What is carbon fiber 3D printing?

In 3D printing, carbon fiber is used to reinforce other materials, usually thermoplastics. Its main purpose is to make parts that are stronger and lighter, both properties proving to be very attractive for engineering applications in a wide range of industries.

In some cases, carbon fiber enforced prints can even replace parts that are traditionally made of metal. It is possible to print with carbon fiber enforced filament on a regular FDM 3D printer with a hardened steel nozzle.

However, and this will be our primary focus here, continuous carbon fiber 3D printing provides much more strength and reinforcement possibilities. Basically, the printer lays a continuous strand of carbon fiber into a part while it is being 3D printed.

In this guide, you’ll find a comprehensive overview of continuous carbon fiber printing, printers, and manufacturers in this niche market. We also touch base on interesting alternatives to continuous fiber printing, with a quick selection of carbon fiber 3D printers that are optimized to print professional and industrial-grade carbon fiber reinforced filaments.

The best carbon fiber 3D printer options in 2021

BrandProductTechnologyBuild sizeCountryPrice
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
Anisoprint Composer A3Extrusion420 × 297 × 210 mmLuxembourg$ 27,000Ask for a quote
Anisoprint Composer A4Extrusion297 × 210 × 148 mmLuxembourg$ 14,850Ask for a quote
CEAD CFAM PrimeExtrusion2000 × 4000 × 1500 mmNetherlands> $ 250,000Contact the manufacturer
Continuous Composites CF3DResin > OtherUnited States> $ 250,000Contact the manufacturer
Desktop Metal Fiber HTExtrusion310 × 240 × 270 mmUnited States$ 10,000Ask for a quote
Impossible Objects CBAM-2LaminationUnited States$ 100,000Ask for a quote
Markforged X7Extrusion330 × 270 × 200 mmUnited States$ 69,900Ask for a quote
MarkForged Mark TwoExtrusion320 × 132 × 154 mmUnited States$ 20,000Ask for a quote

The technologies that are listed are the general technology categories that the printers fall under. Each manufacturer has a more specific name for their technology.

Continuous carbon fiber 3D printer overview

http://Anisoprint%20Composer%20A4
Selection
CountryLuxembourg
Build size420 × 297 × 210 mm
TechnologyExtrusion
Price$ 27,000

Anisoprint is a Russian company (with offices in Luxembourg) that specializes in composite carbon fiber and basalt fiber printing technologies. The Composer is their flagship machine, which comes in two sizes, A3 and A4. It boasts a “co-extruder”, which mixes a thermoplastic filament with a single continuous strand of carbon fiber.

According to Anisoprint, parts 3D printed with their CFC technology (Composite Fiber Co-extrusion) boast up to twenty times more strength than parts made with basic plastic. They’re also said to be four times lighter than Titanium-made parts.

CFC technology is compatible with any thermoplastic with a processing temperature of 270°C or under.

Selection
By CEAD
CountryNetherlands
Build size2000 × 4000 × 1500 mm
TechnologyExtrusion
Price> $ 250,000

CEAD is a manufacturer from the Netherlands that produces large-scale 3D printers for industrial use. Their CFAM Prime has a massive build volume of 2000 x 4000 x 1500 mm, and is one of the largest 3D printers in the world.

It is capable of reinforcing prints with either glass or carbon fiber, and is compatible with a wide range of thermoplastics, including high performance materials such as PEEK.

The system features a smart temperature system with thermal imaging cameras, enabling it to heat or cool down the environment to ensure optimal 3D printing conditions. CFAM stands for Continuous Fiber Additive Manufacturing.

Selection
CountryUnited States
Build size
TechnologyResin > Other
Price> $ 250,000

Continuous Composites has developed a truly unique way to 3D print carbon fiber, and in mid-air. The printer itself is actually a large print head that can be attached onto industrial robotic arms.

To put it simply, the print head applies a rapid-curing thermoset (liquid resin matrix) to a dry strand of fiber. It then pulls the wet fiber through its nozzle, where it is immediately cured (solidified) by a powerful UV light source.

This technology, called CF3D (Continuous Fiber 3D Printing) allows the robotic arm to 3D print large and complex parts without the need for any support structures. CF3D is able to use many kinds of structural fibers, from carbon fiber to Kevlar and fiberglass. It is also compatible with functional fibers such as metal wires (e.g. copper) and fiber optics.

http://Desktop%20Metal%20Fiber%20LT
Selection
CountryUnited States
Build size310 × 240 × 270 mm
TechnologyExtrusion
Price$ 10,000

Desktop Metal is mostly known for their disruptive metal 3D printers. Their Fiber series, which includes the Fiber LT and Fiber HT, however, tackles the continuous carbon fiber 3D printing niche.

