Printing TPU: A Comprehensive Guide to Printing with Thermoplastic Polyurethane

Printing TPU, also known as thermoplastic polyurethane, has gained immense popularity in recent years due to its unique properties and versatility. This innovative material has revolutionized the world of 3D printing, enabling the creation of flexible, durable, and impact-resistant objects. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore everything you need to know about printing TPU, from its characteristics and applications to the best practices for successful prints.

Understanding TPU

Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) is a highly versatile material that blends the properties of plastic and rubber. It is known for its exceptional flexibility, elasticity, and resilience. TPU is composed of alternating hard and soft segments, which give it its unique characteristics. The hard segments provide strength and rigidity, while the soft segments allow for flexibility and elongation. This combination makes TPU an excellent choice for applications that require both strength and flexibility.

Properties of TPU

TPU possesses several desirable properties that make it ideal for 3D printing. It exhibits high abrasion resistance, chemical resistance, and excellent mechanical properties. TPU can withstand repeated bending, stretching, and compression without losing its shape or structural integrity. It also has good impact resistance, making it suitable for applications that require durability and toughness. Additionally, TPU has good resistance to oils, greases, and solvents, making it suitable for various environments.

Applications of TPU

TPU’s unique properties make it suitable for a wide range of applications. One of the most common uses of TPU is in the production of footwear, where it is used to create comfortable and flexible soles. TPU is also widely used in the automotive industry to manufacture components such as gaskets, seals, and interior trim parts. Its excellent chemical resistance makes it suitable for medical applications, such as prosthetics and medical devices. Moreover, TPU is used in the production of sports equipment, phone cases, and even fashion accessories.

Choosing the Right TPU Filament

When selecting a TPU filament for your 3D printing project, several factors need to be considered. One crucial aspect is the shore hardness of the filament. Shore hardness is a measure of the material’s resistance to indentation. TPU filaments with a lower shore hardness (e.g., 85A) are softer and more flexible, while higher shore hardness (e.g., 95A) filaments are stiffer and less flexible. The choice of shore hardness depends on the specific application and desired flexibility of the printed object.

Color Options and Special Additives

TPU filaments are available in various colors, allowing for endless possibilities in terms of aesthetics and design. From vibrant and bold colors to more subtle and natural tones, the choice of color can significantly impact the final appearance of the printed object. Additionally, some TPU filaments come with special additives, such as carbon fiber or metal powder, which can enhance the material’s strength and mechanical properties. These additives can provide improved rigidity, increased wear resistance, or even electrical conductivity, depending on the specific requirements of the project.

Compatibility with 3D Printers

Before purchasing a TPU filament, it is crucial to ensure compatibility with your 3D printer. TPU requires printers with a direct drive extruder, as it tends to be more flexible and can cause issues with Bowden-style extruders. A direct drive extruder ensures better control and feeding of the filament, resulting in more successful prints. Additionally, it is essential to check the recommended extrusion temperature range of the TPU filament and ensure that your printer can achieve and maintain the necessary temperature for optimal printing.

Printer and Settings for TPU Printing

Successful TPU printing requires careful configuration of your 3D printer’s settings. Several factors, such as nozzle size, extruder temperature, print speed, and print bed adhesion, need to be considered to achieve high-quality TPU prints.

Nozzle Size and Compatibility

The nozzle size plays a crucial role in TPU printing. A larger nozzle diameter, such as 0.4mm or 0.6mm, is generally recommended for TPU printing. The larger nozzle allows for smoother filament flow and reduces the risk of clogging. Additionally, it is important to ensure that the nozzle material is compatible with TPU. Nozzles made of brass or hardened steel are commonly used for TPU printing due to their resistance to wear and good thermal conductivity.

Extruder Temperature and Retraction Settings

TPU has a relatively low melting point compared to other thermoplastics, typically ranging from 200°C to 230°C. It is crucial to set the extruder temperature within this range to achieve proper filament flow without causing overheating or degradation. Additionally, adjusting the retraction settings is essential to minimize stringing or oozing during TPU printing. Retraction helps control the amount of filament being pulled back when transitioning between print moves, reducing the chances of unwanted filament trails.

Print Bed Adhesion and Surface Preparation

Ensuring proper adhesion to the print bed is crucial for successful TPU printing. TPU has a tendency to warp or peel off the bed due to its flexibility. To improve adhesion, it is recommended to use a heated print bed. The ideal bed temperature for TPU varies depending on the specific filament, but it typically ranges from 40°C to 60°C. Applying a thin layer of adhesive, such as glue stick or specialized bed adhesion solutions, can further enhance bed adhesion. Additionally, using a textured or roughened build surface, such as a PEI sheet or a build plate with a textured coating, can provide better grip for TPU prints.

Preparing TPU for Printing

Proper preparation of TPU filament is essential to ensure optimal print results. Before printing, it is crucial to take certain steps to handle, store, and prepare the TPU filament for successful printing.

