing tips and talk about the settings that worked best for them.
- Expect some cleanup. Most rubber-like materials should print with very little or with no retraction, so prints can come out extremely stringy. You should adjust your 3D model so that you can clean it easily and quickly.
Look for a 3D Printing Service
If you don’t have a 3D printer or you don’t want to go through the trouble of printing rubber-like filaments, you can just look for a 3D printing service and let them do the job for you. Shapeways and Materialise are offering 3D printing services. They use high-end 3D printers, so you are assured that the quality of the print is good.
Getting a 3D printing service can help you save time, money, and effort. You only need to provide your 3D models and instructions, and they will do the rest for you. Ask for recommendations or search the internet for companies that offer 3D printing services in your area. Don’t forget to compare prices and make sure that the company prints rubber-like materials.
You already know the answer to the question, “can 3D printers print rubber?” Although printing rubber is impossible, there are rubber-like materials that you can use to 3D print your desired objects. You only need to choose the material that suits your needs and budget.