Explore our latest dental offering!

Creating thermoforming templates with FDM 3D printing

Mayku’s guide to filament 3D printing technology and its use in the thermoforming industry

Creating templates for thermoforming can be achieved using various manufacturing methods, including Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printing. In a previous article, we discussed the different technologies used to fabricate thermoforming templates, as well as their advantages and applications.

In this article, we will explore the benefits of using filament 3D printing to create thermoforming templates in more detail. We will also provide best practices and helpful tips. By understanding the potential of this technology and its use in the thermoforming industry, you can make informed decisions about which method of template fabrication is best for you.

Filament 3D printing is an additive manufacturing technology that uses a continuous filament of thermoplastic material to produce 3D objects. The process involves melting and extruding the material layer by layer, building the object from the bottom up.

The technology behind filament 3D printing is called FDM (fused deposition modeling) or FFF (fused filament fabrication). These terms are used interchangeably today, as they refer to almost identical manufacturing processes.

FDM parts can be produced faster and at a lower cost compared to other additive manufacturing technologies, with varying quality and properties. FDM 3D printers are also compatible with a wide range of materials, enabling a broad range of applications.

Ultimaker S5 3D printing a thermoforming template
Ultimaker S5 3D printing a thermoforming template

Below are a few of filament 3D printing’s many advantages. Those listed here are more relevant to the creation of thermoforming templates.

Filament 3D printing is one of the most cost-effective manufacturing technologies, mainly due to the lower cost of equipment needed for its full manufacturing workflow. With most materials, there are no post-processing costs, and material cost can be lower compared to more expensive consumables.

This makes filament 3D printing an ideal choice when making thermoforming templates during early prototype stages, where multiple tests are required.

FDM 3D printing is a clean manufacturing process that generates almost no waste. Because of the materials used, you can remove the parts from the 3D printer by hand once they're finished. No post-processing is necessary, although you may choose to remove support materials or smooth the surface. This allows you to go directly from the 3D printer to the Mayku Multiplier, without any additional steps, keeping your workspace clean.

Filament 3D printing is incredibly versatile when it comes to manufacturing speed. The hardware capabilities and slicing software allow you to reduce the print time and get results quickly. For example, when making large templates used during early prototyping, you can use a 1mm nozzle and thick layers. This way, you can produce parts in hours instead of days.

FDM 3D printed thermoforming template

Here are a few tips and best practices to keep in mind when designing and manufacturing thermoforming templates with filament 3D printing.

As with all 3D printing technologies, the thinner the layer, the smoother the surface. For thermoforming templates made with filament 3D printing, we recommend using layer heights between 0.1 and 0.2mm to create templates with a subtle layered texture. This will significantly improve the de-molding experience.

If you're making large prototype templates without vertical walls, you can increase the layer height, although testing is always recommended.

UltiMaker Cura: Layer thickness preview
UltiMaker Cura: Layer thickness preview

We recommend a minimum of 5° draft angle to achieve the best possible forming and template release. However, templates made by filament 3D printing have a layered surface texture that makes the demolding process more difficult compared to templates with a smooth surface. If you cannot increase the draft angle of your template, consider sanding or smoothing its surface before forming it.

UltiMaker Cura: model preview

Most 3D printers that use filament come with a standard 0.4mm nozzle. If you need to create small templates with high precision or small design features, you can use a 0.25mm nozzle. However, if you're making large, simple templates, you should consider upgrading to a larger 0.8mm nozzle. This will enable you to 3D print faster, and the resulting templates will be more durable.

UltiMaker Cura: level of detail preview

Large and hollow templates are prone to deformation when formed with pressure and heat, especially when using a powerful pressure forming machine, like the Multiplier. To increase template strength, we recommend making templates with a 3-5mm shell thickness. It's best to test with different thicknesses to find the right one.

When making thermoforming templates, the thickness of the top part plays a critical role as it will be in contact with the hot plastic sheet for the longest period of time. Consider increasing the thickness of the top part to match the vertical wall thickness to prevent deformation due to pressure and heat.

UltiMaker Cura: wall thickness preview

A higher infill density makes a part more resistant, making it an excellent choice for any project. A recommended infill density of 50% is a good starting point, but testing is highly recommended.

A high infill density ensures that your part is strong enough to withstand pressure and heat conditions. It also ensures that the part can be reused, making it ideal for projects that require extensive testing.

UltiMaker Cura: infill density preview

As recommended in our guide on how to design for thermoforming, we suggest using tapered air holes. These should be no more than 0.4mm in diameter on the surface of the template and no more than 2mm in diameter on the template's bottom.

Autodesk Fusion 360 screenshot showing a thermoforming template and its tapered air holes
Tapered air holes in a thermoforming template

Using larger nozzles and composite materials may slightly affect your 3D printer's tolerances. Therefore, we recommend testing your 3D printer to ensure that the air holes are not blocked when printing using standard settings.

UltiMaker Cura: air hole size preview

When 3D printing with engineering materials to make thermoforming templates, it is recommended to add a draft shield when preparing the model for 3D printing. This will help reduce warping and ensure better overall quality of the part.

UltiMaker Cura: draft wall preview

When creating thermoforming templates with filament 3D printing, we recommend engineering materials such as Ultimaker Nylon, which exhibit high thermal stability and higher heat deflection temperatures, as well as high tensile strength.

While thermoforming templates made with other filament materials such as ABS, PETG or HIPS are compatible with Mayku’s 3D forming machines like the Mayku FormBox, they tend to work best for early prototyping. Final templates, however, should be created with engineering materials, which offer better mechanical properties.

Nylon 3D printed part (Source: UltiMaker - How to print with nylon filament)

Filament 3D printing is an ideal technology for creating thermoforming templates due to its fast prototyping capabilities, cost-effective large print size, and lack of post-processing. Here are some scenarios where filament 3D printing can be especially beneficial:

  • Early Prototyping: With filament 3D printing, you can quickly test different designs and shapes, speeding up the prototyping process.
  • Large Templates: Filament 3D printing offers the best print size-cost ratio, making it ideal for large templates you want to form on the Mayku Multiplier.
  • In-House Testing: Filament 3D printing's lack of post-processing makes it a great technology to have in your studio alongside Mayku's 3D formers.

Take template creation to the next level

If you're new to thermoforming, start by learning the basics of the process. Check out our guide on what is thermoforming for an introduction. You can also learn about other template manufacturing technologies in our guide on technologies to create templates.

Ready to start thermoforming? Explore Mayku's 3D formers, which are suitable for both vacuum forming and pressure forming processes.

Continue reading

View all

Book a call

Let's chat about possible applications or any other ideas or questions you might have. Book a call with a member of our team below.

Find a time

Submit a question

Want to know more? Send us a question and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

Ask now

Find a reseller

Our certified resellers have invaluable application and workflow knowledge. Connect with a reseller near you.

Get in touch