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TPE Material 3D Printing - Tips and Tricks

TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer) is a flexible material. In order to achieve the best possible outcome when 3D printing with TPE material you have to optimize the feed rate. It is recommended to print at a reduced layer height of around 0.1mm to 0.2mm range. As the height is lower, a reduced amount of plastic is required and that enables the extruder to use a reduced feed rate, easing the pressure on the filament.

The best results when printing with TPE will be seen when printing with a slow and consistent speed. As TPE has a high level of elasticity, it can mean that any sudden changes can cause a loss of control in the print speed. Fast print speeds can result in the filament compressing and will lead to a jam, meaning that slow and steady is the best approach to take.

Watch band which has been produced by 3D printing with TPE
Baby bottle cap which is 3D printed with Thermoplastic Elastomer
Contact lenses box which has been manufactured with TPE
Medical tubes as examples of TPE material in Medical tubes as examples of TPE in 3D printing
Tooth brushes produced by 3D printing with TPE material

Main features

Impact strength: high
Durability: high
Flexibility: very high

Resistance

Chemical resistance: medium-high
Abrasion resistance: high
Water resistance: medium

Temperatures

Nozzle/ extruder: 220-250 degrees Celsius
Heated bed: 0-60 degrees Celsius
Closed chamber: Not necessary

Downpoints

TPE is more difficult to print compared to other filament materials, mainly due to its flexibility.

Features of TPE material

Thermoplastic Elastomer has a wide range of features, making it a suitable choice for various applications when it comes to 3D printing.

Fatigue resistant

It is extremely fatigue resistant when it comes to flexing which makes it perfect for those applications where it will be required to flex. Due to its superb electrical properties, it is often found in applications where it is required to prevent electricity conduction such as wiring.

Tear resistant

Capable of heavy use, it is resistant to tear, abrasions and high impact. TPE material is also capable of withstanding temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius and as high as 140 degrees Celsius.

For businesses that are looking to enhance the way in which they work and improve the impact on the environment, Thermoplastic Elastomer is a specifically good material as it is recyclable.

Music boxes that are made by 3d printing Thermoplastic Elastomer
With TPE material a garden tool is being produced
Stopper of a can that is made with TPE material
Plastic items as an example of what can be 3D printed with TPE material

Industries that use TPE material in 3D Printing

Thermoplastic Elastomers (TPE) are flexible materials that can be stretched to twice their length when they are at room temperature. Once the material has been stretched, it will then return to its original size and that is why it is now being used more frequently in the 3D printing process. In fact, it is now a material that is beginning to replace traditional rubbers due to its wide range of benefits and uses. There are many different industries that use Thermoplastic Elastomer because its features offer them a number of advantages.

Food Contact TPE

Thermoplastic Elastomer that has been food-contact approved will often be found in baby spoons and toddler cup spouts. This is because it is free from concern-causing chemicals.

Medical and Healthcare

As a result of the high regulations regarding safety in this industry, TPE material is the perfect choice as it can be sterilized by using autoclaves and even gamma radiation. They can also be designed so that they can be biocompatible with high levels of purity and low levels of leachable substances. In some instances, they can be used in place of latex and even silicone.

Industries that use seals

There are many industries that use seals such as the marine and automotive industry. Traditionally, sealing rings have been developed using thermoset rubbers. Now TPE makes it possible to create sealings that are colored and co-moulded so that they make two-component seals. There is an increased level of efficiency when using TPE material, which means that seals can be produced quicker than thermoset rubbers.

Wires and Cables

TPE material is used in industries that use wire and cable, fibre optic and electrical applications. TPE offers a wide range of functionalities, it can be customized and it is perfect for engineering and prototyping.

A syringe that has been fabricated with TPE material
A shoe that has elements that are 3D printed with TPE filament
A Swiss army knife that has been made by 3d printing TPE material
Boxes that have been manufactured with TPE

TPE material 3D printing tips

Using TPE as a 3D printing material offers a wide range of benefits but there are some issues worth considering before printing with the material. Too much filament can cause a wide range of problems as it can result in an increase in pressure on the drive gear, which then causes more filament to feed through. Excessive friction before and after the drive gear can cause problems. So when printing with Thermoplastic Elastomer, it is important to remember that there are some requirements that have to be met in order to obtain a successful outcome.

The 3D printer extruder head starts the first layer of ABS material

1. Slow and consistent printing speed

As mentioned, the slower the print speed, the better the result and so, printing at 35 mm/sec or less will deliver better results. It is not required to use a heated build platform. When using a heated build plate, do not set the temperature higher than 60 degrees Celsius because this will negatively influence the adhesion.

