Table of contents
- What is carbon fiber 3D printing?
- The best carbon fiber 3D printer options in 2020
- Continuous carbon fiber 3D printer overview
- Special mentions: other continuous fiber printing technologies
- Alternatives to continuous carbon fiber 3D printers
- Continuous fiber vs. chopped carbon fiber 3D printing
- Other high-resistance composite materials for continuous fiber 3D printing
- Reinforcing parts with continuous carbon fiber
- 3D printing carbon composite: pros and cons
- 3D printing carbon fiber reinforced filament
- Chopped carbon filament brands
- Carbon fiber 3D printing services
What is carbon fiber 3D printing?
In 3D printing, carbon fiber is used to reinforce other materials, usually thermoplastics. Its main purpose is to make parts that are stronger and lighter, both properties proving to be very attractive for engineering applications in a wide range of industries.
In some cases, carbon fiber enforced prints can even replace parts that are traditionally made of metal. It is possible to print with carbon fiber enforced filament on a regular FDM 3D printer with a hardened steel nozzle.
However, and this will be our primary focus here, continuous carbon fiber 3D printing provides much more strength and reinforcement possibilities. Basically, the printer lays a continuous strand of carbon fiber into a part while it is being 3D printed.
In this guide, you’ll find a comprehensive overview of continuous carbon fiber printing, printers, and manufacturers in this niche market. We also touch base on interesting alternatives to continuous fiber printing, with a quick selection of carbon fiber 3D printers that are optimized to print professional and industrial-grade carbon fiber reinforced filaments.
The best carbon fiber 3D printer options in 2020
|3D printer||Technology*||Build volume||Country||Price**||Buy|
|Anisoprint Composer A3||Extrusion||420 x 297 x 210 mm||Russia/Luxembourg||24 000 €||Quote|
|Anisoprint Composer A4||Extrusion||297 x 210 x 148 mm||Russia/Luxembourg||12 000 €||Quote|
|CEAD CFAM Prime||Extrusion||2000 x 4000 x 1500 mm||Netherlands||>$250K||Quote|
|Continuous Composites CF3D||Resin||-||United States||>$250K|
|Desktop Metal Fiber series||Extrusion||310 x 240 x 270 mm||United States||$10K - $50K||Quote|
|EnvisionTEC SLCOM 1||Lamination||762 x 610 x 610 mm||United States||$100K - $250K||Quote|
|Impossible Objects CBAM-2||Lamination||-||United States||>$250K||Quote|
|MarkForged X7||Extrusion||330 x 270 x 200 mm||United States||$69,900||Quote|
|MarkForged Mark Two||Extrusion||320 x 132 x 154 mm||United States||$13,499||Quote|
*Technology: the technologies that are listed are the general technology categories that the printers fall under. Each manufacturer has a more specific name for their technology.
**Price: prices may vary over time and/or from one country to another (taxes, shipping, etc.).
Continuous carbon fiber 3D printer overview
In this section we provide more information about each carbon fiber 3D printer on our list.
Anisoprint Composer A3/A4
- Technology: CFC (Composite Fiber Co-extrusion)
- Build volume:
- A3: 420 x 297 x 210 mm
- A4: 297 x 210 x 148 mm
- A3: €24,000
- A4: €12,000
According to Anisoprint, parts 3D printed with their CFC technology boast up to twenty times more strength than parts made with basic plastic. They’re also said to be four times lighter than Titanium-made parts.
CFC technology is compatible with any thermoplastic with a processing temperature of 270°C or under.
CEAD CFAM Prime
- Technology: CFAM (Continuous Fiber Additive Manufacturing)
- Build volume: 2000 x 4000 x 1500 mm
- Price: >$250K
It is capable of reinforcing prints with either glass or carbon fiber, and is compatible with a wide range of thermoplastics, including high performance materials such as PEEK.
The system features a smart temperature system with thermal imaging cameras, enabling it to heat or cool down the environment to ensure optimal 3D printing conditions.
More information: CEAD CFAM Prime
Continuous Composites CF3D
- Technology: CF3D (Continuous Fiber 3D Printing)
- Build volume: –
- Price: >$250K
To put it simply, the print head applies a rapid-curing thermoset (liquid resin matrix) to a dry strand of fiber. It then pulls the wet fiber through its nozzle, where it is immediately cured (solidified) by a powerful UV light source.
