Towards Sensible Packaging For 3D Printer Filament

Filament-based 3D printers are remarkably wasteful. If you buy a kilogram of filament from your favorite supplier, the odds are that it will come wrapped around a plastic spool weighing about 250 grams. Use the filament, and that spool will be thrown in the trash. Very, very few products have such wasteful packaging as 3D printer filament, with the possible exception of inkjet cartridges or getting a receipt with your purchase at CVS.

For the last few years, [Richard Horne], better known as RichRap, has been working towards a solution to the problem of the wasteful spools for 3D printer filament. Now, it looks like he has a solution with the MakerSpool. It’s the perfect solution for a 3D printing ecosystem that doesn’t waste 20% of the total plastic on packaging.

The design of the MakerSpool is fairly straightforward and also 3D printable. It’s a plastic filament spool, just a shade over 200mm in diameter, consisting of two halves that screw together. Add in some RepRap ‘teardrop’ logos, and you have a spool that should fit nearly any machine, and will accept any type of filament.

The trick with this system is, of course, getting the filament onto the spool in the first place. Obviously, filament manufacturers would have to ship unspooled filament that’s somehow constrained and hopefully vacuum packed. Das Filament, a filament manufacturer out of Germany, has already tested this and it looks like they have their process down. It is possible to ship a kilogram of 1.75 filament without a spool, and held together with zip ties. Other filament manufacturers also have packaging processes that are amenable to this style of packaging.

Whether this sort of packing will catch on is anyone’s guess, but there are obvious advantages. There is less waste for the environmentalists in the crowd, but with that you also get reduced shipping costs. It’s a win-win for any filament manufacturer that could also result in reduced costs passed onto the consumer.

66 thoughts on “Towards Sensible Packaging For 3D Printer Filament

  1. This is really one of those ‘It’s about time’ type things. Why is this only just becoming a thing?
    Are the zip-ties even needed? Three or so strips of thin cardboard wrap seem fine. Insert on the spool, pull the tab and peel each wrap, put on the cover, and you’d be good to go.

    1. Absolutely. I’m glad people are thinking about this. Assuming that most filament is going to probably be stored in vacuum packaging anyway: a well-designed vacuum package could be made to hold the spool in a circle and keep it from getting tangled up. Perhaps fused in the center, if even that is necessary.

    1. How so? I think for most people it’s a fun hobby. Unlike shitcoin which is an almost 100% speculation-fueled currency system. Yeah, totally not a bubble. Everyone still hoards tulip bulbs, right?

      1. “Buttcoin”: noun, intentional mispronunciation of the more appropriate term “Bitcoin”, often used by souls who mistakenly think cryptocurrencies are more about getting rich quickly than about liberty. (Cryptocurrencies are still in their infancy with a market capital of 1/500th that of all fiat currencies. One can expect wild swings in value during such beginnings. The question is do you have the balls to HODL when things get scary in the Wild West? If not, you may as well go shine shoes for “The Man”.)

  2. Hmm… I’m very surprised that a lot of people who caal themselves makers, throw away the spools.
    These spools are huge sources of usable material. You can make lot’s of things from them. I use a lot of them a wire spools. That’s (ironically) because a lot of wire I have isn’t sold on a spool.

    Though I can imagine that if you are a really heavy user of filament, then you have more spools then you can handle. But packaging the spools on a cardboard spool would make more sense then a another piece of plastic with some zip-ties. I can imagine that flexible filament doesn’t like being zip-ties for a long (shelf) time. As it would deform the plastic in a way that it would cause problems in the printer when used shortly after unpacking.

    The idea of changing the spools to save material is great and as an engineer I fully agree that the current way of packaging is very sufficient but not efficient.. However… what’s the scale… only a handful of people is 3D printing… that is when compared to other consumables. I personally have a lot more problems with the plastic bottles of coffee cups being used to sell drinks or water. That’s even less efficient considering the time the product spends in a plastic cup.Just use a normal cup, problem solved, true… wouldn’t it be nice if a major coffee selling company would accept bringing your own cup.

    The funny thing is, that a spool (that can be taken apart) is already the way I have received my spools in in the past. 3 bolts secure the top and bottom halve of the spool, so it is easy to take apart. I know it is not meant for me to re-use it… but i can use it in this way… for many times I’m sure. So there is no need for me to print my own spool.
    Unfortunately, the last time I ordered new filament it wasn’t on that type of spool any more, So I have to hold on to the first one(s) if it ever comes to spool-less filament being sold.

