HackSpace magazine

Silk filament printing

By Ben Everard. Posted

LA is the most popular plastic for 3D printing, and it comes in some fantastic colours. But the surface finish is always a little matt. Silk PLA has added magic that makes it shine. OK, it’s not magic, it’s elastomers that leave your prints looking glossy and gorgeous.

For the most part, silk PLA prints just as regular PLA does, and you might be able to use your slicer’s normal PLA settings. However, the elastomers that make silk filament shiny also affect its physical properties slightly. It tends to be a little more flexible and stretchy, and this can affect how it prints. We can’t give exact advice as each silk filament is a little different, but you may find that you need to play with the retraction or extrusion multiplier settings to get it to print reliably.

Some people report clogging issues with silk, but this isn’t something we’ve experienced. With a wide range of different silk filaments on the market, and each one having a different blend of PLA and elastomers, it’s hard to pinpoint the cause of this. If you experience this, it’s worth going through the usual processes for cleaning your extruder and perhaps checking that you’re printing at the correct temperature for your filament (it may need to be a little warmer than PLA).

Silk filament can create excellent-looking prints, but it can also highlight every imperfection in the print, depending on how it’s used. It looks best on prints with a lot of features, such as sharp edges or tight curves – the reflections then pick out these features. If your print has large flat areas or gentle curves, the reflections will pick up any issues, such as ghosting or a Z seam.

Silk filament highlights larger layer lines – these are 0.3 mm – we quite like this effect, but you may prefer a smaller layer height

We wouldn’t recommend silk PLA for any mechanically important parts – the elastomers that make it shiny affect its strength. The slight increase in flexibility may be useful for some prints, but if this is what you’re after, a different plastic, such as PETG, may be more appropriate.

When used well, silk filament produces stunning prints straight off the print bed – no need for finishing or painting. We’re big fans of low-poly prints in silk, but that’s just us.

ALTERNATIVEs

If you want high-gloss prints, silk PLA is a great choice, but there are a few alternatives:

• PET and PETG are both a little shinier than PLA, though not as shiny as most silk filaments.

• Vapour smoothing is where you place your print in an enclosure with some solvent vapour that dissolves the surface of the print – when done correctly, it can lead to a very smooth finish. The chemicals required can be quite unpleasant though. This is most commonly done with ABS, though others can work.

• You can simply paint your print using high-gloss paint. This works particularly well if you need to sand or fill parts of your print first.


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