Can You Print PLA and ABS Together?
The creation of 3D printing technology has brought with it the freedom and wide range of opportunities to create a variety of objects with different types of materials that will ensure optimal results.
Any designer or individual hoping to make use of a 3D printer for the creation of certain objects or devices has to be conscious of the type of filaments they intend to use as its compatibility with the 3D printer must be taken into consideration. Although there are several types of filaments, the Polylactic Acid (PLA) and the Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) are the most popular 3D printing filaments and the commonest thermoplastic well known in the injection molding industry.
Derived from renewable resources like corn starch, tapioca roots or sugarcane, PLA is a biodegradable thermoplastic or bioplastic used for applications varying from plastic cups to medical implants. Due to the fact that it is easy to use, costs less and has dimensional accuracy, the PLA filament is the go-to for most users in desktop 3D printing.
It is highly compatible with most extrusion-based 3D printers and their default filament of choice because of the fact that it can be printed at a low temperature and it does not need a heated bed. Not only is it one of the most environmentally friendly filaments on the market, but the PLA also allows the plastic to give off a pleasant scent during printing because of how it is derived.
The American chemist, Wallace Carothers, who is most recognized for the development of nylon and neoprene in the chemical company DuPont created PLA in the 1930s but it wasn’t produced for consumption until the 1980s by the American company Cargill.
- STEP I: A carbohydrate source such as corn starch is fermented to produce thermoplastic polymer by grinding the natural product to separate the starch from the corn, and mixing it with acid or lactic monomers.
- STEP II: After mixing, the starch is then broken into dextrose, also known as D-glucose, or corn sugar.
- STEP III: Lastly, the glucose fermentation then produces L-lactic acid which is the basic component of PLA, a material now considered as a non-Newtonian pseudoplastic fluid meaning its viscosity will change depending on the stress it is subjected to.
Like everything else, PLA has its good and bad sides, all of which should be taken into consideration when contemplating its purchase. Some of the advantages and disadvantages of PLA include:
- It is not costly
- It is properly stiff and possesses good strength
- It has good dimensional accuracy
- It has a good shelf life i.e. it lasts long.
- The heat resistance is low
- Its filament can become brittle and inevitably break
- It is not suitable for outdoors as exposure to sunlight has a negative effect on it
- Lastly, it can ooze and may need cooling fans during printing.
Are you eager to start making use of PLA with 3D printing? Not so fast; first you need to make sure that your 3D printer has met all the hardware requirements necessary to ensure a smooth printing process and the best print quality. The following are the required hardware:
- Heated Bed: Although this is optional as well as the closed chamber, if you decide to get one its temperature should range between 45-60˚C
- Well-Built Surface: To build a palatable surface, you will need painter’s tape, PEI, Glass plate, and glue stick.
- Extruder: The temperature of this hardware should range between 190-220˚C and there is no special hot-end required.
- Cooling: A part cooling fan is required for 3D printing with PLA and the speed of the fan should be at 100%. It is advisable to use a fan that cools the 3D printed part from all directions.
For the optimal use of PLA with 3D printing, make sure to fine tune the retractions to prevent oozing, optimize your cooling settings, choose the correct extruder temperature for printing to avoid under-extrusion, and increase the number of perimeter outlines for your PLA prints so as to create a strong bond between each layer and create stronger parts that are less prone to breaking.
Despite being one of the first plastics to be used with industrial 3D printers, ABS is still very popular because it’s a low cost material but can still print tough and durable objects that can withstand high temperatures.
Commonly used in personal or household 3D printing and highly compatible with FDM or FFF 3D printers, ABS is part of the thermoplastic polymers family and is create from Acrylonitrile, Butadiene and Styrene polymers.
- It is lightweight and possesses good impact strength.
- It is abrasion resistant and quite affordable.
- The ABS polymers can withstand a lot of chemical formulas.
- It is the best option for use in relatively safe and easily operated machines because of its glass transition temperature at 105˚C.
- It has a low melting point and therefore is not easily adaptable to high heat situations but makes it easy to use with 3D printers or during an injection molding process.
ABS is highly beneficial because it isn’t costly, it has good impact and resistance for wear, it creates models with a smoother finish because it oozes and strings less, and it possesses good heat resistance. However, some of the disadvantages of ABS include: heavy warping, its necessity of a heated bed or chamber, its production of a pungent odor during printing, and the tendency for parts to shrink causing dimensional inaccuracy.
To make use of ABS with 3D printing, you need to make sure your 3D printer meets the following hardware requirements in order to ensure the best print quality and a smooth printing process.
- Heated Bed/Chamber or Enclosure: This is highly required and its temperature must range between 95-110˚C
- Well-Built Surface: For a well-built surface, a Kapton tape and ABS slurry will be needed.
- Extruder: Although no special hot-end is required, the temperature for this should range between 220-250˚C
- Cooling: Unlike the PLA, part cooling fan is not required when making use of ABS with 3D printing.
For an optimal use of ABS with your 3D printer and to avoid issues such as warping and fumes which are associated with ABS, you need to control warping, use brims and rafts, print in a well ventilated area, make use of an ABS slurry to improve bed adhesion and make use of PLA as a break-away support material when doing a dual extrusion print.
The answer is yes. Different types of 3D printing materials can be used together as long as they stick very well together which is something that PLA and ABS does so well.
Due to its non-toxic nature, cheapness and ease of print, PLA is able to stick on top of various filaments especially when you want to make multicolor prints or use them as a support structure for the PLA model or vice-versa, and ABS is one of those filaments.
When combined, the two form prints with good mechanical strength that they cannot be separated through conventional means. However, just because it is possible to print these two filaments together doesn’t mean it is advisable.
After exploring both filaments above, there are differences between the PLA and ABS that stand out e.g. PLA melts at a more lower temperature than ABS does, ABS needs a heating bed more than PLA does, PLA while strong in cooler temperature will melt in a hot climate while it is the opposite for ABS and PLA is not suitable for outdoor applications because of its low melting point.
The printing of PLA and ABS is not recommended as a result of these clear differences and because you might see stringing and leaking filament in your printer if it is set to work with ABS and you use PLA filament, and you will experience warping, delayering and jammed nozzles if your printer is set to work with PLA and you use ABS filament.
With the right equipments and appropriate applications, PLA and ABS can be used for printing together with little to no issues. Here are some tips to guide you:
- Purchase premixed PLA/ABS composite material
- Use similar filament brands because different brands of filaments may have other melting points and compositions.
- Use different extrusion nozzles to prevent jamming when going from PLA to ABS.
- Print at the slowest recommended speed for your printer.
- Pay attention to your ABS and PLA temperature properties because certain brands may have products with closer temperature ranges.
- Nearly cut off the ends of the filament to help join the materials together.
The creation of 3D printing technology enables you to create diverse objects with the use of simple materials which are different in terms of strength, cost, flexibility, melting points, variation and compositions. Although PLA and ABS which are popular filaments in 3D printing have several differences, it is possible to print the two together but you have to be careful during this process to avoid issues like stringing, oozing, warping, or jammed nozzles.