All posts by Marnix

Refil – 3D printing with recycled plastics

There’s a new filament brand in town: Refil. Their filaments are made from recycled plastics. At the moment they offer black ABS (from recycled car dashboards) and PET (from recycled drinks bottles), with more colors and materials to follow soon. When we attended a presentation by one of the founders, he gave us samples of both filament types and we were eager to see if this stuff was any good.

One of the main problems in any recycling project is that the source material is usually full of contaminants, additives and impurities. Refil appears to have solved this problem, using a combination of pickiness (only using RoHS/REACH-compliant source materials) and technology (working with industry partners from the recycling and processing areas). The result are filaments that look very good “on the roll”, indistinguishable from virgin material. Because the filament is made on very high-quality, industrial extruders, filament roundness and diameter is as constant as that of any other commercially produced filament. In keeping with the recycling philosophy, the spools are made of recycled cardboard, which is a nice touch.


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High-Impact PolyStyrene (HIPS) is one of the less known 3d-printing materials. Most people that have heard of it know it as a dissolvable support material used in combination with ABS, because it dissolves in d-limonene (and ABS does not). It is not frequently used as a printing material in itself.

The guys from Form Futura want to change that because they believe that HIPS could be a very nice primary printing material. They are bringing out a line of HIPS filaments in 1.75mm and 2.85 mm diameters, at the moment only in white but black, red and gray are planned. They asked us to test a spool of their 2.85mm white HIPS and see how it compares to ABS and PLA. We wanted to look at a number of characteristics: extruder temperature, print bed, warping, quality and ‘smoothability’ (i.e., can HIPS be vapor-smoothed like ABS with Acetone).

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Smoothing PLA

We’ve written before about smoothing ABS prints using acetone vapor. This works very well, blending the printing layers together for a smoother finish and increased strength. Acetone is not particularly toxic and easy to obtain (in the Netherlands, any chemist stocks it).

For PLA, however, acetone smoothing does not work. This is a pity, since PLA is much easier to work with than ABS. We found some solutions for smoothing PLA, but most involve rather dangerous-sounding chemicals such as Tetrahydrofuran and Dichloromethane. The one exception we found is Ethyl Acetate which seems to give good results and is (relatively) safe. This was something we wanted to try for ourselves.

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The Fabsterdam Photo Studio

For a while, we’ve been thinking about upgrading our photo setup. We take most of our pictures with our phones, for convenience, but it’s difficult to get nice pictures of small, 3d-printed models this way. Using a ‘real’ camera helps, but for really nice pictures you need a light box. This is essentially a box-shaped diffuser that gives you a nice, even, white background with uniform lighting. Rather than paying a lot for a commercial one, we decided to give this DIY Light Tent project a go.

Purple Tentacle in the spotlight.
Purple Tentacle in the spotlight.

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We’d been reading about this technique called ‘vapor treating‘, that is supposed to smooth out the surface of prints. Bathing them in vapor of a solvent would blend the ridges so typical of 3d printing, so that the part would look almost injection-molded. This looked like something we’d like to try ourselves.

Different plastics require different solvents. The solvent for ABS plastic is acetone, which is both widely available and not too toxic. We have a lot of pieces lying around from semi-successful ABS printing experiments which are perfect candidates for some smoothing.

ABS Vapour smoothing setup

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