Thermoplastic Urethane in 3D Printing

In recent years, 3D printing has revolutionized manufacturing and prototyping across various industries. One of the key materials contributing to this advancement is Thermoplastic Urethane (TPU). Known for its flexibility, durability, and versatility, TPU has become a preferred material in the 3D printing world. This article delves into what makes TPU unique, its applications, benefits, and challenges in 3D printing.

Figure 1. 3D printing of using thermoplastic polyurethanes.Figure 1. 3D printing of high drug loaded dosage forms using thermoplastic polyurethanes. (Verstraete G, et al.; 2018)

What is Thermoplastic Urethane (TPU)?

TPU is a class of polyurethane plastics characterized by its elasticity, transparency, and resistance to oil, grease, and abrasion. It combines the properties of rubber and plastic, making it highly adaptable for different applications. TPU is a block copolymer, consisting of both hard and soft segments. The hard segments provide rigidity and strength, while the soft segments offer flexibility and elasticity.

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Properties of TPU

The unique combination of properties makes TPU ideal for various applications:

Flexibility and Elasticity: TPU's flexibility allows it to be stretched and compressed, returning to its original shape without permanent deformation. This property is crucial for applications requiring movement and durability.

Durability: TPU is resistant to wear and tear, oils, and chemicals, ensuring longevity even in harsh environments. It is also resistant to low temperatures, maintaining its flexibility without becoming brittle.

Transparency: While not always necessary, TPU can be produced in transparent forms, which can be beneficial for certain aesthetic and functional applications.

Biocompatibility: Some grades of TPU are biocompatible, making them suitable for medical applications such as prosthetics and wearable devices.

TPU in 3D Printing

3D printing with TPU involves using the material in filament form, suitable for Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printers. TPU filaments are available in various hardness levels, measured on the Shore hardness scale, allowing for customization based on the desired flexibility and strength.

Applications of TPU in 3D Printing

Footwear: The flexibility and durability of TPU make it perfect for creating custom insoles, shoe parts, and even entire shoes. Major footwear companies are exploring 3D printing with TPU to design more comfortable and personalized products.

Automotive Industry: TPU is used to print components that require flexibility and resistance to harsh conditions, such as gaskets, seals, and interior parts. The material's ability to absorb impact also makes it suitable for protective covers and bumpers.

Medical Devices: The biocompatibility and flexibility of TPU enable the production of customized prosthetics, orthotic devices, and other medical components. Its adaptability ensures a comfortable fit and long-term use.

Consumer Goods: TPU is used in the production of phone cases, wearable tech accessories, and various household items that benefit from its durability and flexibility.

Industrial Applications: TPU's resistance to abrasion and chemicals makes it ideal for creating parts used in machinery and equipment that experience high wear and tear.

Benefits of TPU in 3D Printing

Customizability: TPU's range of hardness and flexibility allows for tailored solutions for specific applications, enhancing functionality and performance.

Durability: Products printed with TPU are long-lasting, reducing the need for frequent replacements and maintenance.

Comfort and Fit: In applications like footwear and medical devices, TPU ensures a comfortable and precise fit, improving user experience.

Design Freedom: 3D printing with TPU allows for complex geometries and designs that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with traditional manufacturing methods.

Sustainability: TPU's durability contributes to sustainability by reducing waste and the need for frequent replacements. Additionally, advancements in recycling TPU are making it an eco-friendlier option.

Challenges of Using TPU in 3D Printing

Printing Difficulty: TPU's flexibility, while a significant advantage, also poses challenges in the printing process. It can be more difficult to feed through the extruder, leading to issues like filament jams and inconsistent extrusion.

Print Speed: Due to its flexible nature, TPU generally requires slower print speeds to ensure quality and accuracy. This can increase production time compared to more rigid materials.

Post-Processing: TPU parts may require additional post-processing to achieve the desired surface finish and properties, adding to the overall production time and cost.

Adhesion: Ensuring proper adhesion to the print bed can be challenging with TPU. Using appropriate bed adhesion techniques, such as applying a glue stick or using a heated bed, is necessary to prevent warping and ensure successful prints.

Tips for Successful 3D Printing with TPU

Optimize Print Settings: Adjusting print settings such as print speed, temperature, and layer height is crucial for achieving the best results with TPU. Slower print speeds and slightly higher nozzle temperatures can help improve print quality.

Use a Direct Drive Extruder: A direct drive extruder, where the extruder motor is located directly above the hotend, can help manage TPU's flexible nature better than a Bowden extruder setup, reducing the risk of filament jams.

Ensure Proper Bed Adhesion: Using a heated print bed and applying adhesives like glue sticks or hairspray can help TPU adhere to the bed, preventing warping and lifting.

Maintain Dry Filament: TPU is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs moisture from the air. Keeping the filament dry by storing it in airtight containers with desiccants can prevent printing issues related to moisture absorption.

Experiment and Iterate: As with any material, achieving optimal results with TPU requires experimentation. Tweaking settings and conducting test prints will help identify the best parameters for your specific printer and filament.

Future of TPU in 3D Printing

The future of TPU in 3D printing looks promising, with ongoing research and development aimed at improving material properties, printability, and applications. Innovations in TPU formulations are leading to enhanced performance, including increased strength, elasticity, and environmental resistance. Additionally, advancements in 3D printer technology, such as multi-material printing and improved extruder designs, are making it easier to print with TPU and other flexible materials.


Thermoplastic Urethane (TPU) has carved out a significant niche in the 3D printing landscape due to its unique combination of flexibility, durability, and versatility. Its applications span a wide range of industries, from footwear and automotive to medical devices and consumer goods. While TPU presents certain challenges in the printing process, careful optimization of print settings and techniques can lead to successful and high-quality prints. As technology advances, TPU's role in 3D printing is expected to expand, offering even more innovative and customized solutions for various needs. Whether you're a hobbyist or a professional, exploring TPU as a 3D printing material can unlock new possibilities and elevate your projects to the next level.


  1. Verstraete G, et al.; 3D printing of high drug loaded dosage forms using thermoplastic polyurethanes. Int J Pharm. 2018, 536(1):318-325.
For research use only, not intended for any clinical use.