New 3D Printing Materials with Active Foaming Technology

3D Printers continue to improve year after year, but the fundamentals of the technology haven’t really changed much over the years.

What I find to be more exciting is the new materials that are constantly being introduced to the marketplace, offering new and useful capabilities for your existing 3D printer hardware.

Introducing Colorfabb LW-PLA and Colorfabb varioShore TPU

As a fine example of the intriguing capabilities new materials can offer, Colorfabb recently introduced two new filaments that feature an active foaming technology, allowing the creation of lightweight, low-density parts.

Colorfabb LW-PLA

At around 230C this material will start foaming, increasing its volume by nearly 3 times. Users can decrease material flow by up to 65% to achieve lightweight parts, or use the expanding properties to effectively reduce print time by using big layer heights or single extra thick perimeters.

Testing the weights of materials with active foaming technology

We tested this material using the 3D Benchy to see for ourselves if the material would live up to the marketing claims.

First, we printed the model in standard PLA, using a 50% infill:

Benchy boat printed in standard PLA

As you can see, the resulting model weighs 98g.

Next, we printed the same model using the same 50% infill with Colorfabb LW-PLA. In order to maximize the active foaming effect, we used a high printing temperature (255C), and we reduced the flow rate to 35%.

The result, as you can see below, has a very different surface finish compared to normal PLA. It’s a matte finish, unlike standard PLA, which is usually somewhat glossy.

Benchy Boat 3d printed with Colorfabb LW-PLA

As shown above, the same model printed in LW-PLA was a third of the weight as the one printed in standard PLA, even when the same infill density was used.

The same active foaming quality of this material can also be used to print items more quickly by using thicker layer heights. Normally, your maximum layer height is around 75% of your nozzle diameter. So for example, with a 0.4mm nozzle, you wouldn’t want to use anything thicker than 0.32mm layers. But by taking advantage of the active foaming quality of LW-PLA, you can print with layers up to 0.6mm thick using a 0.4mm nozzle.

On the left, we printed the same gcode using regular PLA. On the right, colorFabb LW-PLA shows the expanding properties enabling 0.6mm layer height from a 0.4mm nozzle.
On the left, we printed the same gcode using regular PLA. On the right, colorFabb LW-PLA shows the expanding properties enabling 0.6mm layer height from a 0.4mm nozzle.

We’ve had a lot of fun trying out this exciting new material. Pick up a spool for yourself today!

Colorfabb varioShore TPU

Using the same active foaming technology featured in LW-PLA, Colorfabb went on to create a flexible TPU material called varioShore TPU that uses the same technology to allow for variable shore hardness, even within the same print.

Colorfabb variShore TPU used to 3D print a shoe insert

Although the weight reduction of varioShore TPU is not as significant as LW-PLA, the weight of the overall print is noticeable and can make the difference for prints where weight matters.

For example, here at 3D Universe, we’ve been working on developing 3D printed respirator mask designs. We found that printing these masks in varioShore TPU results in a mask that is lighter, softer, more flexible, and more comfortable compared to those printed in standard TPU.

A BE PPE Mask 3d printed with standard TPU
BE Mask, printed in standard TPU, weighing 44g
A 3D printed PPE BE Mask made with Colorfabb varioShore TPU
BE Mask, printed in Colorfabb varioShore TPU, weighing 26g

What I love about this material in particular is that the active foaming technology doesn’t just result in a lighter part. It also produces a noticeably softer part. So if you’re looking to produce a part that will be more comfortable, such as a handle bar holder, shoe insole, etc., this material offers a significant advantage.

Handle for 1966 HD M50S design by Daniel Norée
Handle for 1966 HD M50S design by Daniel Norée (Thingiverse link)
Ergonomic bike handle grips design
Ergonomic bike handle grips design by Flying_Ginger (Thingiverse link)

So if you’re looking to produce soft, lightweight parts, pick up a spool of Colorfabb varioShore TPU and give it a try.