A filament extruder is a device used to turn shredded plastic or discarded 3D prints into new filament. You can use this new filament for your next 3D prints. The whole process allows you to customize the filament any way you want, with the added benefit of reusing old 3D creations. Around 10 years ago, filament extruders were quite primitive. They were wildly expensive and only used on rare occasions or for traditional large-scale filament production.
Nowadays, filament extruders are becoming more accessible to the general public. The quality of these machines is also steadily increasing, with many new startups having extruders that rival industrial ones. This rise of accessible filament extruders begs the question of how to choose the best one for you?
Well, I decided to draw up a list of various options to consider when you want to buy your first (or next) filament extruder!
1. Material Range
First off, if you want to test a variety of filament to extrude, you need to make sure that the extruder can handle it. One of the many benefits of extruding your own filament is that you’re able to test different materials to get results you desire. For example, if you’d like to get your hands on PEEK or Bio PE, but the filament is suited only for ABS or PLA, you’ll be disappointed.
Ask the company for various tests of different materials, or visit their site to see what filaments have been extruded from their machines.
It’s not a deal breaker, but I prefer knowing (with proof) what I’ll be able to get out the extruder. Materials change all the time too, so don’t forget to do regular checks on a company’s site (or newsletter) to see if they are testing any new materials.
2. Precision (tolerance)
When it comes to extrusion and 3D printing, precision is everything. Getting a consistent filament diameter is essential, as extruding too thick or too thin a filament could be disastrous for your 3D prints. The prints can fail, your extruder can jam, or your overall print will suffer in terms of quality.
Choosing the right filament extruder means one that can give your filament:
- A precise diameter – at 3devo for example, the extruders have a tolerance of 0.5 – 3 mm (0.02 – 0.12 inches). This tolerance is based on multiple in-house tests with various materials. Be careful when selecting a product that doesn’t have verified results, as many might claim a reasonable tolerance, but only as a result of 100% perfect operation settings.
- Consistency and roundness – Next you’ll want an extruder that can give you consistent filament that’s also as round as possible. Any amount of deviation in the diameter can lead to poor prints.
I like to ask/email the company for a complete breakdown for how precise their extruder is under various conditions and materials.
Knowing about what materials can be extruded as well as how precise the filament will both lead to a well-performing machine. Again, the more details the company provides, the more trust I’ll have with that company.
I mentioned that the ability to extrude different materials is essential, but another significant factor is the possibility to blend multiple materials. As you might enjoy the flexibility of one filament but want some additional strength from another additive.
Check to see what mixing options are available when choosing your filament extruder.
Does the device have a mixing zone? What is the mixing screw like? Many companies have a suitable screw, but it might not be the most durable. An example of a good screw would be one that is nitride- hardened as it ensures industrial grade filament. Also, an external mixing zone on an extruder screw allows you to blend different additives, plastics, fibers or powders to create custom filaments.
No matter the quality of the filament, it doesn’t help if your filament extruding spews it onto the ground for it to get dirty and tangled. That is where spooling comes in. Spooling allows you to wind the fresh filament around a spool so that it can be instantly taken away from the extruder and ready to print.
When choosing a filament extruder, check out the spooling options they have – built in is usually better.
Some might not have any and will require you to set up a manual spooling mechanism. Ones that do, check out the type of tensioning component they use. Having the filament spool too tight or too loose can profoundly affect your end-result. I’d be looking for an easily swappable spool mount (shown in the image above), a type of slipper clutch and the ability to set custom spool dimensions.
It doesn’t help to have a filament extruder producing the best filament, but it’s too hot when it comes out. Why? A filament extruder produces extremely high temperatures to bind the material together.
When choosing, check to see what cooling mechanism they are using, as your new filament will deform and result in inferior quality.
Also, look at the housing of the components. Not enough space could lead to overheating. Either a robust single fan that the Filastruder uses or a dual-fan setup from 3devo can do the job. Don’t forget about the dust build up, too. I’d often find myself cleaning the fan vents if my extruder is in a dusty area. Having an extruder where dust in the fan can be easily removed is a huge bonus.
6. Software / UI
Something that many people might not consider is how significant a role the software and UI play in using an extruder. A display that allows you to see what changes are being made visibly helps in fine-tuning your settings. However, bugs still arise, even from the best of companies. Consistent software updates mean that your extruder will always have the most optimal code, resulting in quality filament being extruded.