This technology allows the robotic arm to 3D print large and complex parts without the need for any support structures. CF3D is able to use many kinds of structural fibers, from carbon fiber to Kevlar and fiberglass. It is also compatible with functional fibers such as metal wires (e.g. copper) and fiber optics.
Desktop Metal Fiber series (LT and HT)
- Technology: μAFP (Micro Automated Fiber Placement)
- Build volume: 310 x 240 x 270 mm
- Price: $10K – $50K
Packed in a user-friendly system, their Micro AFM technology offers extremely strong and lightweight parts. The LT version allows you to reinforce PA6 (Nylon) with a continuous strand– or “tape” as called by Desktop Metal– of Carbon Fiber or Fiberglass.
For users that need more heat and chemical resistance, the HT version exists. It is able to 3D print and reinforce high-performance PEEK material.
More information: Desktop Metal Fiber HT
EnvisionTEC SLCOM 1
- Technology: SLCOM (Selective Lamination Composite Object Manufacturing)
- Build volume: 762 x 610 x 610 mm
- Price: $100K – $250K
This means that the printer uses sheets of composite material, which its “print” head cuts out layer by layer according to the model’s shape. Announced in 2016, the SLCOM is the first carbon fiber 3D printer to use lamination techniques.
EnvisionTEC states that the SLCOM 1 is able to process woven carbon fiber and woven glass fiber, as well as other composites with Kevlar, Nylon, PC, PEKK or PEEK, among others.
More information: EnvisionTEC SLCOM 1
Impossible Objects CBAM-2
- Technology: CBAM (Composite Based Additive Manufacturing)
- Build volume: –
- Price: >$250K
First, an inkjet print head deposits a liquid onto a sheet of woven fiber, in the particular layer’s shape (e.g. circle). Then, a layer of polymer powder is deposited onto the sheet.
The powder sticks to the areas where the liquid was deposited. After that, the dry, leftover powder is swept off. The stacked layers are then heated and compressed to leave the final part.
The CBAM-2 can currently work with PEEK and Nylon 12 thermoplastic matrices and long fibers made from carbon or fiberglass. This workhorse is able to print continuously for hours without manual intervention from users.
More information: Impossible Objects CBAM-2
- Technology: CFF (Continuous Filament Fabrication)
- Build volume: 330 x 270 x 200 mm
- Price: $69,900
The X7 prints Markforged’s proprietary Onyx filament- a strong Nylon that is already reinforced with chopped carbon fiber- and continuously reinforces it with a strand of carbon fiber. Hence, the printer delivers extremely strong parts. It is also very precise thanks to its built-in laser micrometer that constantly 3D scans the build area.
More information: Markforged X7
MarkForged Mark Two
- Technology: CFF (Continuous Filament Fabrication)
- Build volume: 320 x 132 x 154 mm
- Price: $13,499
It’s compatible with a range of other fiber reinforcement materials, including fiberglass, Kevlar, and HSHT (High-Strength High-Temperature) fiberglass. As for base filament, it is only possible to use Markforged Onyx material.
The Mark Two’s print bed is easily removable, enabling users to pause a print, take the print bed out to add components to the part in progress, and to put the plate back into the machine to continue 3D printing.
More information: Markforged Mark Two
If you’re looking for something more affordable, the Onyx Pro ($6,999) is available as well to reinforce Onyx chopped carbon fiber filament with a continuous strand of fiberglass.
Special mentions: other continuous fiber printing technologies
9T Labs CarbonKit
The 9T Labs CarbonKit is currently in its beta test phase. It is an add-on system for ordinary 3D printers, enabling them to continuously reinforce materials with carbon fiber. Their printing process is called Additive Fusion Technology (AFT), which is similar to other continuous fiber extrusion methods.
However, the CarbonKit reinforces plastics with a carbon-filled material, and not pure carbon fiber. Their composite reinforcement material is quite dense in carbon though, filled with up to 60% of fibers (versus 15% to 25% in regular chopped carbon fiber filament). Paired materials include PA12 (Nylon), PEI (ULTEM), and PEKK.
