RR1146 - Measuring and controlling emissions from polymer filament desktop 3D printers

Affordable desktop 3D printers are being widely used in businesses, schools and colleges. Some of these printers use filaments to deposit polymer through a heated nozzle to build three dimensional objects. This type of desktop printer is generally unenclosed and some published studies have raised concerns that they may release potentially harmful fumes and particles. The scientific evidence base on exposures and potential health endpoints is being developed internationally.

This report describes initial research in a laboratory setting to a) measure emissions of particulates and volatile organic compounds from desktop 3D printers and b) investigate the effectiveness of control measures to reduce these printer emissions. Two common filament materials were investigated: polylactic acid (PLA) which is generally used in schools, and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS).

The research found that the heated filaments emitted large numbers of very small particles and volatile organic chemicals which could be breathed in. However, more research is required to establish if under real use conditions these printers release sufficient concentration of emissions to cause harm. The research identified that exposures are significantly reduced by:

  1. setting a lower printer nozzle temperature;
  2. using a filament with a lower emission rate;
  3. placing the printer in a clear enclosing hood fitted with an extraction fan and particulate filter and
  4. maintaining a hood 'clearance time' of about 20 minutes.

These findings have informed the development of a new good practice guide for schools published by CLEAPSS in 2019. This guide provides advice about precautionary measures for safe use of desktop 3D printers and measures to minimise health risks for students and school employees.

Assistance in the use of Adobe Acrobat PDF files is available on our FAQs page.

Updated 2021-04-16