6.1. Considerations for 3D printer nozzle materials and sizes

There are so many nozzle options available today that it can be a bit overwhelming. These notes highlight important differences to consider when choosing nozzle materials, and coatings.

Note

These notes are based on my experiences with the Prusa i3 Mk3 and Artillery/Evnovo Sidewinder X1 printers. If you are using a different printer, please verify the hardware details are similar.

6.1.1. Nozzle materials and coatings

Nozzle materials don’t have an immediately obvious impact on prints, but they do vary significantly in cost.

6.1.1.1. Plain brass

Brass nozzles are the most common and least expensive option. Brass is inexpensive and has good heat transfer characteristics. This means the nozzle will efficiently transfer heat from the heater block into the filament, so filament flows efficiently. Brass works well at all sizes, and the nozzles are inexpensive enough to try several sizes without a significant investment. I will experiment with an inexpensive brass nozzle to try out a new size before committing to a more expensive version.

The downside to brass is that it is a relatively soft material, so can be worn away when printing abrasive materials such as glow-in-the-dark, carbon fiber or other filled filaments. Even printing unfilled PLA will eventually wear down a plain brass nozzle. They are also easily damaged if you are careless cleaning with metal tools, or are overly aggressive with a cleaning needle when clearing jams.

6.1.1.2. Stainless steel

Stainless steel nozzles are really meant for producing food-safe prints, and don’t gain the average user anything. They cost more, are have poorer thermal characteristics than brass, and aren’t hard enough for prolonged abrasive filament use.

6.1.1.3. Nickel-plated copper

Nickel-plated copper nozzles have better heat transfer characteristics than plain brass, and the nickel coating is less “sticky”. Sticky materials like PETG are less likely to stick to the nozzle, although filament can still accumulate. These nozzles cost somewhere between plain brass and hardened steel. I like nickel-plated copper nozzles smaller than 0.40mm when printing detailed small, detailed prints .

6.1.1.4. Hardened steel

Hardened steel nozzles are recommended if you want to try metal, wood, carbon fiber or other exotic fills. Hardened steel nozzles don’t transfer heat as well as brass, so you may want to bump print temperatures up slightly. Hardened steel nozzles work fine for everyday printing, so you can leave one mounted. Just be aware that elevated temps may contribute to stringing. I use hardened steel nozzles larger than 0.40mm for large prints using filled or abrasive materials.

6.1.1.5. Ruby and other exotics

The Olssen Ruby nozzle is designed for printing exotic, high-temperature materials. While it can be used for printing other materials, it is an expensive way to do so. The ruby itself can be fragile. With the high cost, you’ll also be limited in the number of nozzles you can try. They are also fragile. I have not tried these.

6.1.1.6. Tungsten Carbide

Tungsten Carbide nozzles combine the best of all worlds, providing a durable hardened nozzle with excellent thermal characteristics. They are expensive (~$75) though, so be sure you know exactly what size you want before committing. They are more durable than ruby nozzles, so are a good choice when you really need a hardened nozzle with good thermal characteristics. I have not tried these.

6.1.1.7. Titanium

A few clone manufacturers are peddling Titanium nozzles. Titanium has very poor thermal conductivity – it makes a great heatbreak – so I can only assume they’re out to lure in the unwary. I avoid these at all costs.

6.1.1.8. Coated nozzles

Most of the higher quality nozzle manufacturers offer coated versions of their nozzles. Some offer better thermal characteristics than brass. Although not as hard as hardened steel, they are more durable than plain brass. These are coated with materials that resist sticky filament at printing temperatures, and can help prevent filament buildup and nozzle snags with filaments such as PETG. Paired with a silicone sock, this may be a good solution if you print with these filaments.

Be aware that there are (at least) 2 varieties of coated nozzles:

  • P3-D and E3D both make coated copper nozzles. E3D offers nickel-plated copper, while P3-D uses a specialized coating on aluminum in their Apollo series. Both claim superior thermal characteristics to brass (P3-D info here) and while harder than bare brass, neither are “hardened” nozzles suitable for printing abrasives like carbon-fibre or glow-in-the-dark filament.

  • P3-D and E3D both make hardened coated nozzles. P3-D has their Hercules series and E3D has Nozzle-X. Both of these are coated, but both are also hardened steel (see P3-D info above) with lower thermal characteristics than brass. I’ve been doing some throughput testing and Nozzle-X does indicate that it can maintain a flow almost identical to plain brass, so it’s a great all-around nozzle. I have not yet tested the P3-D Hercules in head-to-head conditions.

