PLA Opacity Tool

by schlem, published

PLA Opacity Tool by schlem Jul 7, 2016
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Finding truly opaque PLA for photographic / camera applications has proven difficult. Many black PLA formulations are translucent at best, even when printed at 100% infill.

The sample photographs were fogged by translucent PLA, and light shining through the shutter (typically the thinnest part of the camera).

In a quest to find the best (and most affordable) opaque black PLA, I offer this simple tool.

Print at 0.25 mm layer height. Each layer from the center outwards increases from 0.25 to 1.25mm thickness. I have found for 3D printing cameras a minimum opacity through 1mm thickness in required.

This tool is designed to be held up to a standard incandescent 60W lightbulb. Don't let it touch! -- It will likely stick and melt.

I use a 70 lumen LED flashlight as my standard light source. My benchmark is ZERO light transmission.

I have had good results with Shaxon and Makergeeks black PLAs (Opaque at 1mm), but lately their pigment content seems to have decreased and these filaments have not been opaque enough for photographic applications.


MatterHackers Pro Gun Metal Grey PLA Mixed results by batch
Rigid.Ink Black PLA Mixed results by batch
JustPLA Black PLA Mixed results by batch
Verbatim Black PLA OPAQUE!, but ~2.78mm diameter. Doesn't infill fully.

Additionally, it has been reported by a Flickr user that these filaments are opaque at 1mm or less:
eSun Black PETG from HobbyKing (not opaque for me)
eSun Black PLA from HobbyKing (PASSES OPACITY TEST!)
Metal composite PLA from HobbyKing

Shaxon Black PLA Formerly opaque; NO LONGER
MakerGeeks Dark As Night PLA Formerly opaque; NO LONGER
Inventables Black PLA Not opaque
Lulzbot Black PLA Not opaque
Hatchbox Black PLA Borderline, but super-shitty quality
MatterHackers Pro Black PLA Not opaque
MatterHackers Pro Midnight Blue PLA Not opaque
Ultimachine Black PLA Not opaque
Atomic Deep Black PLA Not opaque
Laywood-Flex Not opaque
FilamentONE PLA Extrafill Vertigo Grey Not opaque (Thanks @tbuser!)

If you test a filament and find a TRULY OPAQUE BLACK PLA, please post in the comments.

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Less than 10 minutes printing time. Thanks for helping!

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black PET-G from Devil Design, seller is Motedis in Germany, is opaque at the first (with a good Printer :-) layer.

My print of the test tool with MakerGeeks Raptor PLA "True Black" was somewhat spoiled when the innermost layer refused to separate from the build plate, so it has a hole where that section should be. Putting a piece of paper behind the hole to avoid having the full brightness of the bulb shining through, I can see light rings that look about the same as your "opaque at 1 mm test" or possibly a little darker so I'm going to proceed with printing a camera and see how it goes...

Excellent! When the MakerGeeks "black as night" filament ceased to be so, they wanted to up-sell me the Raptor PLA. I balked on principle. How much per Kilo?

As of today, $37.48/kg. It seems to print well and cleanly, but so far I've only done the spool adapters to put 35mm into 120, haven't had time to print the camera itself yet. It also has a much stronger plastic smell, not the usual sugary odor of PLA, probably due to the additives to make it 'high-temperature'. I'll save it for this particular purpose and use other black filament for stuff that doesn't have to be opaque.

Good results with MatterHackers Gun Metal Gray. (Their black is not opaque enough)

Orbi-Tech Black PLA and 3dee Dual Black are both fine (approx >=0.6mm).
Herz and eSun are useless for photographic use.

I usually layer with +45 degree change in orientation for subsequent layers (at 0.2/0.25/0.3mm), works fine for me (better as +90).

I've been making lots of 3D-printed camera parts for several years now.