Packed in a user-friendly system, their Micro AFM (μAFP or Micro Automated Fiber Placement) technology offers extremely strong and lightweight parts. The LT version allows you to reinforce PA6 (Nylon) with a continuous strand– or “tape” as called by Desktop Metal– of Carbon Fiber or Fiberglass.

For users that need more heat and chemical resistance, the HT version exists. It is able to 3D print and reinforce high-performance PEEK material.

Selection
CountryUnited States
Build size
TechnologyLamination
Price$ 100,000

Launched in 2019, this US-based company’s industrial machine uses thermoplastic powders combined with sheets of carbon fiber or fiberglass. CBAM stands for Composite-Based Additive Manufacturing.

First, an inkjet print head deposits a liquid onto a sheet of woven fiber, in the particular layer’s shape (e.g. circle). Then, a layer of polymer powder is deposited onto the sheet.

The powder sticks to the areas where the liquid was deposited. After that, the dry, leftover powder is swept off. The stacked layers are then heated and compressed to leave the final part.

The CBAM-2 can currently work with PEEK and Nylon 12 thermoplastic matrices and long fibers made from carbon or fiberglass. This workhorse is able to print continuously for hours without manual intervention from users.

http://Markforged%20X7
Selection

X7

CountryUnited States
Build size330 × 270 × 200 mm
TechnologyExtrusion
Price$ 69,900

Markforged has raised millions of dollars in the past few years and has been developing very interesting technology. Their latest hit is the Metal X for metal 3D printing, but Markforged is mostly known for their continuous fiber 3D printers.

The X7 prints Markforged’s proprietary Onyx filament– a strong Nylon that is already reinforced with chopped carbon fiber- and continuously reinforces it with a strand of carbon fiber. Hence, the printer delivers extremely strong parts. It is also very precise thanks to its built-in laser micrometer that constantly 3D scans the build area.

Their X series also includes the X3 for chopped carbon fiber filament, and the X5 for continuous fiberglass 3D printing.

http://Markforged%20X7
Selection

X7

CountryUnited States
Build size330 × 270 × 200 mm
TechnologyExtrusion
Price$ 69,900

Markforged has raised millions of dollars in the past few years and has been developing very interesting technology. Their latest hit is the Metal X for metal 3D printing, but Markforged is mostly known for their continuous fiber 3D printers.

The X7 prints Markforged’s proprietary Onyx filament– a strong Nylon that is already reinforced with chopped carbon fiber- and continuously reinforces it with a strand of carbon fiber. Hence, the printer delivers extremely strong parts. It is also very precise thanks to its built-in laser micrometer that constantly 3D scans the build area.

Their X series also includes the X3 for chopped carbon fiber filament, and the X5 for continuous fiberglass 3D printing.

Selection
CountryUnited States
Build size320 × 132 × 154 mm
TechnologyExtrusion
Price$ 20,000

While the Markforged X7 is destined for industrial use, the Mark Two is a smaller, desktop carbon fiber 3D printer.

It’s compatible with a range of other fiber reinforcement materials, including fiberglass, Kevlar, and HSHT (High-Strength High-Temperature) fiberglass. As for base filament, it is only possible to use Markforged Onyx material.

The Mark Two’s print bed is easily removable, enabling users to pause a print, take the print bed out to add components to the part in progress, and to put the plate back into the machine to continue 3D printing.

If you’re looking for something more affordable, the Onyx Pro ($6,999) is available as well to reinforce Onyx chopped carbon fiber filament with a continuous strand of fiberglass.

Special mentions: other continuous fiber printing technologies

Special mention
CountryUnited States
Build size
Technology
Price$ 100,000

Orbital Composites has been exploring carbon fiber 3D printing since 2013. Their technology, Coaxial Extrusion printing, is a bit more complex to explain. They use matrix-blending nozzles with high pressure instead of high temperatures, which enables faster carbon 3D printing than regular FDM does.

Coaxial Extrusion technology is able to print multifunctional structures with carbon, copper, nanomaterials, ceramics, and more. Orbital Composites products target heavy industrial applications (e.g. printing aircraft wings or wind turbines) and aren’t commercially available yet.

Alternatives to continuous carbon fiber 3D printers

All of the carbon fiber 3D printers in our main list are able to 3D print carbon fiber continuously. If you don’t need continuous fiber printing capabilities, you may want to take a look at the following printers. They are compatible with carbon fiber composite materials.