6.1.2. Selecting nozzles

The nozzle is your paintbrush. The quality of the nozzle will affect the quality of the print. Spend a couple of bucks extra to get the most out of the expensive printer you bought. Unless you like making art with crayons, of course.

6.1.2.1. The heartbreak of cheap nozzles

There’s a vocal contingent claiming that the cheapest nozzles are good enough, and that for the price, you can just replace cheap nozzles for a fraction of the price of better quality nozzles. Ignore this advice. It doesn’t take into account that a failing nozzle can ruin an all-day print that ate up most of an expensive spool of filament. Saving $5-10 on a nozzle can easily cost you $40 worth of expensive filament and hours of lost time.

Cheap nozzles are also often produced with shortcuts that can reduce print quality and limit your printing options. E3D, the most cloned nozzle type, uses very specific internal and tip geometries for best results. This is particularly important around the tip where the width of the neck around the opening varies significantly with different sizes. This outer wall is roughly 2X the size of the opening. The length of the bore from the melt zone to the tip also varies. This picture of Mellow brand nozzles clearly shows the variation in the size of the nozzle tip relative to the opening size.

Nozzle dimensions comparing tip to opening size

Fig. 6.1 Nozzle dimensions comparing tip to opening size

Cheap nozzles are bored out of the same size blank regardless of size. This will reduce the range of widths you can use with larger nozzles and reduce print quality. The picture from TriangleLab shows a comparison between their nozzles and inexpensive knock-offs.

Inexpensive nozzle comparison

Fig. 6.2 Inexpensive nozzle comparison

6.1.2.2. Economy nozzles

If you really need to economize with basic brass nozzles, go for the TriangleLabs or Mellow clones off AliExpress. They’re actually cut to E3D dimensions. Avoid the dirt-cheap craptastic nozzles. They don’t match the original dimensions at all. There are reasons nozzles are shaped the way they are. I’ve seen many reports of the clone brass nozzles shearing off, particularly at higher temps. They’re OK as an emergency backup and some testing to see if you like a particular size, but I always pop for a quality nozzle once I decide on a size to use.

6.1.2.3. Everyday printing

If you want good nozzles for everyday non-abrasive filament, pay the premium for E3D or slightly less for P3-D. I like the nickel-plated copper E3D or P3-D Apollo coated series for everyday use. They have excellent thermal characteristics, and the coating helps somewhat with filament grabbing onto the nozzle mid-print. P3-D offers a 1.00mm size not available from E3D.

6.1.2.4. Printing with abrasive filaments

For abrasive materials, P3-D’s Hercules are my go-to coated hardened nozzles now. They have the same relatively-meager thermal characteristics of other hardened steel, but they’re a bit cheaper and coated.

The E3D Nozzle-X is great, but overkill for many users. It’s a real benefit is the ability to maintain hardness at very high printing temps. The coating is nice, but Nozzle-X doesn’t offer any better thermal characteristics than normal hardened steel. For PLA and PETG and most consumer materials, it doesn’t gain you much. I bought 2 before I realized this. E3D does offer a lifetime limited warranty against wear, though not on the coating.

The ruby is considered a dud by many, too fragile and with questionable internal geometry. Do you own research, but I am able to buy a stable of good hardened nozzles from P3-D for that same price. Unless you’re printing the exotic filaments the ruby nozzles were designed for, they’re not going to offer much for the price.

6.1.2.5. Specialty nozzles

Todo

Add notes on:

  • Tungsten carbide

  • 3D Solex Matchless

6.1.3. Personal preferences

I find the following selection from E3D or P3-D a good choice:

  • For detail work:
    • 0.25mm nickel plated copper (E3D) or coated (P3-D)

    • 0.35mm nickel plated copper (E3D) or coated (P3-D)

  • For functional parts:
    • 0.40mm coated hardened steel (E3D Nozzle-X or P3-D Hercules)

    • 0.60mm coated hardened steel (E3D Nozzle-X or P3-D Hercules)

  • For big prints:
    • 0.80mm coated hardened steel (E3D Nozzle-X or P3-D Hercules)

    • 1.00mm coated hardened steel (P3-D Hercules)

Contact and feedback

You can find me on the Prusa support forums or Reddit where I lurk in many of the 3D printing-related subreddits. I occasionally drop into the Official Prusa 3D discord server where I can be reached as bobstro (bobstro#9830). You can email me directly at projects@ttlexceeded.com.

Last modified Apr 2, 2021. Last build on May 15, 2021.