3D Printing Material: Flexible Plastic

Flexible Plastic Skirt in TPU by Sculpteo material page Flexible Plastic heart in TPU by Sculpteo_material page Flexible Plastic skirt in TPU by Sculpteo_material page Flexible Plastic wheels in TPU by Sculpteo_material page
Flexible Plastic Skirt in TPU by Sculpteo_material page_small Flexible Plastic heart in TPU by Sculpteo_material page_small Flexible Plastic skirt in TPU by Sculpteo_material page_small Flexible Plastic wheels in TPU by Sculpteo_material page_small



Overview

Here you will find all the information, tricks, know-how, and advice to help you print your 3D model in our flexible plastic material. You will learn about the:

We kindly inform you that this material is not available online anymore. If you wish to 3D print parts in Flexible Plastic, please contact our Sales team, or discover our new flexible plastic: PEBA.

General information & Printing Techniques

Our Flexible Plastic Material

The flexible plastic objects printed through Sculpteo are created from a fine polyurethane granular powder, more commonly known as TPU. Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) is any of a class of polyurethane plastics and is technically a thermoplastic elastomer. The material combines high elasticity and abrasion resistance, but doesn't have the solidity of the other nylon-based plastics offered by Sculpteo. The technical name of Flexible Plastic is TPU-65A, which means that its flexibility is defined by a shore hardness of 65A. Flexible Plastic is great for both experienced professionals and beginning designers because of its elasticity, its good precision and low cost. The raw material looks off-white, grainy and porous. It has a rubber-like aspect, but slightly more silky. 

Processing Times and Pricing

The printing price of your design is calculated automatically the moment it is placed online. As you modify your object (changing size, using batch control or hollowing feature, etc.) you will note that the price changes automatically. The pricing is based on a series of factors, including: total volume, object size, and bounding box - to name a few.

Your Flexible Plastic object is estimated to arrive in 4-10 business days. The estimated shipping time is also calculated automatically as the object is uploaded.

Delivery time should be added to processing time and depends on the delivery option you choose.

Printing techniques


PA process

Sculpteo uses a process called Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) for flexible plastic prints. After your design is uploaded to the Sculpteo website, it undergoes a couple steps before it is physically created:

  • Model transferred to 3D printer
  • Once you upload your 3D model to our website, it is received by a Sculpteo team member, who expertly places the model into the next available batch. The specific printer from which it will be printed is determined mainly by the dimensions of your object or batch, the larger prints being reserved for the larger printers. We have multiple printers available including: the EOS Formiga P100, P110, P395, P396 and P730

  • Object is 3D printed
  • SLS uses a highly specific laser that sinters thin layers of TPU powder together one layer at a time. After each round of lasering, the printing bed is lowered and another layer of powder is evenly swept across the top for another round of sintering. This process is repeated at a layer height of 100 µm until the object is completed.

  • Removal from Batch
  • After the printer cools, the block of sintered TPU powder is removed from printer and the printed objects are removed by hand. A part of the TPU powder that was not sintered is recycled back into the printer for a future print.

  • Brushing and Sandblasting
  • The object is then brushed, which removes a large portion of the TPU powder, and sandblasted, which removes the fine TPU powder that the brush may have missed. Because of the elasticity of the material, the sandblasting process may not be completely done and you may remove some extra powder at the first use of your flexible object.

Uses and Maintenance


Flexible Plastic Skirt in TPU by Sculpteo_material page_banner

TPU offers great variety when 3D printing, especially complex models, as it is flexible and durable. As a result, the objects in this material have a wide range of uses from mechanical (prototypes, cases, strips, articulated objects, etc.), educational (organ structures, etc.), or fashion (have a look on Anastasia Ruiz skirt done with TPU).

Technical properties of flexible plastic change depending on the thickness of your model. With a 1,2 mm wall thickness, your model will be very flexible, easily bendable. With a 3 mm wall thickness, it will become more rigid. The technical name of Flexible Plastic is TPU-65A, which means that its flexibility is defined by a shore hardness of 65A. Please check our  blog post on elastic modulus measurements for more information on flexibility.

Flexible Plastic is a polyester-based TPU which gives him an excellent oil and grease resistance. With regards to water qualities, Fexible Plastic is water-resistant but not waterproof at all, since it is very porous. Thus the 3D object must not rest in contact with water for extended periods of time. In terms of temperature, if the plastic is subjected to heat above 120°C (248°F), it is possible that the physical form of the object can significantly altered.

The rough and porous surface of flexible plastic objects can attract dirt. This can often be remedied with soapy water and a cloth, letting it dry thoroughly.  

Design Guidelines

Printing Resolution

Layer Thickness 100 µm


Our TPU 3D printer, the EOS P395 gives us a layer precision of 100 µm (0.10mm).

Size Limitations

Maximum size unpolished 150 x 120 x 120 mm

Since the material is still in beta, the maximum size of your flexible plastics models are less than the physical size of our 3D printers.

There is no minimum size for polyurethane prints, keeping in mind minimum thickness for walls and structural aspects, to ensure the object will not break is 1.5 mm.

Large flat sections are not the best for this material. If you have a large flat section on your design, they can be a little bit more grainy than other section of the design. That being said, our operators can do wonders working with the orientation of the part in the part.To avoid large flat section, using our Hollowing tool can transform lots a flat layers into layers that are more "opened".