When I began, I polled various folks about opacity -- and not just for visible, because most digital sensors have significant sensitivity in NUV and especially NIR. I was really looking for blacks made using carbon black rather than organic dyes (which are usually either purple or brown and often disturbingly clear in NIR, which is how Sony got into trouble for NightShot video cameras being used to look through clothing). There aren't many black PLAs that fit the bill; MakerGear's was the first one I found. We have seen obviously different dyes within a single shipment of multiple spools from a single PLA vendor, so I hesitate to recommend black PLA vendors. More recently, I've seen quite a few that are very opaque without even being black: some grays and most of the metal-fill PLAs are quite opaque. Note that metal-fill PLA can be very abrasive on your print head -- stainless steel PLA reamed-out our Wanhao I3's original head from 0.4mm to around 0.8mm after printing a barely visible fraction of a spool.

However, my primary trick is 2-3 coats of flat black latex paint on interior surfaces and give it a few days to outgas. It not only gives excellent opacity when the filament doesn't, but also fills the little gaps that often occur between extruded strands. For example, the red PLA I used in http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1464062 isn't opaque at all, but coating the inside kills nearly all light leakage.

However, let's talk about that phrase "nearly all." Opacity isn't your only problem. Extruded strands of many materials can also act to channel and diffuse light around corners. It's usually not a huge effect, but using Sony cameras with 14+ EV dynamic range almost anything can show. For example, some PLA will route light in and around the body lens mounting flange and leak from the inner portion of the bayonet. This is an issue because you really can't paint parts that will take wear in mounting/unmounting -- such as the bayonet wings. My standard test is to print an M42-to-E or similar adapter and then check for light leaks using a metal-capped lens on it in bright direct sunlight.

Kiev 10/15 Lens To Sony A7II-series Body Adapter

Part of this exercise is to separate the hype from the fact. I have spoken with several vendors that claim their PLA is the most opaque on the market, only to find that it is completely unsuited to my purposes. I haven't found a perfect medium for coating the inside surfaces of my cameras, but I keep looking. Of course, non-black PLA that is opaque would be great - I just haven't found any. Again, recommendations tendered. I have a curiosity about so-called carbon fiber filaments, but, like the metal filled products, they are known to erode the print head. I can't find up-rated nozzles for my hot end (budaschnozzle), but they are out there for other hot ends.

Parenthetically, have you considered an o-ring to seal the joint between the adapter and the face of the camera body?

I have some conductive black PLA that is doped with carbon nanotubes... haven't tried it yet, but it looks good and is probably super abrasive. :-( Maybe the esun metal PLA, which doesn't contain too much metal, is a good compromise? We use mostly inland PLA these days, and I believe one of their grays is quite opaque. In terms of transmitting light, keep in mind even white can be pretty opaque if it is made using zinc oxide colorant. In my lab, we have a collection of http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:704271 printed for each filament we've tried (a couple dozen?)... it isn't handy right now, but maybe next week I could run a quick relative reading on each... might make a nice little informal publication. :-)

Put another way, not even a sheet of lead stops all photons, so it's really a matter of how many EV drop across what spectrum you need to avoid fogging. A lot of "black" PLA gives 12+ EV drop with just a few layers... and that's almost enough, especially if it does that in NIR too. It would have been enough for film, thanks to reciprocity failure and very narrow spectral sensitivity. Turn the heat up a little on your print head to improve bonding, overextrude a tad, and stick to rectilinear fill patterns for the 100% layers -- that will help a lot by reducing pinhole gaps.

An O-ring wouldn't help -- the PLA fit is good and, as I said, PLA can actually bend/channel the light around even sharp turns. Incidentally, I was able to print simple adapters out of "soft black PLA" -- which feels like gasket material (not like ninjaflex!) and makes a quite opaque print, but is a bit of a nightmare to print because it extrudes like chewing gum (a sticky mess that contaminates the print head for many meters of whatever material is next).

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Thanks for the wisdom of your perspective. You make a good case for using high-opacity filament, rather than monkeying with some sort of mitigation strategy. Thanks!