Carbon Fiber: Definition, Properties, Applications, and Uses in 3D Printing

Is Carbon Fiber Heavy?

No, carbon fiber is not heavy. Carbon fiber is very lightweight which is one of its two most desired properties, the other being its strength. The weight of carbon fiber will depend on the number of fibers per cm2 and the resin used to bind it. As an example, a plain twill weave of carbon fiber without resin will weigh 210 g/m2, with a thickness of only 0.28 mm. For comparison, steel has a weight of 4 kg/m2 for a thickness of 0.5 mm.

What Are the Chemical Properties of Carbon Fiber?

The chemical properties of carbon fiber are: 

  1. Chemical-resistant
  2. Nontoxic 
  3. Nonflammable 

What Are the Different Advance Applications of Carbon Fiber?

Usually, the requirement for carbon fiber is limited to high-performance applications due to its cost. A full list of industries in which carbon fiber is used is below:

1. Aerospace Industry

The aerospace industry is used to describe everything from small drones to commercial airliners and satellites. The most important property of carbon fiber for this industry, as with many, is its weight. The use of lightweight material in the construction of commercial airliners saves companies millions in fuel every year for each aircraft. The use of carbon fiber in aircraft today has reduced the weight of some aircraft by up to 20%. Carbon fiber is mostly used in structures such as the fuselage, empennage, nose cones, and rotor blades. The drawback of using carbon fiber in aircraft is Barely Visible Impact Damage (BVID). BVID is damage that can barely be seen if at all by an unaided eye and is a very common damage type in all composites. This is a significant problem as unseen damage can compromise the safety of a component. Detecting BVID is very hard and requires extensive training and testing. 

2. Sporting Goods

Carbon fiber is used in a range of sporting equipment to reduce weight while retaining strength. It can be found in tennis rackets, skis, snowboards, bikes, and golf clubs. The sports industry has exploited carbon fiber's light weight to be able to make faster-moving equipment. Because of the reduced weight of a bike using carbon fiber, cyclists are able to cycle much faster than before. The biggest problem with carbon fiber in sporting goods is that it's the most expensive material.

3. Medical Devices

Carbon fiber is used both for X-ray devices and implants in the medical industry. Carbon fiber is used for top boards as part of X-ray equipment as it is radiolucent, meaning X-rays can pass through it easily without interruption. Carbon fiber is used for medical implants as it is wear-resistant, has a high strength-to-weight ratio, and has a comparable elastic modulus to bone. The drawback of using carbon fiber over metal for implants is that, unlike metals, carbon fiber is brittle and is more likely to shatter. 

4. Energy Storage System

Research is being conducted in the hope of developing carbon fiber structural batteries. This would mean that the structure of a car, for example, could be made out of a carbon fiber cell. This technique would reduce the weight of an electric car, making it much more efficient. The drawback of this system currently is that any impact damage to a vehicle is much more likely to result in a vehicle being written off as the damage would be hard to assess and even harder to repair. 

5. Civil Engineering

Carbon fiber is being used in civil engineering to build bridges and concrete structures. In civil applications, the light weight of carbon fiber, while preferential, is not the most important factor, but strength is. Carbon fiber is being used to reinforce concrete structures in which steel would usually be used. Depending on the steel and carbon fiber, carbon fiber is 5 to 10 times stronger than steel. Carbon fiber is also being used as part of the load-bearing structures of bridges. The biggest disadvantage of carbon fiber in civil engineering is that it’s much more expensive than the steel it usually replaces. 

6. Marine Technology

The biggest uses of composites in the marine industry are in yachts and small boats. For decades, the hulls of yachts and dinghies have been made out of fiberglass because of its light weight and resistance to corrosion. The falling price of carbon fiber is a reason it is now being used in yachts. Carbon fiber is also used to build masts, booms, and keels. The strength, light weight, and fatigue resistance are all advantages being exploited by the marine industry. The big disadvantage of carbon fiber in marine applications is that damage is hard to detect, which causes a massive safety issue.

7. Military and Defense Technology

There are many uses for carbon fiber composites in the military and defense industry. The most notable examples include uses in drones, helicopters, jets, and transport aircraft as well as pilot helmets. The light weight and strength of carbon fiber allow for more fuel-efficient and better-performing aircraft. Pilot helmets are becoming increasingly complex and therefore heavier. Using carbon fiber reduces that weight which removes strain from the pilot. The drawback of using carbon fiber in military aircraft is that damage is extremely difficult to detect and fix.

How Can Carbon Fiber Be Utilized Together With 3D Printing?

Carbon fiber can be used in 3D printing either as a continuous fiber layer or it can be printed as chopped strands in the filament of a Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printer. To 3D print with a continuous fiber, the printer requires two printheads, one for the plastic filament and one for the carbon fiber. The use of a reinforcement layer can create 3D-printed parts that are lighter and stronger than metals. Carbon fiber can also be embedded within the filament as chopped strands. The use of chopped strands of carbon fiber significantly improves the strength and stiffness of a part without a massive increase in price. 

How Does 3D Printing in Aerospace Industry Used Carbon Fiber To Create Different Part?

Currently, 3D printing with carbon fiber in the aerospace industry is limited. Using new materials and processes requires an extensive amount of qualification before use in aerospace. However, many aerospace companies are using 3D-printed carbon fiber parts for brackets and specialized tooling. 3D printing is being used to create limited production parts which would otherwise have long lead times. Many repairs and maintenance tasks require specialized tooling which has high costs and long lead times. With 3D-printed carbon fiber, lead times and costs are now being slashed. 

What Is the Advantage of Carbon Fiber Compare to Other 3D-Printed Materials?

The advantage of carbon fiber printed parts is the increased strength when compared to other 3D-printed materials. Most 3D-printed parts are made out of PLA or ABS which are relatively weak, meaning the parts cannot be used for structural purposes. However, with 3D-printed carbon fiber materials, the strength is comparable to that of aluminum. This opens many applications for the use of 3D-printed parts. 

Is Carbon Fiber Stronger Than Steel?

Yes, carbon fiber is stronger than steel when comparing their respective strength-to-weight ratios. While both steel and carbon fiber have an elastic modulus of 200 GPa, steel is five times heavier than carbon fiber. This high strength-to-weight ratio is why carbon fiber may be preferential in many applications. 

Is Carbon Fiber Stronger Than Aluminum?

Yes, carbon fiber is much stronger than aluminum. Aluminum can reach up to 570 MPa whereas ultra-high modulus carbon fiber can reach a tensile strength in excess of 5.5 GPa. For more information, see our guide on What is Aluminum.

What Is the Difference Between Carbon Fiber and Carbon Fiber 3D Filament?

Both traditional carbon fiber and 3D-printed carbon fiber add strength and are lightweight, but the method of application is very different. Traditionally, carbon fiber is a weaved mat of fibers that have a resin applied and then cured. Traditional carbon fiber is usually made into larger panels and tubular sections but can be made into brackets. 3D-printed carbon fiber is either chopped into micro strands and added to a filament from which it is printed into a part usually with complex geometry or is printed as a singular continuous strand in discrete layers of a 3D-printed part. 


This article presented carbon fiber, explained what it is, and discussed its various applications in 3D printing. To learn more about 3D printing carbon fiber, contact a Xometry representative.

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Carbon Fiber: Definition, Properties, Applications, and Uses in 3D Printing