Red 3D printed object with TPU flexible filament

2. Avoid using rafts and use a negative tolerance

When 3D printing with TPE material, it is important to avoid the use of rafts because the base layers of the raft often have an increased extrusion rate and that could lead to potential problems.

With regard to 3D prints where the finished product will need to fit on top of another object, a negative tolerance should be used between the parts. This will ensure that the flexible part will have the ability to stretch over the other object in order to fit tightly.

Bowden extruder which is 3D printing flexible filament

3. Shorten the distance

If there is a gap between the extruder drive gear and the entry hole of the hot end, then the filament could buckle. If this occurs then the filament will seek another way out. If left unattended, it can cause a so-called bird’s nest or spaghetti, resulting in a jam.

To experience the best results the distance between the drive gear and the melt zone of the hot end should not be to long, so that the filament can be fed into the nozzle efficiently. Even more important is that there should also be tight tolerances along the pathway that the filament will travel, in order to prevent kinking and coiling.

When using TPE it is possible to obtain good results by using both Bowden type extruders and direct drive extruders. When switching between materials, it is crucial to purge thoroughly before 3D printing.

Filament spool above a 3D printer unwinds downwards

4. Placement of the spool

Tweaking the material spool can make a huge difference. Naturally, the extruder will pull the filament into the nozzle, resulting in the filament spool that is mounted on your 3D printer to unwind a small amount of plastic. However, the elasticity of Thermoplastic Elastomer will mean that the filament will be stretched out when it is pulled in by the extruder leading to under-extrusion. So, try mounting the spool above the printer so that the filament unwinds downwards which can lead to a reduced level of resistance.

What do you want to create by 3D printing with TPE?

By now you understand TPE's strengths and weaknesses. Of course it is vital to choose a 3D printing machine that is able to get the best out of this material.

Create small and detailed parts

a FDM printing machine next to a desk

With a 3D printer on your desk you can easily create small parts and specialized tools yourself. It is far less complex than other machines, which means that you can produce more products in an efficient and simple way without the high costs. The 3D printers in our desk-series have a fast printing speed, a high accuracy and a low weight, making it easy to put on your desktop or move around.

Create strong and light weight parts

PEEK 3D printer of Tractus3D

High-performance materials, like PEEK and ULTEM® (PEI) are stronger and more resistant than other thermoplastics, making them popular in a number of engineering applications. To 3D print such materials, you need a special printer that can handle very high temperatures. The T650-P is designed for 3D printing high performance thermoplastics, which are strong and durable for long-lasting parts.

Create large parts up to 2,1 meters

Tractus3D big delta Industrial 3D printer 3D printing a big object

The ability to use 3D printing to enhance business operations, reduce costs and improve efficiency is exactly why a 3D printer has become a popular solution. If you’re looking for a way to produce detailed and big objects our large volume 3D printers are an excellent choice. They have a much larger build size than most other industrial 3D printers and can print objects fast at a high resolution.

Tractus3D printers are all capable of printing with TPE and over 20 other materials

Most advanced  Competitively priced  You are always covered

Flexibility in many ways

If you have opted to print with TPE or are considering using TPE material, then it’s clear to see that it is a printing material that offers significant benefits in a wide range of industries. Thermoplastic Elastomer is a filament that can transform 3D printing and this is why it is being adopted across a broad and varying range of industries, from the medical industry right through to wiring and cabling industries. This is down to the fact that it has many different features, making it the perfect choice to use in applications where flexibility is a priority, but also durability and versatility. TPE material can provide manufacturers a more flexible way of 3D printing. When correctly used it can result in an increased level of efficiency and increased productivity.

Tractus3D printers are also flexible in terms of possibilities. With our 'open filament system' we provide you freedom of choice. This means you are free to choose your prefered filament supplier and not obligated to buy a particular brand. There are also many other materials available and not just TPE, for example PLA, ABS, PEEK, PEI/ Ultem™ and ASA.

Quality and Accuracy

For those looking for quality and accuracy, Tractus3D printers offer it all because of the resolution which the machines can reach and the way they are build. Therefore, if you are aiming to create products that consist of quality and accuracy, this is possible when using TPE and Tractus3D.

Do you have a question about 3D printing TPE? We are here for you!

We are happy to help and to provide you the assistance you need in researching the ideal solution for your business - in whatever way works best for you.

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