Orbital Composites has been exploring carbon fiber 3D printing since 2013. Their technology, Coaxial Extrusion printing, is a bit more complex to explain (find more details in CompositesWorld’s article). They use matrix-blending nozzles with high pressure instead of high temperatures, which enables faster carbon 3D printing than regular FDM does.
Coaxial Extrusion technology is able to print multifunctional structures with carbon, copper, nanomaterials, ceramics, and more. Orbital Composites products target heavy industrial applications (e.g. printing aircraft wings or wind turbines) and aren’t commercially available yet.
Alternatives to continuous carbon fiber 3D printers
Stratasys Fortus 380mc
Stratasys makes some of the best 3D printers on the market, and they have a variety of machines built for specific purposes (full-color printers, resin 3D printers, PEEK 3D printers, etc.). That includes carbon fiber filament, courtesy of the Fortus 380mc Carbon Fiber Edition, a highly accurate machine with a build area measuring 355 x 305 x 305 mm.
The enclosed, heated system requires no special ventilation and prevents warping, although it only works with two types of filament. ASA and FDM Nylon12CF carbon fiber filament are the only types of material rated of use with this machine.
The Fusion3 F410 is a 3D printer designed for composite materials. It sports the company’s 2.0 Extruder print head which has increased grip along with a Kevlar cable system. This keeps things steady while you print and allows you to reach speeds up to up to 250 mm/s. That print head is interchangeable while the build area provides plenty of room measuring 355 x 355 x 315 mm.
The machine also has a multi-zone heated bed and can print with almost any material including carbon fiber-filled, fiberglass filled, PETG, ABS, PLA, polycarbonates, and fiber-based materials.
Roboze One +400 Xtreme
The Roboze One +400 Xtreme is one of the top systems for printing with PEEK, but it is also an excellent choice for carbon fiber and other exotic composites.
This professional 3D printer has a nickel-coated beltless system, compressed vacuum cooling system, and several other special features that give you an edge in accuracy. This machine can reach nozzle temperatures of up to 500°C, allowing you to print with Carbon PEEK, Carbon PA, ULTEM, PEEK, Glass PA, and a variety of other technical materials.
Continuous fiber vs. chopped carbon fiber 3D printing
There is a big difference between printing with continuous fibers and printing with chopped carbon fiber filament.
Continuous fiber 3D printing
In this method, long, continuous strands of carbon fiber are mixed with thermoplastic base material during the 3D printing process. The base material, also called matrix material, can be PLA, ABS, Nylon, PETG, PEEK, or almost any other thermoplastic.
One way to reinforce parts with continuous carbon fiber is by using a dual extruder, where a special nozzle deposits a single, uninterrupted strand of fiber at the same time as the other nozzle heats and prints the base material. Markforged and Anisoprint use this kind of technology.
It’s also possible to weave in sheets of carbon fiber into a print by using a lamination process, which is what EnvisionTEC and Impossible Objects do with their carbon fiber 3D printers.
Continuous Composites, on the other hand, uses a disruptive hybrid technology. Their printer soaks a strand of fiber with resin, to then solidify it with UV light when it comes out of the nozzle. In other, simple words, it’s a mix of extrusion and photopolymerization.
These continuous fiber 3D printing methods offer extremely strong yet lightweight parts, more so than chopped carbon filament 3D printing. They also offer great load distribution throughout the part.
Anisoprint’s Composite Fiber Coextrusion technology to reinforce 3D prints with carbon fiber or basalt fiber.
Chopped carbon fiber filament 3D printing
Chopped carbon fiber– or carbon-filled– filament, is the most common way to 3D print carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is already integrated into the filament and ready to print on a more or less standard FFF 3D printer.
A base material (again, PLA, Nylon, or other thermoplastics) is mixed with extremely small bits of carbon fiber. These small carbon fiber strands are abrasive, so the 3D printer will require a hardened steel nozzle or other tough nozzle to resist.
Parts printed with this type of filament are stronger than regular thermoplastic prints. That being said, the percentage of fiber used and the base thermoplastic (among other variables) determine how strong the final product is.
Other high-resistance composite materials for continuous fiber 3D printing
Various continuous fiber 3D printers are compatible with other types of fibers in addition to carbon.
