3D Printing & Imaging
How It Is Made: 3D Printing Filament

Have you ever wondered how the filament for your 3D printer was made? We got a chance to go frolic in a warehouse where that exact thing was being done. While pretty much anyone who is familiar with 3D printing may know the basics, there are probably a point or two where they’ve got it wrong!

The biggest misconception about filament production is the nozzle. Most people assume, like we did, that the machine would work just like a giant filastruder. It would push molten material out of a nozzle at the right diameter, which would then be wound onto a spool. Heck, even standing in front of the machine you may think that is what is happening! As Josh Smith, owner of Makergeeks.com, points out in the video, there is a bit more magic to it.

Apparently it isn’t only pushed through in the first place. The two common diameters of 3D printer filament (3mm and 1.75mm) are both pulled through the same size die! The roundness isn’t determined strictly by the opening of the die, but more by the complex cooling that happens immediately afterward.

This was truly an enlightening visit. I really enjoyed playing with the various toys and hearing Josh’s stories about how difficult it was to even get this machine running in the first place. I’m looking forward to hearing how his business grows, I know he has expressed plans for adding additional production units.

11 thoughts on “How It Is Made: 3D Printing Filament

  1. I bought my printer from Josh @ Makergeeks. I enjoy it immensely and I’m getting low on filament. Nice to know that the next order is available from a supplier right here in the USA! While 3D Printers are not Star Trek matter Replicators, YET?, its a great tool for design and prototyping for the make community and to teach the children to MAKE something! Thanks Josh and Thanks Make for the cool video on it!

  2. I buy my ABS from IC3D… also made in the USA (in Ohio) by 3D printers, for 3D printers. So far I’ve been really happy with the results. Hopefully they start selling PLA soon… I got some from ToyBuilderLabs that was great in quality, but the color was way off. IC3D distributes through Amazon to make the logistics easier. Bonus for those of us with Prime memberships… free shipping!

    1. Charles,
      No one here will mind you pointing out that IC3D also makes filament in the states. However, you should be clear that you are involved, not that you just buy from them.

      1. Hi Caleb,
        Sounds good. Full disclosure: I know the founder of IC3D and sometimes attend the same local 3D printer user group as he does. I do not work for IC3D. Early in their process of launching their crowd funding campaign I agreed to be in the video as a customer. I have also contributed printing tips to their website. I do not currently receive free filament, discounted filament, or any other perks or benefits from them. I did receive a couple of rolls for free when they were first setting up the line to use as a tester and also when they tried a new, clear formulation, again as a tester. Since then I get my filament from them the same way everyone else does… I purchase it through Amazon. That is my background and basic relationship with IC3D.

        I have watched IC3D go through a similar startup process to Makergeeks, solve the challenges in a similar way, and end up making a good product locally while behaving like a good corporate citizen. These actions resonate with my values as a maker, so when it is relevant I spread the word about their filament. I apologize for my post sounding like a paid advertisement as that was not my intent. I just like something that I think is good and want others to know about it. Ditto for Veritas Tavern in Delaware, Ohio, Burley bicycle trailers, MSR camping stoves, Inventables, and Arduino. I have had great experiences with those companies and want to see them succeed because they have treated me right.

        If you have any more questions for me, just ask. Transparency is a great thing and I will answer them in that spirit to the best of my ability.

  3. I didn’t realize that this still more art than science. Really glad you guys posted this. I’d love to see more of these makers-behind-the-makers videos. We use this kind of stuff all the time and it is instructive to hear how the “pros” make as well. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I just started buying from Maker Geeks at the suggestion of a friend. Their stuff really is fantastic and the price/shipping is excellent. I’m amazed that everything comes off of that one machine.

  5. Hey thanks everyone for all your kind words and support… this was really fun to get to do and we are SO excited to be able to offer this filament not only for all our MakerGeek clients but to all the private lable clients we work with here in the USA – you might be using our filament and not even know it! Enjoy the day and MAKE ON!!!

  6. I don’t understand the random jab at China, especially because they’re buying ABS pellets from China! Am I supposed to think that a guy in Missouri is going to have more experience or expertise in this complicated “art form” than the collective experience available overseas? Unfortunately it makes him look ignorant or racist, since he didn’t given any explanation, and the part at the end about how it’s prayer, not science, that makes the filament come out the right size doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

    Also, Caleb: The size of the filament is determined by the speed at which it’s pulled, not by the “complex cooling process”. Did you watch the video?

  7. Makergeeks.com is a scam shop! I am disappointed to see that Make Magazine is associating themselves with these folks. Clearly they didn’t do their research. Not great journalism guys! You can do better. I want to see an article on a reputable US filament manufacturer like Push Plastics. Toms Guide dropped Makegeeks from their website because of complaints: http://www.tomsguide.com/forum/id-2504424/tomsguide-linking-makergeeks-diy-printer-scam-warning.html. There are videos of Youtube. They are known for shipping bad printer kits and removing or negative reviews from their website. So sad!

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Senior Editor for Make: I get ridiculously excited seeing people make things. I just want to revel in the creativity of the masses! My favorite thing in the world is sharing the hard work of a maker.

I'd always love to hear about what you're making, so send me an email any time at caleb@make.co

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