ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)
+ Very robust and durable
+ Often used to create machine or vehicle parts
+ Can tolerate higher extreme temperatures (than PLA)
+ Resists stringing
+ Extrudes easily without clogging
– Made from oil, so less eco-friendly (than PLA).
– Can warp, shrink and deform if not printed on a heated bed.
– Unpleasant fumes while printing so must be ventilated.
– More challenging and demanding printer environment required.
– Cannot be used products to house, hold or come in contact with food.
PLA (Polyactic Acid)
+ Fast printing
+ More environmental friendly.
+ Made from organic and biodegradable materials.
+ Finished product is glossier, sharper, refined with a smoother appearance.
+ No harmful fumes during printing
+ Odours given off are pleasant when printing.
+ Higher 3d printer speed+ more detail
– Can deform when exposed to high heat environments.
– Less robust and more brittle (than ABS)
– Less durable (than ABS)
Additionally gaining a greater understanding the different properties of plastic and matching those to your particular project. Let’s have a quick look at the different properties below.
ABS Plastic Filament - The official name of ABS is Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene
1. ABS has a glass transition zone (the temperature that the plastic starts to soften at) of 105º C, and this is critical if you intend making something that will reside in temperatures above this figure like a car for example. If you made a hot-drink coaster or for that matter a hot drink container or something that would stay in a car or other extreme heat environment permanently, it’s likely that your item will start getting soft and begin to lose its shape and droop.
2. Due to the nature of the plastic, ABS tends to be very easy to print with from a hot-end point of view – as in it extrudes elegantly without jamming or clogging. It is however slightly more difficult to deal with once it has been extruded, because it tends to shrink somewhat as it cools. Naturally such shrinkage can cause issues with the item coming away from the bed, or the actual layers cracking or splitting as the object is built layer upon layer increasing in size and height. For this reason it’s imperative that ABS is used only on a heated bed, and ideally within an enclosed-case printer. To minimise problems ensure printing is at least carried out in an area that is not silly cold and preferably one drafts which then might contribute to accelerated cooling and causing the shrinkage issue.
3. ABS can be printed rapidly and can manage quick and large retraction settings and therefore resists stringing.
4. ABS is a generally a super strong form of plastic and when printed at sufficient temps the results are usually excellent layer bonding
5. ABS has a relatively good amount of flex and therefore it ends to bend rather than snap break when applying pressure.
6. ABS produces strong odour fumes while it prints and although it will not harm people, often the strength of the smell can be bothersome to many. It is therefore recommended that if the smell is too annoying, printing should be conducted in a ventilated area wherever possible. Of course this tends to conflict with maintaining the environment to avoid drafts, however good ventilation can be achieved with necessarily creating a draft.
7. Ideal for producing objects that might be dropped or require greater durability or those used in hot environments (assuming hot bed printer is used). Examples of such items include knife handles, car phone mounts, phone cases, toys, wedding rings, jewellery etc. ABS is often used and desirable for the vast majority of 3D prin jobs.
8. Do not use ABS however if you don’t have a heated bed. If you want to print some large objects and cannot protect the printing process from drafts or extreme ambient air temperatures, then avoid ABS. Additionally if ventilation cannot be guaranteed, the using ABS is not ideal form a fumes smell perspective.
PLA Plastic Filament - The official name of PLA is Polylactic Acid
1. Can Print at 180 – 200º C and while you can print without a heated bed, it is highly recommended to have one running at 60º C. PLA’s glass transition temp is notably its biggest disadvantage as maximum operating temperature before integrity failure can occur hugely limits this plastics uses and functions.
2. In regards to actual print performance, PLA is almost the complete opposite to ABS. Those using PLA occasionally have problems with jamming in the hot-end (especially all-metal hot end users) due to the adhesive and expanding nature of PLA as it melts. This doesn’t mean you should avoid it all costs, rather better to incorporate a little oil to almost any hot-end when you put a roll on will ensure smooth continuous printing
3. The biggest advantage here with PLA is the print bed. PLA has very little shrinkage, so users can print rather large prints in open framed printers without having to worry about problems like warping or cracking when lifting from the bed.
4. The fumes are quite pleasant unlike that of the ABS filament.
5. While you can still print extremely strong items with PLA, it is a bit more brittle than other plastics. So rather than bouncing when dropped or battered, some parts could chip or shatter. Obviously thinner parts are more likely to snap than bend. Layer bond is very strong if printed properly and with some skill.
6. It is recommended for use whenever an opportunity presents as it’s a type of bioplastic that can be recycled or composted, so that’s only a good thing for the environment. PLA Filament media is ideal for making boxes, gifts, models and prototype parts.
7. If making something that needs to hold up in 60º (C) temperatures avoid using PLA as your Filament media simply because, it will start deteriorating at this temperature level. Additionally because of its brittle nature, it is not recommended for creating parts or tools or other items that will be under constant physical assault. Avoid also for items that have very thin portions as there is a tendency with PLA to break rather than bend.
It’s worthwhile learning to use both materials since both ABS and PLA have ideal use situations. We recommend trying to use PLA at every opportunity due to its environmental footprint and ease of printing. Use ABS is when there is a greater need for higher impact durability and where higher temperature criteria are demanded.