Archive | November, 2016

Filament review: ColorFabb PLA-PHA variables

23 Dec

Filament review: ColorFabb PLA-PHA variables

This is the filament I have the most experience with, on both good and bad. I purchased my first rolls 1.5 years ago. I had worked really hard for a long time and thought that I would reward myself with some prime quality filament so I stocked up on 10 rolls of all the colors I wanted!

Up until buying from ColorFabb, I had only used filament from high quality vendors like Faberdashery, Diamond Age and Ultimachine. Given all the positive comments I'd seen from others I expected the same (or maybe even better?) from this Dutch vendor. I was wrong. Months of clogged extruders ensued.

The cost of troubleshooting

I purchased spare parts for several hundred Euros from Ultimaker, just so I could exclude that as being the problem. I practically rebuilt the entire extrusion system without being able to solve the clogs. I even went as far to buy a proper Fluke HWAC multimeter so that I could measure temperatures properly. I also incorrectly blamed Ultimaker & Cura for some of the issues hmmm

Tons of tests...

I eventually came down to the conclusion that the clogs came from inconsistent diameters (sometimes above 3mm, far from 2.85mm) and very varying quality of the plastic. For most plugs I'd find some black thing at the nozzle tip while cleaning it out. I should point out that cleaning out an ultimaker isn't very simple as you'll often have to disassemble half the print head. Not a fun task to do several times a day, especially since I also printed 800+ meters of Faberdashery plastic on the same printer without a single filament error...

Replacement rolls

I wrote several polite emails with the support crew at ColorFabb and I have to say their support is really stellar. Nothing to complain about there. They told me that both the formulation & diameter had been off on several of the early rolls, and offered to replace all my rolls with new filament at no cost. That's pretty good service?

Problem was - when I got the rolls, some of them were better but by no means all. Argh... I've paid almost 450 EUR for those rolls, I have to make them work! After a lot of testing & rebuilds of extrusion system on my Ultimaker, I came to the conclusion that the only way I could print with them was going far above the recommended 210C. Even then it would clog now and then if I tried to go too fast. Others at my hackerspace had similar experiences, but a friend using 1.75mm Colorfabb filament never has issues? My Ultimaker Original is equipped with a 100% original extrusion system and the only speciality is the added dual extruder & heated bed. None of these should have any effect on the printing.

New printer, new problems

I solved most my ColorFabb problems by printing really hot and cooling the Ultimaker hotend down with an extra fan as I printed. If I tried to go anywhere near their official recommendation, the printer would clog right away. This worked so well that when I built my new printer, I was completely flabbergasted when I got similar problems here. The new printer had an E3D hotend that I had heard tons of positive feedback on. As soon as I added ColorFabb's PLA/PHA, the printer choked unless I printed at 20-30C above the recommendation.

After a month of trying to solve the problem without using extra heat, I gave up. I then realised that my roll of Ultra Marine Blue didn't have a consistent color? The color varied quite a bit along the roll. I contacted ColorFabb and yet again they replaced the roll. Excellent service, and this time half the roll have printed nicely. Strange?

Tangles! I never had that with any other vendor of plastic on spools hmmm

The PLA / PHA combo has major differences from other vendors. One is the addition of PHA, another bioplastic. It is apparently this that gives this PLA it's shine and makes it less brittle than other PLA. I'm by no means an expert on bioplastics, but there is something that makes this PLA/PHA mix more prone to stick to the inside walls of the extruder. Most often, you'll pull this buildup out with the filament after a blockage, but some will remain and must be removed with the "Atomic pull" method.

I've learned that most industry players use PLA from NatureWorks. ColorFabb buys their PLA from FKuR Kunststoff in Germany. I dunno what to say other than that it has some other (and less desirable) properties than the NatureWorks PLA. ColorFabb did however tell me that they only use NatureWorks PLA in their transparent PLA filaments and sure enough - it performs a lot better.

Colorfabb's response

ColorFabb says that the printer settings may vary (even among the same model) and that their recommendations can't work for everyone. I must say that I find frustrating to hear that from a vendor when all my 3 printers (PrintbotJr, Ultimaker Original, BAMM) as well as friends printers need to go to the same high temperatures to extrude it well. What makes this even more frustrating is that companies like MadeSolid publish guidelines for lots of printers and these worked for me right away?