    Thoug I’m pretty sure that this problem will be solved by the companies selling the filament… as soon as they realize that they can make more profit (by reducing shipment costs). Because that the real drive for businesses… ideals are great but in most cases not the motor that drives the solution to the problem. Though in many cases ideals can be the kickstarter that drive the motor of the economy.

    1. I agree that zip ties look a bit dangerous and that some paper or cardboard wraps would be enough or as you said a cardboard spool that could be integrated with a protecting box.
      The zip tie solution looks very practical for installation though. You don’t have to cut the ties until the filament has been installed on your spool.
      There are also proper zip ties made from pretty soft plastics. Softer than many filaments. They may not damage the filament as much as a very hard zip tie would.

          1. Sure they could if they are made of nylon, but actually having a filament extruder that does that is unlikely. That is why I proposed the biodegradable option. My song would change if people were so equipt. :-)

    2. Agree that spools are useful. Winnipeg has a semi-annual give away weekend. ie: drag garage sale quality stuff to the curb Friday night and let the free-gans rummage all weekend. I had a pile of spools stressing me out – had not use, but couldn’t bring myself to throw away. Put them out there, posted it on kijiji and very quickly had some very excited people who wanted those spools!

      My current supplier (MG Chemical)has switched to a hybrid spool – plastic core with cardboard side walls.

      That said, I’m with the main article – find a way to package such that a reusable spool makes sense.

    3. I use spools to store extension chords, and I might make that “spool tool” part organizer some day. But I think it’s good to have the option not to buy it on the spool. Sure, you could theoretically re-use one, but why would you when new filament pretty much always comes on a brand-new spool? It’s not about the re-usable spool, it’s about the option to buy unspooled filament.

  3. I don’t see this taking off, at least not for the mass Market. All it takes is one spool to unspool on an end user because of their mistake while they are putting it on the spool holder and they are never buying that brand again. I know that if I sold filament I would never ship it off spool, and users are often stupid and fickle.

    1. The microscopic threshold of convenience we are willing to sacrifice to be far less wasteful is something we should be ashamed of. We shouldn’t cater to stupid, fickle people who are unwilling to change their ways slightly to improve our lot as a society.

      1. I expect that if it were optional (choose between filament without a spool or filament that comes on a reusable spool) and if the unspooled filament passed some of the cost saving on to the consumer, even just a dollar or two, then it could catch on.

        People like environmentally friendly(er) options… when such options save money.

  4. Piano wire, tough as all get out, able to get tangled quick as … They package it in 1 and 5 pound “spools” that have 3 soft wire bindings which are then freed as you place it in your flat container that is just a little larger than the “spool” and has a large hole in the lid. Unpacking the “spool” of wire is like defusing a “bomb”, if not loaded correctly in the can with the leader coming from the INSIDE of the “spool” and fed thru the hole in the lid first then closed with all hands and fingers constraining the “bomb” till contained… Whew, it feeds out tangle free.

    Even filament can bust out of flimsy bindings in shipping. Then it “explodes”!

    1. No it doesn’t. It’s plastic, not piano wire. These are apples and oranges. Filament off the spool holds its shape. You actually have to bend it around a lot to get it to be straight again. It just gets tangled if it’s jostled about too much. Vacuum-pack it in a donut-shaped bag, and presto. Slap it on a re-useable spool after the Amazon van drops it off.

  5. This is really post worthy? Modify the plastic spool that filament normally comes on and sell it separately, sell filament packaged with a piece of cardboard containing the specs, brand, UPC, etc. Wrapped around it and secured with zipties like literally every other thing sold coiled up – hoses, extension cords, wire, silicone tubing, jewellery wire, paracord, yarn, effectively anything in an arts and crafts store that comes in sections longer than 3 feet, and so on. This isn’t really a ground breaking idea.

  6. As with any spool, but even more important when transferring this to a spool: keep the “end” pulled out so it doesn’t get tucked under another loop of filament (as this would cause big problems while printing and the spool binds). And always clip or otherwise keep that free end out when storing a spool.

  7. I feel like I missed a point in the article, and some of these comments make me wonder if I was not the only one.

    I believe the benefit of this design is that the seller no longer ships a spool at all.

    While it is true that this technique will save the consumer shipping costs, many businesses won’t change their model for that aspect alone. The business reason to switch is a reduction in operating expenses, or in this case storage costs. Warehouse space is measured in square feet and costs money per foot. The more product you can fit per square foot the more efficient the company becomes. Existing companies will be more challenged to change because they have already invested in storage solutions that cater to the spool.