Minimum Thickness and Geometry of Your 3D Model

Minimum wall thickness (flexible) 1.5 mm
Minimum wall thickness (rigid) 3 mm
Minimum wall thickness stemmed elements 1.5 mm with support
1.5 mm without support
Minimum wall thickness particular design aspects 1-2 mm

Diagram to show the minimum thickness for 3D printed Flexible Plastic.png

The walls of your design must adhere to a minimum thickness of 1.5 mm in order to guarantee the structure will not break. If the walls of your model are less than 1.5 mm, you can add a support structure to maintain stability.

A stemmed element is a design aspect which is at least twice as long as it is thick. For unsupported and stemmed elements or parts of the design with a particular design constraint, it is also important to respect a minimum thickness of 1.5 mm in order to guarantee the object will not break.

Tips
Icon to show that you can ad a support structure to maintain stability

Add a support structure to maintain stability. For example, if you are modeling a bust of a person, you can attach thin aspects of the design like the ears in more places around the model’s head. Doing that will avoid cantilevered and easily breakable elements in the final print.



With a 1.5 mm wall thickness, your design will be very flexible. To obtain more rigidity, we advice a 3mm wall thickness.

Good to know

Thin walls supporting large, heavy plastic models can warp under the weight of itself.



Sculpteo offers an online solidity check tool which highlights parts of the print that may be too thin for a print. From there you are able to tweak your design in order to create an object that is an appropriate thickness. To use it, you just need to upload your 3D file, select your material and clic on “Verification” tab.

It is also important to keep in mind that the object is to be printed into real life. Thus if a thin aspect is supporting something that is too heavy for it, it may break - even though it is possible within the physics provided by your 3D modeling software. We recommend adding a bit of thickness to the places that will get a lot of handling, or that support the most weight.

Do not forget
Icon to keep in mind that solidity check tool don't detect physical aberrations

Keep in mind that our solidity check tool does not detect physical aberrations such as floating parts, unstable position, parts supporting too much weight relative to its thickness, etc. Particular care must be given to the geometry of your design and the most stressed parts must be thickened.


Etching/Embossing Depths

Minimum size of details 0.5 mm
Minimum height and width details Embossed : 1.5 mm
Engraved : 1.5 mm
Minimum height and width for a readable text 1.5 mm
Enlargement ratio 1/1

Diagram to show the etching and embossing depths for 3D printed Flexible_plastic

A detail’s minimum precision is mainly determined by the resolution of our 3D printers. However, during the cleaning process, a fine layer of detail can also be lost. In order for a detail and text to be visible we recommend following our recommended sizes at the very least.

It’s possible that particularly fine embossings and engravings will not be visible, as the carving could get filled with excess powder that is later unable to be cleaned out. If an embossing or engraving is an essential part of your design we recommend making them as deep as possible. To ensure a better powder removal (thus a better detail visibility), the width of your details must be at least as big as depth.


Difference of embossing between two black 3d print

Enclosed and Interlocking Volumes

Enclosed parts ? Yes
Interlocking parts ? Yes

PA details

Our flexible plastic material has the ability to print the most complex designs of our materials. An example of a complex design is a volume enclosed within another volume, like a chain or maraca. Our 3D printers have the ability to 3D print a fully interlocked chain our of the printer, with no support structures to remove.

Minimum Spacing and Clearances

Minimum spacing between fixed walls 1 mm
Minimum clearance between parts 1 mm

Diagram to show the minimum spacing and clearance needed for 3D printed Flexible Plastic

For a successful 3D print a minimum clearance between objects is required to allow excess material to be sand blown out. If this space is not left within the design, the object will be a solid. This is particularly important for articulated objects - as the space left between the walls will define the object’s ability to move.

Clearance should be at least 1 mm and depends on your objects size. For big sizes, the clearance should be greater. The heated zone of your object depends on the size, the larger the object the more time it will be exposed to high temperature : if the space left between the walls is too small, it will be weld because of heat spreading. In some cases, holes should be added to allow us to drain for the excess powder material within the clearance.

Do not forget

Clearance should be at least 1 mm, however that is the minumum for small objects. Larger objects require more space between their parts. This is due to the SLS printing process. Our printer beds are heated during the process, and larger objects are heated for longer periods. A small space between marge objects runs the risk of melting together as it remains under heat for a long period of time. In some other cases, holes should be added to allow us to drain for the excess powder material within the clearance.


Piece Assembly Restrictions

Assembly ? No


Since the Flexible Plastic material is in beta, we do not guarantee that your objects  can be printed to be assembled. 

Hollowing

Hollowing ? Yes

Diagram to optimize the hollowing

Our online hollowing optimization tool has the ability to greatly reduce the price of a print by reducing the amount of material used.

Using the tool requires adding two holes to your model, which will serve as the drain for the excess powder material within the object. The minimum size of these holes is determined by our website. Otherwise it is possible to hollow your object manually in your 3D modeling software. In this case the holes must be at least 1.5 mm width.

Files with multiple objects

Files with Multiple Objects ? No

Icon to show that you can't print a 3D file containing several objects

It is not possible to 3D print a 3D file containing several objects with our 3D plastic printers.

Technical specifications


To learn more about TPU technical specifications, refer to the following documents:


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