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October 22, 2017

Solutech PLA Filament

Having a couple of 3D printers means that for the care and feeding, I need to keep an eye on the mechanics and feed them, what seems like, endless amounts of filament.

Filaments I’ve obtained from our local makerspace who supply MG Chemical filaments, or via online. All dependent on what I’m looking for. While getting 1Kg for what I deem as a decent price is nice, there are times when that isn’t possible. If I want it, I get it. Simple enough.

Amazon seems to be trying to be one of the best sources of filament on the market, no doubt because of the free shipping. But their prices are up and down like a spasmodic yo-yo. One day a filament will be “on sale” for $14, the next day it will be $38. The day after $26. You have to watch the price roller coaster like a hawk if you’re using a lot of filament.

Still, I am always on the hunt for new filaments to test to see how they work for me. Therein lies the point. How they work for me. In my printer. For my models. I don’t assume for one second that everyone will experience the same results as I do. At best, might give you a heads up on what you might encounter.

I’m using my delta Kossel printers and those can work significantly different than others.

Standard Brands

My normal PLA filament brands are, in no particular order, Hatchbox, AMZ3D, and MG Chemicals. These are my goto filaments.

Why three different brands?

Simply put, while I’d like to say that all PLA flows, melts, and has the same finish after printing, my experience is that each of them is just different enough that they lend themselves well to specific types of print jobs. Or printed objects if you want to cut to the chase.

General purpose printing, MG Chemicals, and AMZ3D are fairly close. I do tend to use more of AMZ3D because for the same cost, I prefer the non-cardboard sided spools. Having said that, there are some colours in the MG PLA that are nicer than their counterpart in the AMZ3D line.

HatchBox Colour

Hatchbox has Pantone colours so when I need to use that, and I want a premium filament, out comes the Hatchbox. This used to be more true than now. Red PLA used to look more orange to my eye, but that has changed enough so red from most of the companies is actually red, not off-shore red or orange. Yep, they finally get it.

But while Hatchbox has a great filament, I’ve experienced something odd when printing their Red. The dye they use it vaporized coming out of the nozzle to a fine mist/fume and it has tint coated the front of my hot end heat sink. Least I think it’s the red, I also have some Hatchbox transparent red I was printing, but those are the only two red PLA filaments I have.

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Before I took that photo, I’d used a Dremel with a brass brush to clean some of the red off. It was seriously coated.

Solutech PLA

Which brings me to a new brand I picked up from Amazon. Mainly because it was on sale, it’s advertised as “true colour” and I need some orange. No, not for printing Halloween pumpkins…

I ordered a spool of orange, and blue. Never did anything special in the printer, just loaded the orange filament and started a print job. At the same settings I’d use for my standard filaments.

In the photo you can see the filament looks sort of red on the spool but seems to print out in “early pumpkin”. It is getting near Halloween but really, it’s the digital camera doing the not so accurate colour rendition.

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First observation, Solutech PLA is “free flowing”. At my normal temp of 206C, I was getting some little blobs and whiskers which means the bowden was easily pushing the filament through the nozzle with little resistance. As I said, flowy.

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I found it flowed like hot butter. I ended up dropping the temp down to 202C. End of flow issues and whiskers. I didn’t bother testing to see how much lower I could go, but even at 202C it was flowing nicely. When the head moved it wasn’t leaving tails behind anymore.

Solutech – Hatchbox

There are some designs that just don’t lend themselves well to printing. Everyone has done the 3DBenchy to death but for my own tests I tend to print things with threads.

I’d designed a spool holder a while back so I printed one in Solutech Orange, the other in Hatchbox red. Printed at 50mm/s, 0.3mm layer height.

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As you can see the final prints look identical. And they are. But getting them to that point took some doing.

First Hatchbox PLA tends to cool quickly so doing the threads was easy. I had the cooling fans barely on and my standard temps were fine.

Solutech on the other hand, wow. With the same cooling fan speed, the PLA was holding heat like crazy, and the thread edge curling was nuts. Dropping the temp 8C from the Hatchbox setting and ramping the cooling fan speed up to 80% was required to curtail that.

Just to see what might happen, I re-printed them at 30mm/s (slow) and Hatchbox didn’t need a fan, Solutech did, although not as much.

This all reminded me of a bad golf shot where you hit a tree, cart part, and ball cleaning station but still end up beside the pin to tap in for a par. The results don’t indicate the means it took to get there.

Solutech Summary

Every filament out there brings its own little set of nuances to the table and 3D printing, to my mind is never going to be plug and play.

Solutech is not worse than any of my other filaments (wish I could say that for all the filaments I’ve tested), but it certainly requires different settings depending on what I might be printing. Thus I have to pay attention. Not a bad thing either.

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