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What Filament is Best for 3D Pens? PCL, PLA or ABS?

Nov 28,2023 | 3D4Create

Handheld 3D printing pens allow drawing and molding melted plastic into 3D creations. With the growing variety of affordable models now available, the best filament type to use depends on the different situation.

wireless low-temp 3d pen


How 3D Pens Work

A 3D pen resembles a bulkier version of a normal pen or glue gun. Inside, plastic filament from a spool is fed into a heated metal nozzle. The filament melts into a liquid that flows out the nozzle tip. As the pen moves along, the plastic hardens quickly, letting you "draw" shapes.

3D pens have adjustable temperature and speed settings. This allows tailoring the melt viscosity and flow rate for different filament types. Lower temperatures are needed for soft, flexible plastics versus hard, rigid materials.

The Importance of Temperature 

The optimal filament choice depends heavily on the 3D pen's operating temperature. This led to two broad categories of 3D pens:

PCL Low-temperature 3D pens: These use PCL filament which melts around 60°C. The low temp makes them safer for kids.

High-temperature 3D pens: These use PLA or ABS which require over 180°C. Better for detailed models.

pcl 3d doodler pen

Juice Color PCL 3D Doodler Pen


PCL Filament for Low-Temperature Pens

Polycaprolactone or PCL melts at just 60°C/140°F, far lower than other common 3D pen filaments. This gives PCL significant advantages:

1. Safer for Kids: The low nozzle temperature poses minimal risks of accidental burns or injuries.

2. Minimal Fumes: Melted PCL does not emit unpleasant odors like other plastics. It can be used indoors without special ventilation.

3. Easy to Shape: The low viscosity melted PCL allows young users to easily control the flow and shape it into objects. 

4. Flexible When Cool: Solid PCL remains flexible and bendable rather than becoming rigid and brittle. Creations are less prone to damage if dropped.

5. Affordable: PCL is a widely produced plastic, keeping costs competitive with PLA and ABS filaments.

For these reasons, PCL is the top choice of filament for novice 3D pen users, especially for younger kids. Under supervision, it provides a safe way to introduce children to 3D modeling and spark their creativity. 

pcl filaments

Eco-Friendly & Child-safe PCL Filament


PLA and ABS Filaments for High-Temp Pens

In contrast to PCL pens, 3D pens operating at over 180°C utilize higher-temperature plastics like PLA and ABS.

At these temperatures, extra precautions are essential to avoid potential burns or inhalation of toxic fumes. However, PLA and ABS allow advanced users to create far more intricate and detailed 3D objects. 

Key properties include:

1. PLA: Rigid plastic perfect for printing decorative models, desk organizers, and animals.

2. ABS: Tough, durable plastic suitable for functional components, prototypes, and spare parts. 

As young makers gain more experience, transitioning to a higher-temperature pen with PLA or ABS lets them take projects to the next level. But supervision is still advised when handling hot equipment. Besides these properties, PLA and ABS have more differences other than the listed ones.

Filament PCL PLA ABS
Melting Point 60°C 180°C 200°C
Material Composition Polycaprolactone Polylactic acid Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene
Recommended Ages Ages 6-13 Ages 14+ Ages 14+
Safety and Eco Factors Eco-friendly, food-safe, non-toxic Eco-friendly, food-safe, non-toxic Not eco-friendly, toxic fumes
Best Uses Basic shapes, characters, arts and crafts Detailed miniatures, models, prototypes Functional components, prototypes, spare parts
Advantages Low temp for safety, minimal fumes, flexible when cooled Rigid plastic, excellent detail,  a wide range of colors Strong, impact resistant
Disadvantages Limited durability for mechanical parts Higher temperature, brittle when cooled Very high temp, toxic fumes emitted

pla 3d printing pen

14+ Years Old 3D Pen with PLA Filament


Choosing the Right Filament

In conclusion, low-temp PCL 3D pens are the safest choice for beginners and younger users to explore 3D drawing. The flexible PCL plastic enables creating fun shapes easily.

For advanced makers needing to construct detailed, functional models, higher-temp PLA and ABS pens offer more capabilities. But care is required to avoid potential hazards from the hotter temperatures.

Considering the user's age, skills, and application allows selecting the ideal 3D pen and filament type for any project. With proper precautions, both low-temp and high-temp options can enable exciting 3D creativity!



Q1: Which material provides the smoothest, least blobby finish?

A1: PCL plastic creates the smoothest, least viscous melted material when extruded from a 3D pen. Good for finer details.

Q2: What filament works on the widest range of surfaces?

A2: ABS can bond to the most surfaces like plastic, wood, and metal. PLA and PCL have less adhesion.

Q3: What filament type has the most flexibility after extrusion?

A3: PCL remains the most flexible filament after hardening. It can bend without fracturing for posable art pieces.


See Also:

Is 3D Pen Safe for Kids? 3 Essential Safety Tips for Parents

The 5 Best 3D Pens for 2023 - Reviews by 3D4Create

How Safe is 3D Pen Plastic?

PCL vs PLA 3D Pens: A Comparative Guide to Getting the Right 3D Pen