Our most common question we receive is, “What do you print your earrings from?"
People have asked if they are made from wood, clay, metal or plastic.
The simple answer is plastic. The 3D printers that we utilize use additive layer technology-meaning the printer applies layer after layer of melted filament. Some of the items we manufacture are made up of only 13 to 15 layers, while other items we have made can take over 700 to 800 layers. It's a slow process; the longest print we have completed took over 25 hours. (These were not earrings though!)
The material we use most often is called PLA filament. The most common spools of filament we use weigh just over 2 pounds with about 1000 feet of material on them. There aren’t some other types of filament that can be printed, which we will discuss in this article as well.
PLA is one of the most commonly used bioplastics in the world. Unlike petrochemical-based plastics, PLA is considered to be biodegradable and eco-friendly. It can be made believe it or not, from vegetables, and cornstarch. Since it comes from renewable raw materials, it is biodegradable in industrial composting plants. Don’t be concerned that your earrings are going to disappear in normal use though; you can expect them to look like new as long as you don’t mistreat them. Under normal room pressure and temperature conditions, PLA won’t degrade. In regular care conditions, your earrings will last practically a lifetime. PLA comes in a wide variety of colors, (we have over 26 colors for you to choose from, and we are adding more all the time!) and it is very popular. It is heat sensitive however, as it can begin to get soft at about 125 degrees or so, so our recommendation is this-- If you are uncomfortable in very hot conditions like a closed up car on a summer day, your earrings are probably uncomfortable too. We don’t recommend leaving your purchases in your car with the windows rolled up during our blistering Texas summers, or try to clean them in the dishwasher or washing machine. If they get dusty or dirty, just wash them in cool water with dish detergent and rinse them in the same cool water. Care is that simple and easy!
PLA does emit fumes while we are printing your earrings, but it is not toxic. In fact, since it is made from items like corn starch, it kind of smells like waffles when we are creating our products. Strangely enough, for some reason, we often get a craving for blueberry pancakes! After the printing process, there are no further fumes and the material is inert, so once you make your purchase, you won’t notice it at all. But I can still recommend the occasional blueberry pancake or waffle. PLA can be printed, sanded, primed and painted. Our earrings are remarkably strong, lightweight and come in numerous colors – even color changing from natural to purple or red in UV light. Those earrings are in our Emblazon line.
Another filament that can be printed in additive layer printers is PET. Your water bottles are usually made from PET material. It is, however, derived from petroleum based products. PET is more tolerant to structural stresses and temperatures than PLA and works great for large structures, and these characteristics are unnecessary for items that we produce. It is a little more temperamental to use, and since PLA is biodegradable, that is the material we have chosen to use in almost all of our products.
An alternative filament printed by additive layer printers is TPU. Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) belongs to a class of polyurethane plastics having many important properties such as elasticity, transparency, and resistance to grease, oil, and abrasion. If you have a flexible cell phone case, it is probably made from TPU. Some of our future creations might incorporate TPU.