pla2We have said it once, and we have said it again and again. The next big thing in consumer level 3D printing may not be the hardware itself, but rather the materials that these machines can print with. 2014 saw all sorts of new kinds of 3D printer filaments come to market for FFF/FDM based 3D printers, from a large list of filament manufacturers, and I was expecting to see some of the latest of these when I arrived in Las Vegas for CES 2015 on Monday. However, what I didn’t expect was that MakerBot would be the ones showing these new materials off.

In fact, I arrived at CES planning to sit down and interview MakerBot’s CEO Jenny Lawton, and ask her if the company she recently took leadership of would be bringing any new filaments to market in the coming year. We have seen them release a whole range of filament color options as well as some other unique materials which do everything from glow in the dark to change colors based on temperature. However, we had not yet seen MakerBot release any composite filaments as of yet. Well, that has just changed.

Bust 3D printed in Limestone PLA+

Bust 3D printed in Limestone PLA+

On Tuesday at CES 2015, MakerBot had four new filaments on hand that they were showing off to the tech world. These new filaments, which are expected to come to market in 2015 are what the company is referring to as PLA+. PLA+ is a range of filaments that are PLA composites, featuring many quite interesting materials. The four new materials which will be released in 2015 include:

  • Lime PLA+
  • Maple Wood PLA+
  • Bronze PLA+
  • Iron PLA+

Sitting down with MakerBot CEO Jenny Lawton, I was able to see examples of all four of these new materials, which will all be compatible with the 5th Generation MakerBot 3D printers, using the Smart Extruder. The company has plans to release smart extruders capable of printing in these new materials. For example, there will be one Smart Extruder that will be capable of printing in metal composites, while another Smart Extruder will be able to print with wood composites. These new material-specific Smart Extruders will be coming to market in 2015 as well.

Maple Wood PLA+

Maple Wood PLA+ printed door knocker

As for the objects that MakerBot had on hand to demo, they included a Maple PLA+ 3D printed door knocker, a hammer printed in half maple and half iron, several iron vases, an iron nut and bolt, and a beautiful bronze vase that was partially polished. All of these can be seen in the photos provided.

PLA+ Iron

PLA+ Iron

While these 3D printed composite-based objects didn’t feel exactly like their more traditional counterparts, I must say, I was very impressed. The hammer looked and felt as though it could actually be used, although we were told it was not a “functional hammer”. The bronze vase actually had a real patina on its surface, like that which you would find on a real bronze object. The iron vase, we were told could easily be magnetized with a magnet, and it had a really solid feel to it. As for the wooden door knocker, I would bet that seven people out of ten would have guessed it was carved out of wood.

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Hammer 3D printed with Maple Wood and Iron PLA+ & Vase printed with Bronze PLA+

MakerBot apparently believes that 3D printing shouldn’t merely be about impressing the masses with cool technological hardware, but rather it should be about creating objects that are both high quality and aesthetically appealing to the end user.

I knew that it would not be long before MakerBot would jump into the composite materials market with their filaments. I just didn’t know how soon it would be, or how much of a splash they would make. Lawton assured us that this is not all we have seen when it comes to composite materials from MakerBot. It’s safe to say that we can expect to see even more in the near future.

What do you think about these four new composite “PLA+” filaments? Discuss in the Makerbot PLA+ forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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