3D Printing Has Evolved Two Filament Standards

We’re far beyond the heyday of the RepRap project, and the Hackaday tip line isn’t seeing multiple Kickstarters for 3D printers every week. In a way, this is a bit of a loss. The rapid evolution of the low-cost 3D printer seen in the first half of this decade will never be matched, and from now on we’ll only see incremental improvements instead of the revolutionary steps taken by the first Prusa, the first Printrbot, and even the Makerbot Replicator.

This doesn’t mean everything is standardized. There’s still enough room for arguing over deltas versus Cartesians, beds moving on the Y axis versus moving along the Z, and a host of other details that make the current crop of printers so diverse. One of these small arguments is especially interesting: the diameter of the filament. Today, you can get any type of plastic you want, in any color, in two sizes: 1.75 and 3mm. If you think about it, it’s bizarre. Why on Earth would filament manufacturers, hot end fabricators, and even printer manufacturers decide to support two different varieties of the same consumable? The answer is a mix of a historical choice, engineering tradeoffs, and an absolutely arbitrary consequence of what 3D printers actually do.

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