This list is to give you an overview of each material and the best product you can pick up on a budget in each category. For my money Inland PLA (opens in new tab) is the very best you can buy for the cheapest price possible. It won't let you down.
Note: This list is made of 1.75mm diameter filaments, as it is the most common width used by home 3D printers. Most of the products here can be found in 3mm diameter as well.
- Polylactic Acid (PLA)
- Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)
- Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU)
- Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol (PetG)
Polylactic Acid (PLA) Filament
PLA is the most commonly used filament for beginners and general use. Made from organic polymers, PLA is a biodegradable, rigid material that has a low melting point. It's used often as a base for models that you want to paint and for objects kept indoors. The downside of PLA is it can become soft in relatively low heat, around 60 Celcius, or 140 Fahrenheit for the U.S. makers, and doesn't do well out in the elements.
Inland PLA is my go-to when I want cheap, reliable PLA for large projects. When you dial it in, it has an almost matte finish that looks beautiful on unfinished models.
Designed for building
MatterHackers' build series is custom made for printing objects you are going to sand or paint. Use it for making cosplay items or painted models.
While not the cheapest of the filaments, AmazonBasics' PLA is surprisingly good quality with the added advantage of a bulk buy option. Buy it in rolls of five, if you can, to reduce the cost per kilo.
Pushing the envelope
The latest release from eSun, the Silk PLA is one of the prettiest filaments I have ever used. It prints like butter.
A fan favorite
In my many Facebook groups about 3D printing, Hatchbox is mentioned often as a favorite for people all over. For me, it's hit or miss, but so many people swear by it, so it had to make the list.
The real deal
When Lulzbot sent me its Mini 2 to review they sent along a roll of Polymaker Polylite to use with it because it claims it's one of the best filaments to use with its printer. I tested it, and the claim is true: it's pretty great.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)
ABS is used in many products around the world and is lauded for its high temperature and environmental resistance. It's also extremely tough once printed and can be wet sanded to a super fine finish if you want to take the time. The biggest drawback of ABS is its noxious fumes. If you're thinking of printing with ABS, make sure you are in a well-ventilated place and use an enclosure if you can.
The same applies to the ABS as the PLA. AmazonBasics is a solid filament choice. Buy it in packs, so you can reduce the price to $16 a roll.
Glow in the dark!
MatterHackers has an amazing glow in the dark ABS. You'll need to make sure you use a hardened nozzle though.
A little extra
eSUN ABS+ has some extra properties that make it easier to print with. It warps less and adheres better, but you'll need a really hot bed, over 100 degrees Celsius, to get it to work.
Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU)
TPU is the softest of the four filament types and can be used to create rubberized models such as phone cases or tires. It also works very well to create flexible hinges or protective covers when dual printed with another filament type. TPU tends to be more expensive than other materials so not everything is under budget, but these are still your bargain choices.
I often use Tianse filaments on a variety of projects, but I use a lot for TPU. It's affordable and reliable, and that's all you can ask for.
The one that started it all
Nijaflex is easily the best of the bunch. It's a little pricey but works well with every printer I've used it on.
I have only used this once but it was recommended by several people on the Facebook groups. It also has an excellent dimensional accuracy of 0.02mm.
Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol (PETG)
PETG is the happy mix between PLA and ABS. It has the strength and temperature resistance of ABS while being safe to print indoors. It can be a little difficult to get right, but once you do you'll never look back. You may need to use a Micro Swiss Hotend as PETG needs a very high temperature to print.
This build series PETG from MatterHackers is the prettiest darn filament you'll ever see. The translucent colors are just beautiful when printed correctly.
AmazonBasics is cheap in bulk and great for the price. It's also a great way to fill out your supply of colors early on.
Here comes the sun
Another beautiful, semi-transparent material, the eSUN PeTG is reliable and strong when printed.
The Polymaker Polylite is always best in class and the PeTG is no exception. Expect stunning results from this filament.
Another clear but colorful choice, the 3D Solutech PeTG is a super cheap option to start you off. You should buy a lot of them to start your collection.
There are a lot of choices
If you picked any of these products across the different material types you would have a great shot at making excellent prints. Some will work better than others on different printers so it's always a good idea to try different filaments until you find the right for you.
I've titled the ones I use regularly as My choice because they give me the best results but remember everybody's printers are unique so your mileage may vary.
For my money, the Build series (opens in new tab) from Matterhackers is an excellent choice across the gamut of different filament types. From ABS to PETG, the build series just works.
You should also be looking at eSun Silk PLA (opens in new tab) if you don't plan on painting your models. The glossy finish is just beautiful on unpainted prints. The Moon City by kijai design above is a perfect example of how good the Silk PLA looks.