I am now printing successfully with PETG from MadeSolid, PLA from Faberdashery, some really old ABS from Makerbot (back when they made 3mm filament), ABS from Protoparadigm, Proto-pasta's carbon fibre infused PLA, 2 year old PLA from Diamond Age, NinjaFlex, PLA/ABS/flexible rubber from PlastInk, PLA from Ultimaker and even Taulman 618/645 Nylon. Not a single blockage with any of these, but as soon as I insert the PLA/PHA mix from Colorfabb, my extruder will clog up. How fast this happens will vary, but I can't trust it for longer prints.

I just had to throw away two entire rolls of white PLA/PHA since the quality was so inconsistent that the layer height varied so much it was clearly visible (see below). Printing the same object with the same settings using Silver colored Ultimaker PLA gives me excellent looking results:

They're so different that you'd think it was printed on two different printers? This really is a shame as my two black rolls of PLA/PHA (made the same month!) will produce great looking results, even at fairly low temperatures???

I have completely given up on ColorFabb and it's a shame as they make so many cool things such as WoodFill, CopperFill & BronceFill. I just can't afford to spend more time on it as I've easily spent more than 100 hours cleaning out nozzles, solving clogs and failed prints. That's bad for business and not what I'd call "production quality". It's simply too inconsistent. I have a "trick" of working with it that "sort of" works and that's doing 5-6 atomic pull's with Taulman 645 Nylon before anything more than tiny prints. I'm also printing at speeds far higher than I like (due to the mass of the 30x30cm heated bed). This causes bandings in the prints, but then at least I can use the filament rather than just throw it away. It'll still get me plenty of jammed nozzles though.

Since MadeSolid now sells 15 different colors, so I'll get my PETG from them instead. As for PLA - rumours say that Faberdashery will soon begin shipping their 28 different plastics on spools. I guess I might buy my xmas filament from them instead.

BAMM settings for ColorFabb PLA/PHA

The BAM Makeblock printer has a BulldogXL extruder with a Hexagon nozzle. I use the following settings with PLA/PHA from ColorFabb:

  • Temperature: 220-240C
  • Speed: 70mm/sec (faster = less jams / clogs)
  • Retraction: 1.5mm @ 20mm/sec (less retraction = less deposits)
  • Extruder tension: screws 0.0mm out (solid pressure)
  • Heated bed: 50C
  • Fan: full (to compensate for excessive temp required to prevent plugs)


Filament review: NinjaFlex rocks!

06 Oct

Filament review: NinjaFlex rocks!

I've been meaning to test the flexible NinjaFlex materials, but having an Ultimaker made that impossible. Flexible filaments and bowden tubes don't play well as the friction of the plastic makes it curl and stop. With the new BAM printer, I have a direct extruder mounted just above the hotend. This is the ideal setup for flexible filaments and with the newly fitted Bulldog XL extruder it's a snap to change materials.

It's incredibly strong!

I can't quite get over how solid objects printed with NinjaFlex are. They're soft in that they can be curled together, but will regain their shape easily. If you print a single wall of NinjaFlex (0.4mm thick) it will take a lot of force to tear it apart. My first print was exactly that - a single wall stretchlet.

My first reaction was how soft it felt? Then I tried to tear it apart and I failed? I gave it to my teenager son, but he also couldn't tear it apart. I then put my foot on it and pulled with full force by two hands... It expanded to 5-8 times the original length and then snapped just like a rubber band. Only when it snapped (main image) could you see any sign of layer separation. Amazing stuff!

Uses for flexible materials

The elasticity offers some very desirable properties. For instance, a 2-perimeter bracelet can also be used as a hair band in a crisis. It is perfect for making noise dampening rubber feet for your Makeblock printer, BMX grips, phone bumpers and RC tyres. Fenner Drives that makes the NinjaFlex filament, recently came out with more colors including silver & gold! I'm really looking forward to play more with this filament. I picked mine up from E3D along with other parts, but you can find it many places.

