Thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) are polymers that exhibit elasticity similar to that of a cross-linked rubber. The degree of elasticity in the material depends on the type of TPE and the chemical structure of the grade. In addition, this grade of elastomers come with the processing advantages of thermoplastics, which is good for 3D printing!

If you search for TPE filaments, you may become confused and a little annoyed at the options that appear. That’s because TPE is a wide category of materials, which includes several other types, such as TPU. We’ll see more of that very shortly.

It’s also important to note that not all varieties of flexible filament will be marketed as TPE, a subtype of TPE, or under any other recognizable material classification. Nevertheless, most will belong to one of the categories presented in this article.

Features of TPE

  • Flexible and soft
  • Excellent fatigue resistance
  • Good electrical properties
  • Excellent vibration damping
  • High impact strength
  • Excellent resistance to chemicals and weathering
  • Good tear and abrasion resistance
  • Recyclable
  • Resistance to low and high temperatures (-30 to +140 °C)
  • Good shock absorption

3D Printing Prerequisites

  • Extruder temperature: 210–260 ºC (varies)
  • Bed temperature: Unheated–110 ºC (varies)
  • Print speed: 5–30 mm/s (keep it low, especially at the beginning)
  • Bed adhesion: painter’s tape, glue stick, or hairspray recommended
  • Extruder system: direct drive recommended
  • Cooling fan: recommended

Challenges

  • TPEs have the problem of being poorly handled by extruders owing to their softness. 
  • As TPEs are hygroscopic, they absorb moisture. As a result, prints will pop up and sizzle if filament isn’t stored properly.
  • Remember that TPE is particularly sensitive to quick movements. Sometimes the filament might buckle when pushed through the extruder.

Classifications

TPE can be classified into six categories based on chemical structure. They’re also differentiated based on Shore hardness values. Here, we’ll discuss the different 3D printable grades of TPE:

  • Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU)
  • Thermoplastic co-polyester (TPC)
  • Thermoplastic polyamide (TPA)

Let’s look a little closer at each of these types in the following.

To learn more about TPE and see some of the products marketed as such, check out our article TPE Filament – Explained and Compared.

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