Drying TPU Filament

Moisture absorption is a common issue with TPU filament, which can negatively impact print quality. To prevent moisture-related problems, it is recommended to dry TPU filament before printing. This can be done using a filament dryer or by placing the filament in a sealed container with desiccant packs. Drying the filament at a low temperature for a few hours can help remove any moisture absorbed during storage, ensuring smooth and consistent filament flow.

Storing TPU Filament

Proper storage of TPU filament is crucial to maintain its quality and prevent moisture absorption. TPU is particularly sensitive to moisture, which can lead to brittleness and poor print results. It is recommended to store TPU filament in an airtight container or a vacuum-sealed bag with desiccant packs to protect it from humidity. Additionally, storing the filament in a cool and dry environment away from direct sunlight can further prolong its shelf life.

Filament Handling and Feeding

When handling TPU filament, it is important to exercise caution to avoid kinks, twists, or tangles. These issues can disrupt the filament flow during printing and lead to failed prints. Using a filament guide or a filament cleaner can help ensure smooth and consistent feeding of the filament into the extruder. Additionally, it is recommended to avoid excessively tight filament paths or sharp angles that can cause filament binding or deformation.

TPU Printing Techniques

To achieve optimal results when printing with TPU, specific printing techniques and settings can be employed to overcome challenges associated with its flexibility and improve overall print quality.

Printing Speed and Layer Height

TPU printing generally requires slower print speeds compared to rigid materials like PLA or ABS. Slowing down the print speed allows for better control of the flexible filament and reduces the risk of extrusion issues or filament skipping. It is recommended to start with a lower print speed, around 20-30 mm/s, and adjust accordingly based on the specific TPU filament and printer setup. Additionally, using smaller layer heights, such as 0.1mm or 0.2mm, can help achieve finer details and smoother surfaces in TPU prints.

Retraction Settings and Coasting

Retraction settings play a crucial role in minimizing stringing and oozing during TPU printing. It is important to find the right balance between retracting too much, which can lead to filament grinding or clogging, and retracting too little, resulting in stringing. Adjusting the retraction distance and speed to minimize filament movement between print moves can help reduce stringing. Additionally, enabling coasting in the slicer settings allows the extruder to stop extruding slightly before the end of each move, reducing pressure and minimizing potential stringing or oozing.

Cooling Considerations

While cooling is typically beneficial for most 3D prints, TPU printing requires careful consideration of cooling settings. Excessive cooling can cause TPU to contract and warp, leading to print failures or poor surface quality. It is recommended to reduce or disable cooling for the first few layers of TPU prints to ensure proper adhesion to the print bed. Gradually increasing the cooling after the initial layers can help improve overall print quality while minimizing the risk of warping.

Post-Processing and Finishing Touches

After printing with TPU, there are several post-processing techniques and finishing touches that can be applied to enhance the appearance and functionality of the printed objects.

Sanding and Smoothing

If a smoother surface finish is desired, sanding can be employed to remove layer lines and imperfections. Using fine-grit sandpaper or sanding sponges, gently sand the printed object in a circular motion. Take care not to apply excessive pressure, as TPU is softer than other materials and can be easily deformed. After sanding, the object can be further smoothed by applying a thin coat of primer or filler to fill any remaining gaps or surface irregularities.

Painting and Coloring

TPU prints can be painted or colored to achieve a desired look or to match specific color schemes. Acrylic paints, spray paints, or airbrushing techniques can be used to add color and detail to the printed objects. Before painting, it is essential to clean the TPU surface thoroughly to remove any dust or residues that may affect paint adhesion. Applying a primer or base coat can help improve paint adhesion and enhance the vibrancy of the colors.

Adding Texture or Texture Overlay

For certain applications or design preferences, adding texture or a texture overlay to TPU prints can be a creative way to enhance their appearance or functionality. Textured patterns or embossed designs can be achieved by using textured rollers, stamps, or by creating custom molds. These techniques can add visual interest and tactile elements to the printed objects, making them more visually appealing or providing additional grip or texture where needed.

Applications of TPU Printing

The versatility of TPU opens up a wide range of applications across various industries. Here are some notable examples of how TPU printing is revolutionizing different sectors:

Footwear and Wearable Technology

TPU has become a popular choice for footwear manufacturing due to its excellent flexibility, durability, and shock absorption properties. It is used to create comfortable and high-performance shoe soles, insoles, and straps. Additionally, TPU is utilized in the production of wearable technology, such as smartwatch bands and fitness trackers, where flexibility and resistance to sweat and moisture are paramount.

Automotive Parts and Accessories

The automotive industry benefits greatly from TPU printing. TPU is used to manufacture various components, including gaskets, seals, interior trim parts, and protective covers. Its resistance to chemicals, oils, and UV radiation makes it suitable for exterior applications as well. TPU’s flexibility and impact resistance are particularly advantageous in automotive applications as it can withstand vibrations, mechanical stresses, and temperature fluctuations.

