As the name implies, thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) are essentially plastics with rubber-like qualities, making them extremely flexible and durable. As such, TPE is commonly found in automotive parts, household appliances, and medical supplies.
In reality, TPE is a broad class of copolymers (and polymer mixtures), but it is nonetheless used to label many commercially available types of 3D printer filament. Soft and stretchable, these filaments can withstand punishment that neither ABS nor PLA can tolerate. On the other hand, printing is not always easy, as TPE can be difficult to extrude.
Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) is a particular variety of TPE, and is itself a popular 3D printer filament. Compared to generic TPE, TPU is slightly more rigid – making it easier to print. It’s also a little more durable and can better retain its elasticity in the cold.
Thermoplastic copolyester (TPC) is another variety of TPE, though not as commonly used as TPU. Similar in most respects to TPE, TPC’s main advantage is its higher resistance to chemical and UV exposure, as well to heat (up to 150°C).
- Strength: Medium | Flexibility: Very High| Durability: Very High
- Difficulty to use: Medium (TPE, TPC); Low(TPU)
- Print temperature: 210°C – 230°C
- Print bed temperature: 30°C – 60°C (but not needed)
- Shrinkage/warping: Minimal
- Soluble: No
- Food safety: Not food safe
When Should I Use TPE, TPU, or TPC 3D Printer Filament?
Use TPE or TPU when creating objects that need to take a lot of wear. If your print should bend, stretch, or compress, these are the right 3D printer filaments for the job. Example prints might include toys, phone cases, or wearables (like wristbands). TPC can be used in the same contexts, but does especially well in harsher environments, like the outdoors.