    +1 to pointing out that zip ties will deform the filament “ruining” it.
    +1 to the idea of the cardboard spool that is also the shipping container.

  8. I can’t help but think of the issues with filament overlap when the spoolless filament is put on the spool and the pressure of the zip ties will cause warping on the filament in those areas causing trouble printing. There already is a company selling filament on cardboard spools for those not adventurous enough and maker minded to use their spools for other uses. I’ve been 3d printing for two years and have not yet used a full spool of filament out of about 30+ spools I own and I know what I’m going to use the spools for!

      1. A couple I will use for air line holders, some for the hoses I use outside to hang on, I am also going to 3d print some tracks to attach to the outside of the spools to create track type wheels to use on a few other projects I am thinking of trying. Really, coming up with ideas are easy if you just look around a little, you’ll see all kinds of things you can use them for. I know of one filament factory that is about an hours drive from me, I may take any extras I can’t use to them for re-use…

    1. Alex from Proto-pasta ( here. Waste creation is a real problem and proposed solutions and dialogue is important, but reducing waste also requires a holistic approach. As a filament manufacturer passionate about reducing waste, we kickstarted the Proto-pasta brand more than 4 years ago, delivering a system with a separate re-useable spool and loose filament (thoughtfully bundled with ties) for reduced packagining. You know what we found? More waste. More wasted material with tangled filament (proper handling is a real challenge). Lost time and frustration from users. Lost printing time and material-wasting failed prints. More support time. It was not an improvement. Did it work better with 2.85mm diameter and shorter coils, sure, but overall it was not an upgrade. Still, sending landfill filling plastic spools around the world was something we couldn’t stomach. That’s why we took it upon ourselves years ago to design, iterate, and manufacture our own cardboard spools to reduce our impact around the world. Why cardboard? It can be recycled locally and still gives the high quality user experience we demand that we’ve only found comes with delivering filament on a spool. Even so, we have people who complain they should get a plastic spool for as much as they pay for our filament. Wait, you want us to sell you more waste to feel like you got a better deal? I get it though. I’ve seen some beautiful, wasteful packaging, so we need a cultural change and the good thing is it’s coming! Fast enough? Hard to say, but thankfully we have passionate makers and community members like RichRap that aren’t settling for the status quo and are driving change! We aren’t settling either. At the end of the day, we realize we only provide material to a small part of the market, but if we can drive change by doing something better, I’m satisfied with shared wealth and well-being in uplifting the 3D printing community as a whole.

      Peace, Love, Pasta

      1. Yeah, it’s unfortunate. The reason multinationals spend so much money designing and manufacturing shiny, wasteful packaging for their products is that packaging *does* help sell products. Packaging is a form of marketing.

  9. Count me out unless the printer manufacturers them selves are going to provide the reusable spools, one in the box and others for sale. That 3d printed spool is huge for a print, it would probably take several hours even on high print speed/thick layer hight. And the material needed… I’m guessing a tenth of a spool, maybe a fifth. Also “just a shade over 200mm in diameter” puts this spool outside the printable area of most consumer 3d printers, making it nonviable for the bulk of the 3d printing community. I think a more sensible solution is to just recycle your spools! Every spool I’ve ever gotten was ABS and my local recycling center take them no problem.

    I’m down with concept of making a custom spool for those odd moments when you order filament and its current spool just won’t fit on your current spool holder (though even a custom spool holder makes more sense here). I don’t want to be the a$$hat that brings down the mood, but this feels more wasteful to me then simply recycling/reusing spools.

  10. Sounds like a great idea in principle, but I will likely fail without tightly securing the roll. if loops get in disarray, binding WILL occur and more plastice will be wasted than ever would be saved. It might be wiser to work on spools of much lighter construciton or find ways for filament to be its own spool like a ball of yarn.

  11. It’s somehow ironic to worry about the spool, when there’s 2 kg of plastic filament that’s going to end up in a landfill anyways. From a sustainability standpoint, eliminating the spool doesn’t really fix anything, and from a price standpoint it’s cheap enough to not matter.

  12. I like the way proto pasta ships their filament in a carboard spool. That’s another way to go.
    I also like this way but like someone said here. Instead of zip ties add either paper or cardboard just to mantain the spool shape.

  13. I’ve seen this making the rounds online, but I don’t really get how it’s a new idea. Many sellers have been shipping their filament without rolls for years (I’ve got a box full of them here), and printable spools have been a staple of Thingiverse forever.

