How strong is carbon fiber

Everything you need to know about carbon fiber 3D printing

Basic information on carbon fiber material

Before you start 3D printing carbon fiber material, we've put together some basic information you should know. Learn about the pros and cons, history, and uses of carbon fiber in 3D printing

In the 30 years of its existence, additive manufacturing has changed significantly and has grown impressively. The development of desktop 3D printing over the past 10 years is particularly impressive. What began with self-made devices and hobbyist projects that mainly printed PLA and ABS (with mixed results at best) has now developed into professional desktop devices.

These offer even the most demanding professionals reliable and precise printing results and now use even more unusual materials such as carbon fiber and other composite materials.

However, there is a certain learning curve associated with this rapid development towards materials with very special properties. On this page we will look at carbon fiber as a material. And get to know its history, advantages and applications, as well as provide useful information before you start 3D printing carbon fiber.

Understand carbon fiber material

Carbon fiber reinforced plastic (also known as carbon fiber, carbon or carbon fiber) is a composite material that comes in different shapes. Carbon fiber is combined with resin or other polymers to form a composite material. The application possibilities are wide and the most obvious advantage is the good strength-to-weight ratio.

history

Carbon fibers were already used in the late 19th century by Thomas Edison as filaments in the carbon fiber incandescent lamp with a filament made of pyrolyzed bamboo fibers, for which he was granted a patent as early as 1881 (source: Wikipedia).

In the late 1950s, the American Union Carbide Corporation first recognized the strength advantages that could be achieved through further processing techniques. Over the next 50 years manufacturing techniques evolved and today carbon fiber has become ubiquitous in high performance products from racing cars to airplanes.

The carbon fiber manufacturing process

Carbon fibers are usually produced in a six-step process, which makes production quite complex, resource-intensive and expensive. They are preferably made from PAN (polyacrylonitrile). PAN is obtained as a by-product of petroleum, mixed with other ingredients and spun into fibers. Their thickness corresponds to about 10% of the thickness of a human hair. The fibers are then oxidized to stabilize the bond before being subjected to carbonization. They are heated to temperatures of 1000 ° C in order to remove impurities. The surface is then treated to improve the bond before the last step of sizing, in which the fibers are coated and spun into yarns of different thicknesses.

Carbon fiber yarn can be processed in different ways depending on the final application. It can be woven into foils, or in the case of carbon fiber 3D printing, cut into short fibers, mixed with a base polymer, and extruded into a 3D printing filament.

Possible applications

Carbon fiber materials are often used in racing, aerospace, sporting goods or in robotics. Because the stiffness of carbon fiber combined with its low weight makes it the perfect material in many areas.


The possible applications range from use in high-performance racing cars in Formula 1, which have to be strong and light in order to maximize speed and optimize mobility. Or to reinforce the wings and bodies of aircraft and even for next-generation missiles. Because in the aerospace industry, low weight means that more fuel can be transported and thus greater ranges can be achieved. The use is even tested on Mars rockets, as you can see in the video from Real Engineering, for example.

In the production area, 3D printing carbon fibers are often used to manufacture robot end effectors that can withstand a high level of force and at the same time use the minimum lifting load of the robot arm. But more and more sporting goods manufacturers are also using state-of-the-art carbon fiber composites, for example in the manufacture of bicycles or in golf.


3D printing with carbon fiber in the FDM process

In 3D printing with carbon fibers, it is important to choose the right composite material for your application. Because the base polymer can determine the final properties of the component as well as other considerations that flow into the 3D printing. We have summarized some of the possible composite materials in carbon fiber 3D printing as well as their strengths and weaknesses for you:

Nylon carbon fiber

Nylon CF is one of the most popular composites used in carbon fiber 3D printing. This is mainly due to the fact that nylon already has many of the technical properties required for industrial use. It has a high degree of strength and high heat resistance. But it also offers a high degree of durability and compensates for the brittleness of the carbon fiber itself.

A disadvantage of nylon is its hygroscopicity, which makes it all the more important to have a closed environment for nylon-carbon fiber filament spools. The MakerBot Method X, for example, offers Mylar filament packaging and a sealed material shaft. While 3D printing nylon CF can be challenging when compared to other materials, great results can be achieved with the right tools.

Technical specifications

Nylon CFNylon 12 CF
Heat resistance (ASTM 648)184 ° C154 ° C
tensile strenght (ISO 527)110 MPa66 MPa
Tensile module (ISO 527)7,600 MPa6,000 MPa

Material data sheet MakerBot Nylon Carbon Fiber

Material data sheet MakerBot Nylon 12CF

ABS carbon fiber

ABS is a well known material due to its frequent use in injection molded consumer products. When 3D printing carbon fibers, ABS acts as a solid base polymer due to its properties. ABS carbon fiber has a very nice surface and is therefore used for both prototypes and end-use parts. One of the disadvantages of ABS carbon fiber is that it requires the use of a heated build chamber that is typically only found on high-end 3D printers. The MakerBot Method also offers this circulating heated construction chamber in the field of desktop 3D printers.

PETG carbon fiber

PETG is a material that is known for its resistance to chemicals and moisture. This makes it a good composite for carbon fibers that are exposed to such impacts. PETG carbon fiber can be used, for example, for components that come into contact with coolants or for components in moisture-rich outdoor areas.

(Alternative) fiberglass

Carbon fiber isn't the only material for composites in 3D printing. Fiberglass is an alternative to carbon fiber when a more flexible end product is desired. Glass fiber can also be combined with most of the above-mentioned materials to form a composite material and has a similarly high strength as carbon fiber.


Advantages of carbon fiber in 3D printing

  • Strong and light: The most famous property of carbon fiber is its strength-to-weight ratio, which is why it is widely used in high-performance products. This is due to the low density.
  • Heat resistance: Carbon fibers can withstand higher temperatures than many other polymers and even increase the heat resistance of these polymers when combined into a composite.
  • Stiffness: With some polymers, which can have high strength and durability, this is at the expense of stiffness. The ability of carbon fibers to maintain their shape even under high loads is therefore a great advantage for many applications.

Disadvantages of carbon fiber in 3D printing

  • Expensive: Due to the complex manufacturing processes of carbon fiber, the material is expensive to manufacture. Hence, it is widely used for high-end products but not in mass production.
  • Brittleness: A disadvantage of the high stiffness is that carbon fiber can break if the impact force is high. This makes it less than ideal for applications exposed to such forces.

Where to get carbon fiber 3D printing material

You can obtain carbon fiber composites either from filament manufacturers or directly from us as a German MakerBot distributor. For the MakerBot Method, we recommend using the optimized MakerBot Nylon CF. Other carbon fiber composites for the MakerBot Method are possible with the MakerBot LABS Experimental Extruder as well as qualified third-party materials.

Are you looking for a professional 3D printing platform that works with a wide variety of build-quality materials? Then discover the MakerBot Method Carbon Fiber Edition!

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