BAM printer settings

The BAM Makeblock printer has a BulldogXL extruder with a Hexagon nozzle. I use the following settings with Ninjaflex:

  • Temperature: 220C
  • Speed: <= 30mm/sec
  • Retraction: 2.5mm @ 20mm/sec
  • Extruder tension: screws 2mm out (almost none as friction is extremely high)
  • Heated bed: 40C
  • Fan: none

If you go faster than 30mm/sec, the plastic will curl up inside the BulldogXL extruder.

Filament Review: PET+ from MadeSolid

28 Sep

Filament Review: PET+ from MadeSolid

Some time ago I posted some tests done with Colorfabb's XT plastic. I'm guessing that the people from MadeSolid read that and wanted me to test their PET+ filament? I love testing new plastics so of course I said yes to getting some samples!

Just like Colorfabb XT, the PET+ material from MadeSolid is made from PET plastic so I expected the two to be kind of similar. PET is the plastic used in drinking bottles and food containers, so just from that you know it's solid. It's much more solid than PLA as it's not brittle at all. It's stronger than ABS and extrudes at temperatures somewhere between PLA & ABS.

More colors

I had actually looked at the MadeSolid materials just the week before as they could offer both transparent, translucent and opaque PET+ filament with a decent range of colors as well. Just last week, Colorfabb also introduced some opaque colors, but at the same time they upped the required temperature from 220-240C to 240-260C making them harder to use for many.

As opposed to Colorfabb, the MadeSolid guys offer extensive printer profiles for their filaments It is quite interesting to see as this highlights how differently the various printers are tuned. A Leapfrog printer should be set to 225C, but a Makerbot should be at all the way up to 255C!


I really like how the final prints look. They come out glossy and the material is very easy to work with. There is a tiny amount of warp, but a brim is sufficient to hold things down on the build surface.

T-Rex at 0.2mm & UltimakerRobot at 0.005mm. One can clearly see that I need to tune the printer a bit more as I have some "wobbly" somewhere, but the prints look really good despite that.

I received about 5 meters of the clear & 10 meters of the white PET+. With this I printed quite a few tests, but I ran out of sample plastic before I got the settings properly dialled in for my printer. That is - I thought that I had it right, but when exposed to pressure it turned out the layers had not bonded fully?

I did some bonding tests and it seems that on my current Hexagon hotend, I need to go to 235-245C to get proper layer adhesion. Oh well...

The transparent PET+ actually seems a little easier to work with than the XT as I'm not getting these tiny blobs along walls that I do with XT. All the walls of the Raaco resistor-box came out looking perfect and the final print is so solid that I need pliers to damage it. When reflecting a light-source it also appears to be more shiny/reflective than the XT, though the transmissive properties are very similar.

Bridging & supports

Bridging was interesting. I had a model that has a decent bridge. It's 29mm so I didn't expect that to work, but initially it looked to be going well. Then the plastic started smearing onto the nozzle and things became really ugly. I set the print to pause, cleaned it up and kept running at a higher speed. That turned out to be a bummer. After a lot of cleaning, I realised that going slower was the best. Next time I'll use Slic3r instead of Cura so I can tweak the speed for bridges.

The print came out fine in the end and I was really impressed by how easy it was to remove the supports? That was of course related to the poor layer adhesion that I discovered later, but after testing some more it seems to be just as easy to remove PET-based support as it is to remove ABS.

I am really liking this plastic, so I just purchased some rolls with the translucent colors (red + blue) as well as opaque white. I wish that MadeSolid had more colors available (like translucent & opaque yellow, orange, purple & more), but I guess that'll come with time.

Next up for this weekend is testing flexible filaments. I have two rolls of NinjaFlex as well as "transparent rubber" from the Italian company PlastInk. Should be fun!

BAM printer settings

The BAM Makeblock printer has a BulldogXL extruder with a Hexagon nozzle. I use the following settings with PET+:

  • Temperature: 225-235C
  • Speed: 50mm/sec
  • Retraction: 2.5mm @ 20mm/sec
  • Extruder tension: screws 0.5mm out (quite solid pressure)
  • Heated bed: 40C
  • Fan: none

Just days after I sent my order, MadeSolid published a lot of new colors. Now they have 15 different colors to choose from. Pretty good!