Printability of 3D Printed Hydrogel Scaffolds: Influence of Hydrogel Composition and Printing Parameters

Extrusion-based bioprinting of hydrogel scaffolds is challenging due to printing-related issues, such as the lack of capability to precisely print or deposit hydrogels onto three-dimensional (3D) scaffolds as designed. Printability is an index to measure the difference between the designed and fabricated scaffold in the printing process, which, however, is still under-explored. While studies have been reported on printing hydrogel scaffolds from one or more hydrogels, there is limited knowledge on the printability of hydrogels and their printing processes. This paper presented our study on the printability of 3D printed hydrogel scaffolds, with a focus on identifying the influence of hydrogel composition and printing parameters/conditions on printability. Using the hydrogels synthesized from pure alginate or alginate with gelatin and methyl-cellulose, we examined their flow behavior and mechanical properties, as well as their influence on printability. To characterize the printability, we examined the pore size, strand diameter, and other dimensions of the printed scaffolds. We then evaluated the printability in terms of pore/strand/angular/printability and irregularity. Our results revealed that the printability could be affected by a number of factors and among them, the most important were those related to the hydrogel composition and printing parameters. This study also presented a framework to evaluate alginate hydrogel printability in a systematic manner, which can be adopted and used in the studies of other hydrogels for bioprinting.