Polycarbonate, better known by its acronym PC, is a material renowned in the 3D printing market for its impact resistance and transparency. It is a lightweight yet strong thermoplastic, ideal for a wide range of professional applications. It is not as easy to print with as PLA or PETG as it requires a relatively high extrusion and build plate temperature. Nevertheless, 3D printing with polycarbonate allows complex and heat resistant parts to be produced with FDM technology.
You have probably heard of polycarbonate plastic, mainly because of the debates it has sparked around the manufacture of plastic baby bottles: this plastic can indeed release bisphenol A particles, which are dangerous for your health, and some countries have banished using PC for baby bottles. If we look more globally at the manufacturing process of PC, it is mainly obtained by polycondensation – in this case of bisphenol A and phosgene. It is mainly used in the production of optical glass because of its transparency, but also in the production of motorcycle helmets or bulletproof windows because of its high impact resistance.
3D printing with polycarbonate
As you can see, PC is highly valued by the additive manufacturing industry for its strength and transparency. It has a much lower density than glass, making it particularly interesting for designing optical parts, protective screens or decorative objects. The polycarbonate filament can withstand temperatures ranging from -150°C to 140°C, thus expanding the number of possible applications.
However, be careful because polycarbonate has a few limitations: it is a hygroscopic thermoplastic, meaning it absorbs moisture from the air. Therefore, if it is not kept in a dry environment, it will tend to swell, causing extrusion problems. It is also very sensitive to UV and hydrolysis, which means all outdoor applications should be forgotten. Finally, the polycarbonate filament presents some difficulties in terms of adhesion to the build plate: as its printing temperature is high, it will tend to peel off the plate (also called warping). This is also a difficulty you will encounter with ABS plastic.
It is therefore necessary to have a heated plate: most manufacturers recommend a temperature between 80 and 120°C. As for the extrusion temperature, it is also high (between 260 and 310°C). Finally, for best results, it is strongly advised to have a closed chamber.
Most manufacturers of 3D printing filaments offer polycarbonate in their range, such as Nanovia, 3DXTech, Polymaker, Kimya, or machine manufacturers such as Raise3D or Stratasys who offer PC-ABS, combining the resistance of polycarbonate with the flexibility of ABS. The price of a spool varies according to the brand and the quantity but count between $30 and $60 for 750 grams.
Finally, the PC can be reinforced with fibers, such as carbon or glass fibers, to increase the strength of the material while making it lighter. This is not as common as with ABS or PLA, but it is possible from a chemical point of view. The addition of fibres will of course increase the price of the spool of filament.
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