Perhaps when choosing an extruder, ask the company how often do they release new firmware.
This will give you an idea of how active they are with their products. I would also ask what information is provided via the UI, as well as what options you can choose via the UI. As multiple intuitive and useful options result in the most accurate filament (shown above on the 3devo filament extruder). However, make sure that the software stays up-to-date to ensure the reliability of your machine.
7. Reliability (quality)
You want your filament extruder to be as reliable as possible. The quality of the components plays a big role. A cheaper product may seem like the best idea, but you don’t want to break down after a few uses.
Do some digging into the specs of filament extruder you want to buy, looking specifically how it’s made.
What are the components made from? What about the housing for all the components? From the aluminum alloy chassis of the Filastruder to the nitride-hardened mixing screw from 3devo, you want all the components to last as long as possible but also easy to replace. I’d even ask about the longevity of the components used in the actual making of the filament or how often the extruder needs to be serviced (if at all).
8. Practical Use
Choosing an extruder from a company that has examples of its filament in use is never a bad idea. Yes, their product might look good on paper, but without certified client responses or case studies, you won’t know for sure what you’ll be getting. A bit like buying a product from Amazon without any customer reviews.
Have a look at their site, or even send the company an email requesting customer testimonials or detailed case study reports.
Companies such as Noztek provide some testimonials from customers on their website. Whereas 3devo also features in-depth case studies on their website, such as how ESA (European Space Agency) uses their filament extruder to obtain the best possible results. Either way, knowing that people or organizations are actively using the product is an excellent sign.
9. After-Sales Support
Customer support is also something important to consider when making a decision. If your filament extruder happens to break down, you’ll want reliable support, and fast.
After-sales support should always be available when you’re going to be using your extruder often, so take a look at the FAQ and support section on a site to see what they offer.
This support can come in many forms, with how-to videos becoming a popular choice. I find an FAQ section or page should be a default option for a company, as well as contact details if you have questions after you’ve purchased the extruder. Good examples are the help section from Felfil, the extensive user manuals at Noztek or the comprehensive support plan from 3devo.
10. Ease of Use (Training)
Similar to 3D printing, the easier it is to use, the better your output will be. A filament extruder that’s easy to use means that you’ll be getting reliable filament with every use. Again, like 3D printing, it’s not just a simple – “turn on and walk away” setup. You need to know all the right settings depending on the filament you’d like to create.
Most filament extruders come with an LCD panel that helps you determine filament width, temperature, and other factors too. An instruction manual, of course, will be your best option here (however we’ve found that YouTube videos have been the better alternative). However, if you’d like to get the most out of it, you may even consider being sent for training by the company who sells the extruder. An example here would be DevoTraining from 3devo.
“A new hands-on program, DevoTraining, brings extrusion and materials knowledge to individuals and teams hoping to learn how to get professional results.” – Sarah Goehrke, fabbaloo
Whatever your decision, make sure whoever uses it has adequate knowledge of filament extrusion before using the device to prevent any extrusion mishaps.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a whole spool of filament ready in a few minutes? Well, you would get filament, but it wouldn’t look good at all. A significant challenge the filament extruder faces is providing quality filament in a short time frame.
Don’t just look at the speed – but also under what the conditions were at the time of extrusion.
Anything from 0.7kg PLA per hour is a good result, with more expensive devices going up to 1kg per hour.
Lastly, you have the price to consider. To save on costs, you might want to build a filament extruder. However, your quality might suffer as a result. Buying a filament extruder means considering all the factors listed above. If you aren’t going to be needing high-quality filament and you won’t use the device all the time, you might want a cheap model.
But, if you want you or your company to produce high-end filament, you’ll need a high-end product.
It might seem as though our products are expensive, but after reading all the benefits listed above, you can see why. High-quality components and superior support mean you’ll always have reliable results with your filament. I’d also suggest factoring in the prices of spare parts, as most won’t last forever.
I hope that I’ve covered everything you need to consider when looking to buy your first filament extruder. It’s not an easy decision, as you need to not only consider your personal (or company’s) reasons for wanting one but also how will the machine perform. With the above factors though, your next purchase should be a lot easier.