Medical Devices and Prosthetics

TPU’s biocompatibility and resistance to sterilization techniques make it a preferred material for producing medical devices and prosthetics. TPU can be used to create patient-specific prosthetic limbs, braces, and splints that offer comfort, flexibility, and optimal fit. It is also utilized in the production of medical tubing, connectors, and flexible containers due to its resistance to chemicals and ability to maintain structural integrity under stress.

Sports Equipment and Protective Gear

TPU is widely used in the production of sports equipment and protective gear, thanks to its impact resistance and flexibility. It is used to manufacture items such as helmet padding, shin guards, mouthguards, and sports shoe components. TPU’s ability to absorb and distribute impact forces helps enhance athlete safety and performance, making it an ideal choice for sports applications.

Fashion Accessories and Jewelry

TPU’s versatility extends to the fashion industry, where it is utilized in the production of accessories and jewelry. TPU can be printed in various colors and finishes, allowing designers to create unique and customizable pieces. From bracelets and earrings to phone cases and handbag details, TPU offers a combination of durability, flexibility, and aesthetic appeal that is highly sought after in the fashion world.

Troubleshooting TPU Prints

While TPU printing can be highly rewarding, it may come with certain challenges. Here are some common issues that may arise during TPU printing and their possible solutions:

Stringing and Oozing

Stringing occurs when the molten TPU filament oozes out from the nozzle while moving between different parts of the print. To minimize stringing, adjusting retraction settings can be helpful. Increasing the retraction distance and speed can help pull the filament back, reducing the chances of unwanted oozing. Additionally, enabling coasting or reducing print speed can alleviate stringing issues.

Poor Layer Adhesion

If the layers of a TPU print are not adhering well, resulting in weak or brittle prints, adjusting the print temperature and ensuring sufficient extrusion flow can help improve layer adhesion. Increasing the extruder temperature within the recommended range can promote better fusion between layers. Additionally, ensuring proper filament flow, without under-extrusion or over-extrusion, can help achieve stronger layer adhesion.

Nozzle Clogging and Filament Grinding

TPU filament is more prone to nozzle clogging and filament grinding compared to other materials. This can occur due to excessive pressure or insufficient filament flow. To prevent clogging, ensure that the extruder temperature is within the recommended range for the specific TPU filament. Additionally, adjusting the retraction settings and reducing print speed can help alleviate filament grinding issues by reducing the strain on the filament and extruder.

TPU Printing Safety Measures

Working with TPU filament requires certain safety precautions to ensure a safe and controlled printing environment:


When printing with TPU, it is essential to have proper ventilation in the printing area. TPU filaments can emit potentially harmful fumes during the printing process. Therefore, it is recommended to operate the printer in a well-ventilated space or use exhaust fans to remove any fumes or particles from the air. This helps minimize exposure to potentially harmful emissions.

Handling and Storage

When handling TPU filament, it is important to take precautions to avoid contact with the skin or eyes. Wear gloves when handling the filament to prevent any potential skin irritation. Additionally, store TPU filament in a dry and cool place, away from direct sunlight, to prevent degradation or moisture absorption, which can affect print quality and safety.

Fire Safety

Like other filament materials, TPU is flammable and can pose a fire hazard if not handled properly. It is crucial to have fire safety measures in place, such as a fire extinguisher nearby and a fire-safe printing area. Avoid leaving the printer unattended during operation and follow general fire safety guidelines to minimize any potential risks.

Future Innovations and Trends in TPU Printing

The world of TPU printing continues to advance, with ongoing innovations and emerging trends that shape its future:

New Filament Formulations

Researchers and manufacturers are continuously developing new TPU filament formulations to enhance its properties and expand its applications. These include filaments with improved flexibility, increased strength, higher temperature resistance, and specialized additives for specific purposes. The development of TPU filaments with improved printability and ease of use is also a significant focus.

Multi-Material and Multi-Color Printing

Advancements in printing technology are enabling multi-material and multi-color printing with TPU. This allows for the creation of more complex and versatile objects with different properties and aesthetics. Multi-material printing with TPU opens up new possibilities for creating objects with varying levels of flexibility and hardness in a single print, expanding the range of applications that can benefit from TPU’s unique properties.

Integration of TPU with Other Materials

Combining TPU with other materials, such as rigid plastics or metals, is an area of ongoing research and development. The integration of TPU with other materials can create hybrid structures that leverage the benefits of both materials. This opens up possibilities for creating objects with complex geometries, improved functionality, and enhanced performance.

Scaling Up Production and Lowering Costs

As TPU printing becomes more widespread, efforts are being made to scale up production and lower the costs associated with TPU filaments. This includes optimizing manufacturing processes, increasing production capacities, and exploring cost-effective alternatives for raw materials. These advancements aim to make TPU printing more accessible and affordable for a wider range of users.


Printing with TPU opens up a world of possibilities for creating flexible and durable objects. By understanding the characteristics of TPU, selecting the right filament, and mastering the printing techniques, you can unlock the full potential of this versatile material. With its wide range of applications and continuous innovations, TPU printing is undoubtedly shaping the future of additive manufacturing. So, embrace the possibilities, experiment, and let your creativity soar with TPU printing!

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