TIPS WITH TONY: Mixing It Up with Plastic Colorants

Proto Labs’ material selection and available color options for thermoplastics can be found online at

You may require colored resin or transparent coloring for your injection-molded parts, but exactly how much colorant is added and what consistency can you achieve?

Salt-and-Pepper Mix
Proto Labs offers colorant at no charge to most natural, white or clear materials. In most cases, we do this by adding a 3 percent salt-and-pepper mixture of colorant based on weight to the base resin, but on occasion, less colorant is added to transparent resins like polycarbonate.

A 3 percent salt-and-pepper colorant mix is typically used.


Since we hand mix the colorant and base resin, you may have a higher or lower concentrate of colorant throughout the order. The injection molding press does a good job of mixing the colorant and base resin when it melts and grinds the resin in the barrel before molding, but it isn’t 100 percent.

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TIPS WITH TONY: Prototyping with Hard Metals

Last week we discussed prototyping with soft metals like aluminum, copper and brass, so this week we turn our attention to hard metals and processes (3D printing, CNC machining and injection molding) used for rapid prototyping in low volumes.


SS 316

SS 17-4

SS 304

Nickel Steel

Steel Alloy



Cobalt Chrome




























Hard metals that are offered in three different manufacturing processes at Proto Labs: direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), CNC machining (CNC) and metal injection molding (MIM).

Stainless Steel
Stainless steel (SS) is one of the most widely used metals in our material library and is available in three different grades and all three services: 3D printing, machining and molding.

  • 304L is only available for machined parts and offers a higher tensile strength and good corrosion resistance while offering a slightly lower price than other stainless steel materials.
  • 316L is available in machining, industrial 3D printing through direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) and metal injection molding (MIM). 316 offers an improved corrosion and chemical resistance over 304 while offering a high temperature tolerance.
  • 17-4PH is also available in all three manufacturing methods and offers a higher yield and tensile strength with good resistances to corrosion. 17-4 also offers a higher magnetism of all our SS offerings.

TIPS WITH TONY: Prototyping with Soft Metals

Soft metals — aluminum, magnesium, brass, copper — are available in different grades at Proto Labs depending on the 3D printing, CNC machining and injection molding service chosen. Quantities range from 1 to 5,000+ parts in 1 to 15 business days.

Aluminum engine bracket 3D printed through DMLS.

At Proto Labs, we use the industrial 3D printing process of direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) to build parts from soft (and hard) materials like aluminum.

DMLS-built aluminum provides parts with excellent strength-to-weight ratios, temperature and corrosion resistance, and provides good tensile, fatigue creep and rupture strength. With a tensile strength of 37.7 ksi (260 MPa) and a hardness of 47.2 HRB, for example, you are able to have parts produced in nearly any part geometry with features like internal channels or complex undercuts that can’t be manufactured through any other method. And, final parts are still up to 98% dense.

You can also get aluminum parts using CNC machining in 6061 and 7075 grades. 6061 can provide you with improved corrosion resistance and can be welded while 7075 provides you a part that has a higher tensile strength and is harder than 6061.

Do you need a prototype of an aluminum die-cast part? We can mimic aluminum die casting using our stereolithography (SL) process and SLArmor technology. SLArmor uses our DSM Somos (NanoTool) material, applying a nickel metal coating that gives the look and feel of metal without the added strength or weight.


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TIPS WITH TONY: Can 3D-Printed Parts Take the Heat?

Here’s a question that’s often asked: How do materials used in 3D printing compare to injection-molded thermoplastics when the temperature rises? To answer that, I’ll briefly dissect the materials used in stereolithography (SL) and selective laser sintering (SLS) processes as these are commonly compared to injection molding.

SL involves a thermoset resin that is solidified by an ultraviolet laser, followed by a UV post-curing process to completely solidify the resin. As far as material properties, the big takeaway is that SL parts are built from thermoplastic-like resins, so they do break down over time in direct UV light.

SL uses materials that mimic ABS, polypropylene and glass-filled polycarbonate, and they offer an array of material properties still exist. But today we’re concerned with the thermal properties of the materials that are best suited to handle the heat — 3D Systems Acura 5530 and DSM Somos NanoTool. Both are offered in post-cured states and there’s an additional process for thermal post-curing that increases the operating temperatures.

The chart shows optimal heat deflections for SL materials. The other materials offered in SL have a much lower heat deflection ranging from 120˚F to 177˚F.


UV Post-Cure

UV Post-Cure +
Thermal Post-Cure

3D Systems
Accura 5530

85˚C (185˚F)

250˚C (482˚F)

DSM Somos NanoTool

225˚C (437˚F)

263˚C (506˚F)

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TIPS WITH TONY: The Right Way to Text

In this week’s tip, we look at best practices for designing text on parts, and answer questions like raised or recessed, which fonts to use and alternative options.

Raised or Recessed?
Features can either be raised up or recessed in to part surfaces, but which way is best? Because molds are machined, we prefer to mill the actual text or logo instead of milling around those features. This allows for faster machining, easier polishing and eliminates very small mold features that may break off.

Please extrude the text/logo features by a minimum of 0.010 in. and a maximum of 0.020 in. This allows your text to be legible and not stick in the features while molding — any deeper and you risk having the text peel off and remain in the mold. So, design raised features on your CAD model to improve moldability during manufacturing and legibility on final parts.

Raised text on part is recommended.

If you must have recessed features on your part, many of the same guidelines still exist, but there is one additional concern that you will need to address in regards to the spacing between characters. Having text recessed on your part now means that the features in the mold are raised and we need to machine between each character. Features with less than 0.125 in. of clearance require spacing between each character at a minimum of 0.020 in. to properly remove all material to ensure the legibility of text.

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