What is ABS smoothing, and how does it work?

Well, if you want to get the best visuals on your ABS printed models, you may need to go through a bit of ABS smoothing. ABS smoothing will make your 3D printed models look much more professional and have that shine you would desire to get from your models. The method of ABS smoothing mostly is to use acetone as the core solvent to get a clean and smooth surface finish.

If you are just starting on ABS printing, you may not know much about smoothing. That’s where I come in. Here, I will help you through the complete process of ABS smoothing and how you can do it. So, let’s not waste any time and get right into it.

How does the ABS smoothing work?

First, let’s go through the basics and what happens in the smoothing process. What you do in the smoothing process is melt a little bit of the ABS surface, which in turn smoothens it completely.

While you are in the process, you will need to know the limits. Because if you are going over a specific point, you can easily damage the structure of your 3D print. This is why it’s better to go through this process with experience, especially if you are working with an actual 3D printed model rather than practice or sample ones.

So, the best thing to do is, create some sample 3D printed models and keep practicing this process. After some attempts, you will figure out the perfect condition, and you will know when you should be stopping the smoothing process from getting the best results.

Related: PLA vs ABS

Ways to smoothen ABS filament

There are several methods that you can use for smoothening your ABS prints. The methods I will share here mostly use acetone as the core solvent. The only difference is how you apply them in your 3D printed models.

The reason for using acetone is that ABS tends to react to acetone quite well and usually dissolves in it. That removes those rough lines on your ABS prints and makes them look as smooth as ever.

Different methods have their perks and drawbacks, so you can choose the one that best suits your needs. Let’s take a quick look at the methods for smoothening ABS.

Method-1: Using a brush to apply acetone  

The most straightforward method you can try to apply acetone on your ABS prints is using a brush. All you need to do is pour some acetone into a bowl or cup. Dip the brush in it and then slowly apply that to the ABS model. It’s almost like painting your ABS models with acetone.

Now, there are some issues with this method that you have to be aware of. The first one is that you will use up a lot of acetone in this process, and the results you get aren’t that satisfying. Also, sometimes, you will end up with white spots around the print surface, which doesn’t look that good visually.

Method-2: Going for an acetone bath

The next method you can try out is a bit more extreme than just using a brush. Here, you will simply be bathing your ABS printed model entirely into a solution of acetone. This ensures that there is no spot left to cover the model with acetone and saves up a lot of your time.

However, there are plenty of drawbacks to this method. The first one is that you will need to touch the model when you are removing it from the bath. This can damage the surface of the ABS print, and you just end up with an ugly piece of the 3D model in your hands.

Also, sometimes the acetone can get inside the model and cause even more internal damage. Along with all that, there is no certain time that you can determine for keeping the ABS model in the bath. So, that can be a bit troublesome.

Altogether, this is a method that comes with a lot of drawbacks. But it’s the quickest way to cover up your model with acetone without leaving any gap at all. Only go for this method if you are left with no choice at all.

Method-3: Vapor Smoothing

This has to be the best one for smoothening your ABS printed models among all the different methods. The basic process is simple; you don’t use the acetone solution directly on your print; you just use the fumes or vapor from acetone and let that smoothen the model’s surface.

In this method, you get all the advantages you would usually get in an acetone bath. On top of that, it doesn’t get any disadvantage of that method either. So, it’s a win-win for you if you compare this to the acetone bath method.

You can expect and even spread the acetone throughout the model with this method. Since it’s steam going through the model, there won’t be any issue of dripping or draining the model. You get good control over the smoothening process with this method.

While it may sound a bit technical, the process isn’t that difficult at all. As this is the best method for smoothing ABS, I will go through the whole process in-depth. So, you don’t need to worry about that either.

Related: Printing ABS filament without an enclosure

How to do vapor smoothing on your ABS printed model?

Now, if you can go for vapor smoothing over any other method, I highly recommend going for this one. It’s one of the best methods to try out for smoothing ABS printed models.

Let’s get through the process and steps of vapor smoothing your ABS printed models.

Things you need for the process

There are several things that you have to get straight to vapor smoothen your ABS model. You will need to ensure a proper environment for this process to work. First, let’s check out the things that you need to get for the process –

  • Acetone
  • A glass or metal container
  • A lot of tissues
  • Clips
  • Aluminum Foil
  • A timer.

Aside from getting these things, you will need to maintain some regulations as well. Here are the things that you have to ensure –

  • First, make sure you are in a properly ventilated room as you will be working with fumes it can get dangerous.
  • Acetone is a flammable chemical, so you have to make sure there is no change of any flames or fires around the working space.
  • You should never heat the acetone; the reason is simple, it’s a flammable chemical.
  • Make sure to wear masks, goggles, and gloves. You should avoid any kind of skin contact with acetone.
  • Always keep away plastic items in your household away from acetone as that can damage them severely.

After doing all these and maintaining them, you can move on to the smoothing process.

Related: TPU Print Settings

Steps to vapor smooth ABS printed models

Here are the steps you need to follow to vapor smooth your ABS 3D printed models.

  • Step-1: Place your ABS model

The first thing to do is to determine how you will be placing the model for the process. You will need to decide on the orientation of the object. Typically, the best placement is to place the model on the base. But if you want to avoid a particular side from smoothing, you can place the object on that specific side as well.

To make a base to place the model, you can use an aluminum foil sheet. Simply fold it several times and make a base according to your model.

  • Step-2: The smoothing process

After placing the model, get a glass or metal container. Then, soak some tissue papers with acetone and identify the tissues on the walls of the container. You can use clips or magnets to ensure the tissues stay in place.

Now, place your glass container on the model while ensuring the tissue papers on the walls aren’t touching the 3D model.

  • Step-3: Be patient and wait

Once you have covered the ABS model, all you have to do is wait for it to do its work. Get your timer and set it for about 15 minutes in the beginning. You can go for more if you feel like the model needs a little bit more shine.

  • Step-4: Let the model dry

Finally, you can remove the container from the model and let the model dry for at least an hour. Make sure you don’t touch the model while it’s drying. This is very important to remember to get the proper results.

And that’s pretty much it for the process. As you can see, it’s not that difficult to vapor smooth your ABS printed model.

Conclusion

All in all, ABS smoothing is something that can get you some excellent-looking ABS printed models. So, if you are up for that extra little bit of work, the results are truly worth it.

When you go for this process, make sure to go with vapor smoothing as it has the most advantages. Also, it’s pretty easy to do as well. You need to keep in mind that it takes some trial and error to find out the perfect timing that you need to maintain in this process.

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