Special mention
CountryUnited States
Build size355 × 305 × 305 mm
TechnologyExtrusion
Price$ 73,000

Stratasys makes some of the best 3D printers on the market, and they have a variety of machines built for specific purposes (full-color printers, resin 3D printers, PEEK 3D printers, etc.). That includes carbon fiber filament thanks to the Fortus 380mc Carbon Fiber Edition, a highly accurate machine with a build area measuring 355 x 305 x 305 mm.

The enclosed, heated system requires no special ventilation and prevents warping, although it only works with two types of filament. ASA and FDM Nylon12CF carbon fiber filament are the only types of material rated of use with this machine.

http://Fusion3%20F410
Special mention Selection
By Fusion3
CountryUnited States
Build size
TechnologyExtrusion
Price$ 4,599

The Fusion3 F410 is a 3D printer designed for composite materials. It sports the company’s 2.0 Extruder print head which has increased grip along with a Kevlar cable system. This keeps things steady while you print and allows you to reach speeds up to up to 250 mm/s. That print head is interchangeable while the build area provides plenty of room measuring 355 x 355 x 315 mm.

The machine also has a multi-zone heated bed and can print with almost any material including carbon fiber-filled, fiberglass filled, PETG, ABS, PLA, polycarbonates, and fiber-based materials.

http://The%20Roboze%20One+400%20Xtreme%20is%20an%20industrial%20PEEK%203D%20printer.
Special mention
By Roboze
CountryItaly
Build size300 × 200 × 200 mm
TechnologyExtrusion
Price$ 50,000

The Roboze One +400 Xtreme is one of the top systems for printing with PEEK, but it is also an excellent choice for carbon fiber and other exotic composites.

This professional 3D printer has a nickel-coated beltless system, compressed vacuum cooling system, and several other special features that give you an edge in accuracy. This machine can reach nozzle temperatures of up to 500°C, allowing you to print with Carbon PEEK, Carbon PA, ULTEM, PEEK, Glass PA, and a variety of other technical materials.

Continuous fiber vs. chopped carbon fiber 3D printing

There is a big difference between printing with continuous fibers and printing with chopped carbon fiber filament.

Continuous fiber 3D printing

In this method, long, continuous strands of carbon fiber are mixed with thermoplastic base material during the 3D printing process. The base material, also called matrix material, can be PLA, ABS, Nylon, PETG, PEEK, or almost any other thermoplastic.

One way to reinforce parts with continuous carbon fiber is by using a dual extruder, where a special nozzle deposits a single, uninterrupted strand of fiber at the same time as the other nozzle heats and prints the base material. Markforged and Anisoprint use this kind of technology.

Composite Fiber Coextrusion Anisoprint
Anisoprint’s Composite Fiber Coextrusion technology to reinforce 3D prints with carbon fiber or basalt fiber. Source: Anisoprint

It’s also possible to weave in sheets of carbon fiber into a print by using a lamination process, which is what EnvisionTEC and Impossible Objects do with their carbon fiber 3D printers.

Continuous Composites, on the other hand, uses a disruptive hybrid technology. Their printer soaks a strand of fiber with resin, to then solidify it with UV light when it comes out of the nozzle. In other, simple words, it’s a mix of extrusion and photopolymerization.

These continuous fiber 3D printing methods offer extremely strong yet lightweight parts, more so than chopped carbon filament 3D printing. They also offer great load distribution throughout the part.

Chopped carbon fiber filament 3D printing

Chopped carbon fiber– or carbon-filled– filament, is the most common way to 3D print carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is already integrated into the filament and ready to print on a more or less standard FFF 3D printer.

A base material (again, PLA, Nylon, or other thermoplastics) is mixed with extremely small bits of carbon fiber. These small carbon fiber strands are abrasive, so the 3D printer will require a hardened steel nozzle or other tough nozzle to resist.

Parts printed with this type of filament are stronger than regular thermoplastic prints. That being said, the percentage of fiber used and the base thermoplastic (among other variables) determine how strong the final product is.

Other high-resistance composite materials for continuous fiber 3D printing

Various continuous fiber 3D printers are compatible with other types of fibers in addition to carbon.

Fiberglass 3D printing

This entry-level reinforcement material can produce parts that are considerably stronger and stiffer than ABS and Nylon. It is more flexible than carbon fiber, and is less expensive.

