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3D Printing with ABS and PLA Filaments

3D Printing with ABS and PLA Filaments

One of the most important aspects of 3D printing is the printing material. For you to obtain the best results, you have to make use of the correct kind of material for the 3D model you intend to print. There are a lot of things to put into consideration to ensure you get the best out of your 3D printing experience, some of these are; durability, flexibility, strength, and availability of the printing material.

The material used to print 3D parts on an FDM printer comes in the form of filaments, a plastic string wound around a spool. Filaments can be formed from a variety of materials, but the most common are thermoplastics, which can be readily melted and resolidified.

The most popular 3D printing materials are ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) and PLA (Polylactic acid) filaments, they may appear to be identical at first glance, but they are very different when it comes to printing, one is more durable and flexible, while the other is easier to use and print. In this article, we would look at these two frequently used filaments in 3D printing and the properties they possess that make them unique.

Main Features and Differences between ABS and PLA Filaments

PLA and ABS are both thermoplastics in general. This means that they will become pliable when heated at the right temperatures after which, you can sculpt and mold them into whatever shape you wish before they cool.

ABS is a type of oil-based plastic filament that is durable and strong while PLA is a form of polyester manufactured from corn, cassava, maize, sugarcane, or sugar beet pulp that has been fermented.

The sugar obtained from these recyclable substances is fermented and converted to lactic acid, which is subsequently converted to polylactic acid, or PLA.

  1. Uses and printing process

The major differences between these 3D printing filaments come to light when we consider the way they are used and the processes involved in the production of 3D models with these materials. Generally, you need proper ventilation when printing with thermoplastics because the fumes produced during the melting process may be unpleasant.

The fumes produced by ABS filaments are said to be more toxic than PLA. Therefore, PLA is considered safer and more convenient to use than ABS. There are other reasons for preference between PLA and ABS filaments some of which we have discussed below. Keep reading to learn more.

  • Melting point

ABS has a relatively high melting point. The usual printing temperature is about 230°C. it is a temperature-sensitive polymer; components can crack during printing if there are air drafts or temperature changes. In this regard, PLA is significantly easier to print because it does not require an enclosure, yet you can still achieve a better print quality.

ABS must be printed on a heated bed, which is regrettably not common in most home printers. A bed temperature of roughly 80-110 °C is required for most ABS filaments. PLA, on the other hand, does not necessitate a heated bed, but a temperature of roughly 60 °C is often preferable.

  • Printing speed

When moving between slicer profiles, you don’t need to adjust the printing speed parameters since ABS and PLA filaments print around the same speed. The rate at which your 3D printer produces results is based on several other settings and has little to do with the printing material. Although a print speed of 60 mm/s is very normal for PLA, it is by no means the limit, it could be as fast as 150mm/s while ABS has a print speed within the range of 40-60mm/s

  • Storage

It is quite easy to assume that the storage of printing materials does not have much to do with the outcome of your finished product. This is not true. It is important to know that various printing materials have different levels of sensitivity to moisture.

ABS and PLA are hygroscopic. This means that when exposed to moisture which is absorbed by the materials it can lead to a serious reduction in the quality of the finished product. It is essential to keep in mind that you should always store your filament in an airtight container to keep moisture out. You can also use an oven to dry or dehydrate your filament before using it.

  • Material properties

The properties of the type of filament used in 3D printing are also very important determinants of how your 3D model would turn out. ABS and PLA are made up of very different material components which reflects in the post-processing ability, flexibility, and strength of the end product. 

  • Strength and longevity

PLA is tougher and stiffer than ABS, however, due to its poor heat resistance, it is primarily used by beginners.

Although ABS and PLA filaments are both suitable for many prototype applications due to their similar tensile strengths. ABS is frequently chosen over PLA because of its superior flexibility. It is weaker and less stiff, but it is also tougher and lighter.

PLA is still popular for quick prototyping when form is more important than function, ABS can be utilized for end-use applications because of its better tensile properties that prevent it from breaking.

Another important detail to consider is the material's resistance to harsh weather conditions, such as sunshine, severe temperatures, and other factors. ABS can withstand higher temperatures than PLA, however, it cracks in freezing temperatures, whereas PLA does not.

Furthermore, both materials degrade over time when exposed to UV rays and moisture, thus neither is ideal for parts that will be exposed to the environment.

  • Flexibility

This is the ability of the printing material to return to its original state after it has been stretched or endured other changes without becoming brittle or breaking. It is a very important factor in 3D printing because it determines the durability of the end product. ABS parts are less brittle, they tend to bend rather than snap under pressure unlike PLA parts, which can make a big difference in a finished product with a functional part.

  • Post-processing

As a result of the nature of FDM printing, the print layers for both ABS and PLA will be evident after printing. ABS prints usually have a matte surface, whereas PLA prints have a semi-transparent finish, which often results in a glossier appearance. Acetone is frequently used in post-production to clean and smooth the edges after printing with ABS to give it a glossy appearance. After printing, it is typically sanded and drilled as a finishing touch. PLA can also be sanded and polished, although it requires more care.

  • Availability and price

When it comes to the cost of one kilogram of a spool of filament, PLA and ABS are comparable. However, if you only consider the cost of the raw materials, ABS is likely to be less expensive than PLA.

This is due to the widespread use of ABS for manufacturing common, small items such as interior automobile components and even Lego. PLA spools can be found for a less price than ABS filament in 3D printing since they are more widely used and have a greater infrastructure built around them.

The cost of a spool of either ABS or PLA materials is determined by a variety of factors. Some of the main reasons why some filaments are more expensive than others are brand, diameter tolerance, color, and shipment.

  • Application and usage

ABS is a more industrial material that is somewhat difficult to print with but has better properties than PLA, such as strength, flexibility, and solvent reactivity. ABS is appealing to individuals who want to build prototypes of real-world parts, components that will be subjected to physical stress, or snap-to-fit models because of these properties. A gear used in a competitive robot, a snap-to-fit welded wire, or anything required to withstand outdoor conditions are some examples of possible applications.

PLA is the most popular 3D printing material since it is easy to print and modify. However, because it's fragile and brittle, it's usually best used for fun creations rather than heavy-duty working parts if you're new to 3D printing. Miniatures, showpieces pieces like cosplay headgear, and lightly utilitarian things like dice towers are among the examples.


We have established that both ABS and PLA are viable choices for beginners but which is the best option for you? Basically, that depends entirely on what you want to do. PLA is excellent for everyday printing, whereas ABS is ideal for creating durable, shock-resistant objects that can be modified subsequently. There's no reason not to test them both if your printer allows it, especially since they're both reasonably inexpensive.

Now that you've learned the fundamental differences between two of the most widely utilized filaments, there's nothing stopping you from printing whatever you want. Remember to do your homework on your filament supplier to guarantee you get the best product possible and also follow proper safety precautions. Having said that, you can begin your happy printing experience today, armed with the knowledge you have just gained from this article. Let's go!

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