PLA VS ABS Filament: What You Need to Know
In this blog, we will use PLA vs ABS as an example to break down the differences and discuss when each material is appropriate (or not!) to use. PLA and ABS are two very popular options for 3D printing. Choosing between the two can sometimes come with its challenges. We will break down the differences, their use cases, and what is best for you!
PLA is one of the easiest materials to print with, which contributes to its popularity. PLA and ABS are both thermoplastic materials that can be used for 3D printing. They each have unique properties that make them more or less suitable for different applications. PLA is a biodegradable plastic made from renewable resources, like corn starch. It has a low melting temperature, which makes it easy to work with.
ABS is a petroleum-based plastic that is stronger and more heat resistant than PLA. It is also more difficult to work with, due to its higher melting temperature. When choosing between PLA and ABS, it’s important to consider the intended use of the 3D printed object. For example, if you need a strong and durable part, like a protective casing for an electronic device, ABS would be the better choice. However, if you’re looking for a biodegradable option, or one that is easier to work with, PLA would be the better choice. Let’s break it down below.
What is PLA filament?
Polylactic acid (PLA) is a biodegradable and bioactive thermoplastic derived from renewable resources, such as corn starch. PLA has many of the same properties as traditional plastics, but it is also biodegradable and compostable. PLA is the most popular 3D printing filament, for many reasons that we will list below.
Advantages of PLA filament
Ease of Use
One of the reasons that make PLA filament so popular is that it is easier to print with compared to other filaments. PLA filament does not require a heated print bed, whereas with other filaments you would need to set the bed at a certain temperature to help with sticking to the bed. Not all 3D printers have a heated print bed, so PLA filament is also mostly compatible with all printers. PLA filament has a lower glass transition temperature, allowing you to print with lower temperatures as well. Generally, PLA filament is pretty hassle-free.
Polylactic acid is a type of biodegradable plastic that is made from renewable resources, such as cornstarch or sugar cane. Unlike traditional petroleum-based plastics, PLA plastic can be made entirely from renewable resources, making it a more sustainable option. Additionally, PLA plastic is fully biodegradable, meaning that it will break down under certain conditions. This makes PLA plastic an ideal choice for applications where traditional plastics would create environmental problems, such as single-use packaging or 3D printing filament. PLA plastic has a lower carbon footprint than traditional plastics due to its renewable content and ability to biodegrade. As a result, PLA plastic is rapidly gaining popularity as a more sustainable alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastics, including in 3D printing.
Being a very popular material in the 3D printing space, the options for PLA 3D printing filaments are endless. With a large variety of regular and specialty colors, you leave your creativity with many options when choosing PLA.
Another advantage of using PLA filament is that it is strong. The tensile strength of PLA filament is comparable to that of aluminum. As a result, PLA filament is an excellent choice for creating strong, durable 3D prints, but not the best. Depending on the actual application, you may need to opt for a material with a better strength advantage.
Disadvantages of PLA Filament
PLA filament has a low melting temperature. A printed part would not be able to withstand high temperatures. A 3D printed part that is going to see plenty of wear and tear should opt for a different material. A printed PLA part has a temperature resistance of around 60° Celsius before it reaches its glass transition temperature.
Weaker Compared to Other Options
An important factor to consider when buying filament is strength, or the ability of the material to resist being pulled apart. Although PLA filament has a comparable tensile strength to ABS filament, PLA is less impact resistant than ABS, so it is not ideal for applications where durability is required. PLA also has a lower melting point than ABS, so it is not recommended for use in high-temperature environments. Overall, PLA is a versatile and user-friendly 3D printing material that offers good strength and a wide range of finishes. PLA and ABS both have strength, but for prints that have use-cases where it will face wear and tear, it is best to opt for ABS filament.
What is ABS filament?
ABS filament is a type of 3D printing material made from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene plastic. This thermoplastic is commonly used in the manufacture of toys, LEGO bricks, and temperature-resistant items such as automotive parts. One of the benefits of using ABS is that it is strong and durable while also being heat-resistant. One of the benefits of ABS filament is that it can be used to create products that are both strong and flexible.
Advantages of ABS Filament
Strength and Heat Resistance
ABS is strong and rigid, making it ideal for applications where those properties are important. ABS filament can be used to create prototypes, engineering models, and consumer products. It is also frequently used in the automotive and aerospace industries. An outdoor print, with some utility use, is perfect for ABS. It contains the properties to handle the strain of being outdoors and facing use. It will be resistant to the heat of the sun, or weather conditions while still providing utility and function.
With a higher strength and heat resistance compared to other plastics, it also comes with a longer lifespan. Prints with utility will last longer and be able to take more abuse. This opens up print possibilities with your 3D printer, such as small car parts. ABS is often used in the aerospace and automotive industries, when prototyping and for other use cases. Other types of plastic are not optimal to take the strain that these use-cases would put upon the 3D printed part. Although with the added advantage of strength, ABS comes with its disadvantages too.
Disadvantages of ABS Filament
Not-So Beginner Friendly
ABS is not as user-friendly as PLA. It requires a heated build plate, and higher and regulated printing temperature for successful printing. ABS also has a higher risk of warping and curling compared to PLA. These problems can be minimized by using an enclosed 3D printer and proper cooling, but it is still something to keep in mind when choosing the best filament for your 3D printed parts.
Another disadvantage of ABS is the smell. When heated, it gives off a strong and unpleasant odor that can be toxic in high concentrations. Because of this, it is recommended to use ABS filament in a well-ventilated area or with a 3D printer that has an enclosed build chamber.
Unlike PLA filament, ABS is not biodegradable. ABS is also made from chemicals that come from petroleum, not natural renewable resources. Despite this, ABS is recyclable under the right conditions. Being a useful plastic with plenty of applications, incentives to recycle and reuse ABS plastic are present.
Conclusion And What Should You Purchase?
Both plastics have their advantages and disadvantages to them. In most use cases, PLA filament is appropriate. ABS is a great material to use when you wish to use your 3D printer to print parts that will see the utility and wear and tear. ABS parts are perfect for this. If you are not using your printer to print parts that will see medium to high amounts of use, you can opt for PLA and be satisfied with your results.