Kevlar fiber 3D printing

Kevlar is another interesting fiber to 3D print with, especially when it comes to shock absorption.

Basalt fiber 3D printing

Anisoprint introduced basalt to their line of fiber materials early 2019. It is as strong as stainless steel and five times lighter than steel.

Reinforcing parts with continuous carbon fiber

When using continuous fiber 3D printing with extrusion-type 3D printers, there are two different ways to reinforce parts.

  • Outer layer or wall reinforcement (concentric)
  • Inner infill reinforcement (isotropic)

It’s interesting and important to know what you’ll need for each part in order to optimize your carbon fiber stock.

In some cases, reinforcing only the perimeters of the part will be enough. Other applications may require a light carbon fiber infill, and others might need a very dense infill, which will be more expensive to print as it uses much more material.

Types of infill continuous fiber Anisoprint
Different types of infill for continuous fiber 3D printing. Source: Anisoprint on Aniwaa

3D printing carbon composite: pros and cons

Like any material or technology, continuous carbon 3D printing has both advantages and limits.

Pros of continuous carbon fiber printing

Continuous carbon fiber 3D printing can produce parts that:

  • Boast high strength, stiffness, and dimensional stability
  • Are lightweight
  • Have a great surface finish and appearance

It is also easy to work with and 3D print, and can be mixed with many different kinds of thermoplastic materials.

Cons of 3D printing parts with carbon fiber

The few disadvantages of carbon fiber include:

  • Limited color choice (shades of dark grey)
  • High price

This material is also brittle, but that can be compensated for when paired with a non-brittle plastic.

3D printing carbon fiber reinforced filament

To 3D print carbon fiber filament, your 3D printer will need:

  • hardened steel nozzle that can reach at the very least 200°C (aim for higher if possible)
  • cooling fan for your prints
  • ideally a heated print bed that can heat up to 60°C or even 80°C
  • ideally a closed frame

In some cases, to avoid clogging, you may need a nozzle with a larger diameter that the standard size of 0.4 mm.

These indications are general and may vary depending on the filament. For example, carbon-PLA will be fine with a nozzle that heats up to 200°C, but carbon-Nylon will require around 250°C.

Hence, make sure to read manufacturer recommendations before you order carbon fiber filament.

Chopped carbon filament brands

3DXTech

3DXTech is a company based in the U.S. that produces filament for a variety of industries. While they carry a number of interesting materials like PVDF and Firewire ABS, their carbon fiber reinforced filament collection is second to none.

CarbonX is a premium filament that’s available in nine variants. For basic use, there is ABS and PLA-based filament, but they also have carbon fiber PEKK for industrial use. PEEK, PEI, PC, Nylon, and PC/ABS are also available.

The temperatures and technical specifications differ from one filament to the next, but all are abrasive and will require a hardened nozzle.

Colorfabb

Colorfabb is one of the more prolific filament manufacturers and carries everything from PLA to co-polyesters like NGEN along with a line of special filaments. They currently have one type of carbon fiber filament called XT-CF20, and it has a few unique properties.

Their 3D printing carbon composite filament has a matte surface finish and is comprised of 20% carbon fibers. It’s based on Amphora 3D polymer, a low-odor material that’s styrene-free with high melt viscosity and strength. XT-CF20 is produced in-house from their facility in the Netherlands and sold in 1.75 mm and 3.00 mm diameters.

Proto-Pasta

Proto-pasta has a wide selection of filaments in their catalog, including conductive materials and chopped carbon fiber filament.

Their carbon fiber composite is made from PLA with 15% carbon fiber, and has a black matte finish with a slight sheen. It will work with any printer as long as you have the right nozzle and a hot end capable of hitting at least 230°C.

Carbon fiber 3D printing services

While printing with carbon fiber can produce amazing results, it’s not for everyone – especially if you don’t have the right machine. For businesses that only require a few parts per year, it may not be worth it to invest in a continuous carbon fiber 3D printer. If you’re interested in having something printed in carbon fiber or other materials, check out our guide to 3D printing services. You send them your 3D model, they print it with industrial-grade 3D printers, and ship the part to you.

FAQ

Can any 3D printer print carbon fiber?

With the right nozzle and a heated bed, any standard FFF 3D printer can 3D print carbon fiber.

Can you 3D print fiberglass?

It is possible to 3D print fiberglass with a continuous fiber 3D printer.

What is composite 3D printing?

Composite 3D printing is 3D printing materials that are a mix of two or more different materials. Some composite material examples include wood-filled PLA, carbon PEEK, and carbon PA.