    ProtoParadigm (the $5 filament guys) were shipping their filament on printed spools in 2016.

  14. I think this approach sucks. Cardboard spools are conscious enough, and are much easier to deal with for the manufacturer and consumer. Printing a master spool is in no way a practical use of my time, and i switch colors too often to not have a headache with this and zip ties evely color or material change. Furthermore, these stupid spools will ship in a cardboard box. This solves almost no solution.
    And risks everyone tagling their filament. And a master spool will take a whole roll to print. Expensive. Dumb.

    Rich horne is a smart guy, just HATE this solution.

    1. Direct, but I don’t disagree. Have to consider user experience and waste from a bad experience. Also, what about a local manufacturing model to cut down on transportation waste? Someday I hope Proto-pasta is successful enough to have multiple manufacturing sites around the world. BTW – our cardboard spools weight only 80g so less shipping weight than plastic, but not that much more than some zip ties.

      1. Hey Alexander,

        Thanks for the response. I didn’t keep up on this until now. I know I was a bit harsh, but the overwhelming flocking to support this design warrants an equally passionate push. What you guys do at proto-pasta is the ideal solution. no matter what the others say about cardboard recycling etc, doesnt make sense. cardboard can completely decompose in a reasonable timeframe. zip ties cant.

        I think the protopasta story of spools needs to be told anytime I see Rich’s idea floating the web, as it seems to completely ignore that this is a great solution.

        Perhaps no one in the UK currently makes cardboard spools and thats why this has blown up?

        Just wanted to say I appreciate what you guys do, I feel like this problem was solved when your guys came around…

    2. I think a solution that would be better might be to actually ship filaments on injection-molded masterspool spools for a while so people can build up a supply of some spare spools, and then start offering the option of shipping w/o spools.

    1. I hate those boxes. Never fails I’ll be on a ladder and the cable stops pulling, climb down and go find the box stuck to the ceiling because instead of unlooping in the box, it just pulls a kink in the cable then jams in the hole.

      1. Come to think of it, I have had the same frustrating experience. Perhaps a figure-eight pattern inside the box works better. There must be a simple geometry for filling a box that DOES work. Do it right and the carboard and extra bits of guiding plastic could both be acceptable at any recycling center. Still whatever option I’m talking about would have to compete with all-cardboard spools which could do the trick nicely. For me, I wish the spools were PLA so they could be shredded with failed print jobs and turned into more usable filament with the appropriate extruder which I’ve been itching to make anyway. :-)

  15. A company called Reelex makes simple machines that wind wire into coils that then get packaged in boxes. They use a figure 8 winding technique and feed from the center of the coil without tangles. That’s a nearly ideal method of packaging filament. There’s no spool for it to unwind from if you release tension on the free end. See:
    It would not be difficult/expensive to make such a machine…

    1. I’ve never seen that before! Super interesting. And you’re right, it wouldn’t be hard to design a machine to wind stuff like that. Looks like it’s just a feed head moving back and forth on one axis in a sine pattern while a spindle spins beneath it.

  16. will buy your used Coex3D filament spools back from you with the intention to reuse it for The next customer. unfortunately you most likely Will have to ship your empty spools, but it is a legitimate solution and for that reason and the consistent exceptional quality. I will continue to buy from them.

  17. The spools could come in boxes already with postal labels on them to ship them back to the filament maker, but I would expect that to be quite a bit less efficient than just burning them in a barrel in the back yard unless the filament maker is in one’s home town. An exception could work if the postal service could recognize identical items to be shipped to the same address and group them together for shipping. Finished with that pop bottle, battery, propane tank, clock radio, …? Drop it in an appropriately sized US Postal Service box and let the product’s RF-ID guide the way. :-) Of course that would require delivery infrastructure that is orders of magnitude more capable than what we have now and a micro-payment system to keep everyone/everything “motivated”. :-) (Cryptocurrency designers are already stepping up to bat to deal with the micro-payment challenges)

  18. Why do you even need a spool? In the industrial word many ropes, wires, hoses and so on, coiled goods, are flat packed in bound coils then dropped on holders. Some look like bunt pans and the cable leaves out the center. Some have cones overhead the material passes though. Cable laying ships have this half torus cable storage the cable plays out of from the center. So why do we need a spool at all if you copy these time tested ways of handling coiled material.

  19. I know it’s not a perfect solution, but why aren’t spools at least marked for normal residential recycling programs? It makes no sense to me that this isn’t done. Is there any reason for it?

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