Are 3D Printed Objects Aquarium Safe?


The world of 3D printing is rapidly becoming more and more popular in peoples home due to the rapid price reduction in printer technology. Most schools, libraries, craft clubs have printers available for you to learn and print your own creations, never mind the thousands of people who own their own printer. With printers starting in the $200 range the objects you can create to improve your aquarium setup are endless.

The problem that many printer owners now face is how to create a 3D printed object that is aquarium safe!

Not all 3D printing filaments are Reef or Aquarium-Safe. White ABS and Food-Grade PETG are the recommended aquarium-safe filaments to use. Other filaments may leach toxins into your water which can harm your livestock.

I have based this article on FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) printers which are the most common home-based 3D printers available.

If you would like to view some of these types of 3D printers to reference as you read, you can find a nice selection Here at Amazon.com and if you wish to look at the recommended printing filaments you can find the links for each material listed further down this article.

Read on to find out all there is to know about Aquarium-Safe 3D Printing…

What Is 3D Printing?

3D printing is a process by which a plastic filament is pushed through a heated nozzle. This nozzle melts the plastic and the printer moves either the nozzle or the bed of the machine to ‘Draw’ a line of plastic.

As this plastic exits the nozzle it begins to instantly cool and harden. The printer will draw these lines of the required design, then it will move upwards and draw the next layer. Think of the layers like a loaf of bread. As each layer is printed, the object begins to take shape.

The shape of the object is designed using a computer program which then converts the design into computer code, which the printer then uses to move the extruding nozzle around to create the designed object.

Which 3D Printing Filament Materials Are Aquarium Safe?

With so many printers on the market, the number of filaments available is staggering. Finding the right one is paramount for keeping your livestock safe.

Types of Common 3D Printing Filaments:

1. PLA

Made of cornstarch and is not good for aquarium use as the saltwater will degrade the material and your printed object will fall apart within 6 months

2. Nylon

Nylon can absorb water and possibly swell over time. This could make your product unusable if it is submerged. FDA approved Nylon works well if using to print objects for use out of the water. Brackets, clamps etc.

Recommended Nylon Filaments:

Taulman Nylon 680 FDA 3D Printing Filament
Find it HERE at Amazon.com

3. PET/PETT/PETG

This is the material used to manufacture drinks bottles and food containers so is safe to use within your aquarium. Just make sure the filament you purchase is FDA approved.

Recommended PET/PETG Filaments:

Monoprice Premium 3D Printer Filament PETG – FDA Approved
Find it HERE at Amazon.com

4. ABS

This is the material that most aquarium products are manufactured from. Pump casings, Brackets etc. It is very durable and readily available.

TBR Recommends

HATCHBOX ABS 3D Printer Filament
Comes in Black, White, Green & Red

Aquarium Safe Colored 3D Printing Filaments

This is where and you could run into problems. Most undyed or colored filaments are white. This is by far the safest option if you want to make an object that will be submerged.

Many of the lower-quality filament manufacturers use dyes to color the filaments and it is these dyes that can leach out over time and be toxic to your livestock.

If you want to be safe use just a white filament. If you must have a colored object – A black powerhead guard for your Anemone tank, then these are the filaments I would suggest:

T-Glase

T-Glase is a non-toxic FDA approved polymer that was designed for use in the scientific, medical and food industries. It comes in a range of colors that also fall under the above approvals, making it perfect for use in saltwater aquariums.

Taulman Green T-Glase Filament

The Taulman range of T-Glase filaments are a great option if you are wanting to print something in color.
You can find a selection HERE at Amazon.com

What Can I Print Using A 3D Printer For My Aquarium?

The most common items that I see being created for aquariums are to improve someones set up or to solve a problem.

Below is a small selection of what I have seen:

Dosing Tube Clamps
Dosing Hose Brackets
Sensor Holders
TestKit Tube Racks
Light Brackets
Feeding Funnels
Frag Racks

and on and on…

If you can think of something that can aid you in your maintenance or neatening up your installation then chances are it’s been designed somewhere or you can have it designed for you.

Where Can I Get Things Designed & Printed For My Aquarium?

3D printing is rapidly becoming very popular, especially amongst the younger generation. In fact, if you asked any of your children, nieces, nephews, and the like chances are one of them will know about it and know someone who has a printer.

Many schools and libraries now have printers and you may be able to contact the school and see if you can have them create you parts as part of a design project. Libraries often have kids that use the printer and are looking for new things to design. It’s super cheap too!

My local library charges 10¢ per gram of filament used and the parts weigh nothing! The tube holder below would only cost you several dollars!

You could always buy your own roll of filament and then have them print using that so you can be sure your objects are aquarium safe.

A 3D Printed Dosing Tube Holder

Many of the software programs used to create these parts are free to download, with many of them being very simple to use as they are aimed at children. There are some great tutorials if you would like to learn yourself.

Here are some free Software Programs you may want to look at:-

TinkerCAD
Cura
KisSlicer

Getting Your Own 3D Printer

If you want to try your hand at 3D printing there are some incredible 3D printers available now and their prices just keep dropping! I remember looking at 3D printers several years ago and they were so expensive it was just cheaper to buy off the shelf frag racks and clamps etc!

Now you can have your own printer for only a few hundred dollars and the world it opens up to you is phenomenal! I highly recommend taking a look at these printers on Amazon.com.
Amazon has a great page dedicated to the reviews and is really good at matching your needs to the most appropriate 3D Printer.

You can find this really helpful Amazon Resource HERE.

Where Can I Buy 3D Printed Aquarium Parts?

If you are not the designing type of person but want to look at some items that may work perfectly for you, then take a look at 3D Reef Gear on Etsy.
Michael the owner is a saltwater aquarist himself and after printing his own parts he found many other aquarists really wanted his stuff too!

You can find his online store here:

>> CLICK HERE to go to 3D Reef Gear’s Etsy Store <<

Where Can I Find More Information On 3D Printing?

If you are interested in learning more about 3D printing and how you can design and make things for all aspects of your life there are a few ways I recommend:

Online Resources:

Local Resources:

Many cities have Makerspaces (Makerspace Directory) or 3D printing clubs. Google your local area and you will be able to find someone to steer you to the right place.

Further Reading

If you found this article helpful, you may find the following offer some help too:

Richard

Hi, I'm Richard and I have been an avid aquarist for over 30 years with a passion for Saltwater Aquariums. I love to pass on my knowledge to help others get the same amount a pleasure out of this hobby as I do. View my About Me page to find out more about me & my mixed reef aquarium.

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