Fiberglass 3D printing
This entry-level reinforcement material can produce parts that are considerably stronger and stiffer than ABS and Nylon. It is more flexible than carbon fiber, and is less expensive.
Kevlar fiber 3D printing
Kevlar is another interesting fiber to 3D print with, especially when it comes to shock absorption.
Basalt fiber 3D printing
Anisoprint introduced basalt to their line of fiber materials early 2019. It is as strong as stainless steel and five times lighter than steel.
Reinforcing parts with continuous carbon fiber
- Outer layer or wall reinforcement (concentric)
- Inner infill reinforcement (isotropic)
It’s interesting and important to know what you’ll need for each part in order to optimize your carbon fiber stock.
In some cases, reinforcing only the perimeters of the part will be enough. Other applications may require a light carbon fiber infill, and others might need a very dense infill, which will be more expensive to print as it uses much more material.
Find out more in this guest post from Anisoprint: 6 tips for continuous fiber 3D printing.
Different types of infill for continuous fiber 3D printing.
3D printing carbon composite: pros and cons
Like any material or technology, continuous carbon 3D printing has both advantages and limits.
Pros of continuous carbon fiber printing
Continuous carbon fiber 3D printing can produce parts that:
- Boast high strength, stiffness, and dimensional stability
- Are lightweight
- Have a great surface finish and appearance
It is also easy to work with and 3D print, and can be mixed with many different kinds of thermoplastic materials.
Cons of 3D printing parts with carbon fiber
The few disadvantages of carbon fiber include:
- Limited color choice (shades of dark grey)
- High price
This material is also brittle, but that can be compensated for when paired with a non-brittle plastic.
If you need to 3D print with photorealistic colors, take a look at these impressive full-color 3D printers.
3D printing carbon fiber reinforced filament
- a hardened steel nozzle that can reach at the very least 200°C (aim for higher if possible)
- a cooling fan for your prints
- ideally a heated print bed that can heat up to 60°C or even 80°C
- ideally a closed frame
In some cases, to avoid clogging, you may need a nozzle with a larger diameter that the standard size of 0.4 mm.
These indications are general and may vary depending on the filament. For example, carbon-PLA will be fine with a nozzle that heats up to 200°C, but carbon-Nylon will require around 250°C.
Hence, make sure to read manufacturer recommendations before you order carbon fiber filament.
Chopped carbon filament brands
3DXTech is a company based in the U.S. that produces filament for a variety of industries. While they carry a number of interesting materials like PVDF and Firewire ABS, their carbon fiber reinforced filament collection is second to none.
CarbonX is a premium filament that’s available in nine variants. For basic use, there is ABS and PLA-based filament, but they also have carbon fiber PEKK for industrial use. PEEK, PEI, PC, Nylon, and PC/ABS are also available.
The temperatures and technical specifications differ from one filament to the next, but all are abrasive and will require a hardened nozzle.
Colorfabb is one of the more prolific filament manufacturers, and carry everything from PLA to co-polyesters like NGEN along with a line of special filaments. They currently have one type of carbon fiber filament called XT-CF20, and it has a few unique properties.
Their 3D printing carbon composite filament has a matte surface finish and is comprised of 20% carbon fibers. It’s based off Amphora 3D polymer, a low-odor material that’s styrene free with high melt viscosity and strength. XT-CF20 is produced in-house from their facility in the Netherlands and sold in 1.75 mm and 3.00 mm diameters.
Proto-pasta has a wide selection of filaments in their catalog, including conductive materials and chopped carbon fiber filament.
Their carbon fiber composite is made from PLA with 15% carbon fiber, and has a black matte finish with a slight sheen. It will work with any printer as long as you have the right nozzle and a hot end capable of hitting at least 230°C.
Carbon fiber 3D printing services
Can any 3D printer print carbon fiber?
With the right nozzle and a heated bed, any FFF 3D printer can print carbon fiber.
Can you 3D print fiberglass?
It is possible to 3D print fiberglass with a continuous fiber 3D printer.
What is composite 3D printing?
Composite 3D printing is 3D printing materials that are a mix of two or more different materials. Some composite material examples include: wood-filled PLA, carbon PEEK, and carbon PA.
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