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The Ultimate Guide to Nylon 3D Printing

Updated: Feb 21


SLS Nylon PA-12 3D Printing Parts

Nylon stands out as a robust and adaptable 3D printing material, perfectly suited for a diverse array of professional applications. Discover effective strategies to maximize its potential.


Numerous items crafted from robust and resilient nylon, also known as polyamide or PA, surround us. This versatile material contributes to the durability and lightness of components such as vents and intake manifolds in automobiles. It ensures the longevity of artificial turf through multiple seasons of professional football, serves as the casing for a majority of our electronic devices, and finds application in the production of diverse items ranging from skateboard wheels to factory gears.


With a history spanning almost a century, manufacturers have extensively utilized nylon in the creation of various products, making it a well-known and favored material for 3D printing. When employing nylon in 3D printing, all its renowned characteristics remain accessible, making it the most prevalent material in additive manufacturing, especially when considering the quantity of material sold in kilograms.


Properties of Nylon:

  • Exceptional durability

  • Flexibility

  • Resistance to chemicals

  • High impact resistance

  • Slight moisture absorption (facilitating dyeing)

  • Sunlight resistance

  • High melting point

  • Abrasion resistance

  • Lighter than metal

  • Electrical insulation


Utilizing 3D printing technology allows for the swift production of tailor-made, high-performance nylon prototypes and final components—an advantageous leap beyond conventional manufacturing methods. Recognizing this, companies such as Toyota have embraced the efficiency of 3D printing. Toyota Racing Development (TRD), in collaboration with 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys, seamlessly incorporates 3D printed nylon bodywork into their vehicles, exemplified by the inclusion in the latest Toyota GR86.


Toyota Racing Development (TRD), in collaboration in the latest Toyota GR86. with 3D printer manufacturer

Characteristics of Different Types of Nylon

SLS Material

Properties

Applications

PA 12 (nylon 12)

abrasion resistant, chemical resistance to oils, greases, aliphatic hydrocarbons, and alkalies; ductile, (can meet biocompatibility standards for skin contact)

connectors, hinges, housings, complex assemblies, enclosures, watertight applications, prosthetics

PA 11 (nylon 11)

chemically resistant, ductile, impact-resistant

insoles, snap fits, hinges, prosthetics, sports goods

PA 6 (nylon 6)

durable, flexible, excellent surface appearance, low viscosity, electrical insulating properties, high water absorption

electronics and electrical, consumer goods, packaging

PA CF (carbon fiber-filled nylon)

high stiffness and thermal resistance, less shrinkage than other PAs, ductile, impact-resistant, oil and grease resistant

rugged industrial applications, snap fits, connectors, hinges, housings, high-performance racing applications

PA ESD (electrostatic discharging nylon)

PA that dissipates electrostatic charges

electronic housings; jigs, fixtures, and manufacturing aids for the electronics industry

PA FR (flame retardant)

all the qualities of PA plus flame retardancy

air plenums, housings,

PA GB (nylon with glass beads)

high stiffness and strength plus a better surface finish and finer feature details than standards PAs, high heat deflection temperature (HDT) values

functional parts, enclosures, housing, tooling


Nylon processed through Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)


If you aim to incorporate all the desirable attributes of nylon into your professional or industrial components, opting for an SLS 3D printer is the ideal choice.

SLS stands out as the preferred 3D printing technology for creating robust jigs and fixtures, lightweight elements, and quickly producing functional spare parts. Nylon emerges as the predominant material in SLS printing.

In the SLS printing process, a laser is employed to meld nylon polymer powder into solid forms. The resulting components exhibit similarities to injection-molded nylon, but the 3D printing approach offers a more cost-effective solution for crafting unique parts and tools, handling small production runs, and fabricating functional prototypes. Furthermore, 3D printing allows for the consolidation of multiple parts into a single seamless structure and the fabrication of intricate geometries that surpass the possibilities of injection molding or CNC machining.


Nylon powder designed for Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) applications.


Guide to Nylon 3D Printing

SLS 3D printing commonly utilizes nylon, with PA 11 and PA 12 being the most prevalent types, although other variants exist. PA 11 is employed for components necessitating UV and impact resistance, whereas PA 12 is favored for increased strength and stiffness. Additionally, reinforced PA powders, known as nylon composite powders, may include glass, aluminum, or carbon fiber particles in conjunction with nylon.

It's crucial to verify with your printer manufacturer to ensure compatibility, as some printers may not have lasers powerful enough for all nylon materials. While certain materials might generally function, the promised strength or flexibility may not be achieved unless printed on an approved machine.

SLS printers with an open material system offer flexibility, allowing the use of various materials from different manufacturers. In contrast, closed-system SLS machines are restricted to materials recommended by the printer manufacturer.

Upon completion of the printing process, the parts are entirely covered in unsintered powder, serving as support for the sintered parts. Fortunately, up to 50% to 70% of this unsintered powder can be reused for subsequent prints, contributing to the sustainability of SLS compared to traditional manufacturing.


An example is Bluesint PA 12, a nylon developed by 3D printing company Materialise, made entirely from reused polyamide powder, reducing powder-related carbon emissions by over 30%.

SLS printing involves post-processing steps, including depowdering and powder recycling. SLS parts typically have a matte, rough surface that can be smoothed, making them suitable for dyeing.

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