Types of 3D Printing Metals & Metal Filaments

Types of 3D Printing Metals & Metal Filaments

Learn about what 3D printing metals and metal filaments are most commonly used and their pros and cons.

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The vast array of materials available for Metal Additive Manufacturing (MAM) is always expanding. The most common materials associated with MAM are stainless steel, aluminum, nickel, cobalt-chrome, and titanium alloys. Some MAM equipment manufacturers offer custom specifications of these standard materials for use with their printer parameters. 

It’s worth remembering that the material trade names vary depending on the manufacturer. Research institutes, universities, and system manufacturers also offer individual materials too.

Not all materials can be used in Metal Additive Manufacturing, but in the right environment and when correctly applied, the use of metal powder is also possible.

The specifications of metal powders

The common metal powder characteristics that influence the use of Metal Additive Manufacturing (MAM) are the spherical shape of the powder particles resulting from the gas atomization and a particle size distribution according to the layer thickness, usually less than 50 µm.

Material properties like tensile strength, hardness and elongation are vital, and are often used as reference points when trying to decide which material is right for the desired application.

There is a large range of metals and metal alloys available, including aluminum, stainless steel, titanium, cobalt chrome and Inconel. These materials cover the needs of most industrial metal 3D printing applications – from aerospace to medical to automotive - and everything in between. Precious metals – like gold, platinum, palladium, and silver – can also be processed, but their applications are primarily focused on jewelry making.

In this article, we’ll look at the different alloys across a wide variety of yield strengths.

Data courtesy2

Metal material cost considerations

For MAM-produced parts, the cost of the metal powder is a key consideration due to its influence on the final part cost. Because of this, using DfAM (Design for Additive Manufacturing) techniques to minimize the part volume and using additive manufacturing technologies that don’t require support structures can help keep costs as low as possible.

3D Printing Metal materials – the pros and cons

Aluminum alloys

Good thermal properties

Low density

Good electrical conductivity

Low hardness

Stainless steel & tool steel

High wear & corrosion resistance

Great hardness (tool steels)

Good ductility and weldability

Great range of mechanical properties

Titanium alloys

Corrosion resistance

Excellent strength-to-weight ratio

Low thermal expansion


Cobalt-Chrome superalloys

Excellent wear & corrosion resistance

Great properties at elevated temperatures

Very high hardness


Nickel superalloys (Inconel)

Excellent mechanical properties

Great high-temperature corrosion resistance

Temperature resistant up to 1200oC

Used in extreme environments

Precious metals

Used in jewelry making

What is Metal Filament?

Metal filament for printing metal parts consists of a wax polymer with metal particles evenly infused within it. Metal-infused filament for metal parts is a unique type of composite filament.

If you’re familiar with carbon fiber-infused or glass-infused plastic filament, the metal-infused plastic filament will make perfect sense to you – but there’s one significant difference. With metal-infused filament for metal parts, the plastic is removed from the final prints leaving mostly metal behind in a one or two-step process.

In addition, metal filaments that are produced for making metal parts must contain a high percentage of metal powder – around 80%. Not just that, but they also have to go through a thorough post-processing to remove any remaining plastic components and to condense the metal.

To put it into the simplest terms, metal 3D printing filament is the same as any other filament but with the addition of metal. This means that metal filaments can be used with a regular desktop material extrusion technology 3D printer. The only difference would be that you’ll likely need to switch out your usual nozzle with a special one designed for use with metal filaments. And of course, a desktop 3D printer is not suited for industrial metal 3D printing both from a throughput and from a quality perspective.

Metal filaments come in a variety of metal types, ranging from copper and bronze to iron and stainless steel, but always make sure not to confuse these metal filaments with non-metal filaments that are named things like “aluminum” or “copper”, which refers to their color.

Filaments that are sold as PLA+metal, are not metal filaments as they only include 5% to 40% metal powder to give a metallic look.

Learn more about HP 3D printing metal materials and applications.

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Footnotes and disclaimers

  1. Data courtesy of Lumenium
  2. Data courtesy of Volkswagen