PLA vs ABS: Two Filaments Comparison

If you’re familiar with the world of 3D printing, you already know that the kind of filament you use determines a lot of how the final result turns out. Hence, the need to choose a filament with outstanding printing quality. For starters, PLA and ABS are two of the big filament players in 3D printing.

Of course, both filaments are easy to work with. When confronted with heat, they melt easily for extrusion. Then, they quickly solidify once they become cold. However, they offer two different results.

If you’re trying to make up your mind about which filament you should buy, keep reading. I have highlighted the PLA vs. ABS differences and their impact on the final result you’ll get. Let’s dive in.

BRIEF OF ABS FILAMENT MATERIALS

ABS is short for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene. One of the many features of ABS that blows my mind is its durability. When used to forge any product, it would last long as it can relatively withstand high temperatures. Regardless of the condition your subject ABS material to, it wouldn’t lose its quality.

You can also post-process it using acetone to add that fantastic glossy finish to it. What more? It is thermoplastic. It effortlessly melts when it is heated, but it quickly hardens once it returns to a cooled state.

Before the advent of PLA, ABS was primarily used in 3D printing. Nevertheless, it is still an excellent printing material significantly because it adds a nice touch to your prototype.

Did you also know that your ABS 3D printed product can be an end-use product aside from using ABS for prototypes? Yes? No? Well, now you know.

Furthermore, ABS is relatively easy to work with. This feature is thanks to its low melting point; it’s one of the best materials to use for an injection molding process.

However, ABS isn’t entirely the best choice for 3D printing as it has its flaws. For one, it is subject to wrapping quickly. Also, the smell from ABS during the printing process isn’t pretty at all. But it is not without reason.

The reason is, as it melts under the 3D printer to give birth to whatever object you’re trying to print, it releases certain VOCs. VOC is the acronym for Volatile Organic Carbon.

If you’re familiar with chemistry, you’ll know that VOCs are toxic fumes that may or may not be harmful to the human body. It makes sense that the smell of ABS during extrusion is foul. Logically, there’s no way toxic fumes would release a pleasant smell into the atmosphere.

Related: How to Glue PLA

BRIEF OF PLA FILAMENT MATERIALS

PLA is the blessing that the 3D printing world needed. With its overly friendly nature, it’s no wonder why it is so popular. Its popularity spread like wildfire the moment it hit the 3D printing market for several reasons.

First, it stems from a fascinating source. Polylactic acid (PLA) is a plastic that’s made from renewable resources. Specifically, it is made from sugarcane and maize.

Seeing as PLA is made from genuine natural resources, it is a friend to the environment. Also, you do not need to be worried sick about its impact on your health as it is not produced from toxic materials.

Ever since it hit the market, most 3D printers majorly make use of PLA in printing. That doesn’t mean PLA printers are not using other filaments. Besides, there’s a limit to the things that PLA can do.

In FDM technology, PLA is the choice of preference for printing. If you don’t like what the color on your PLA printed object looks like, you can fix it. Get the paint color you like and change the entire look.

If PLA filament were a person, it would have an easy-going personality. Here’s why! It is so easy to work with. Compared to some filaments, I would need to go the extra mile, like, get a reinforced nozzle or heated bed to print with them. Thankfully, PLA isn’t like that.

The mind-blowing part of PLA is that it doesn’t emit dangerous fumes. This feature is probably thanks to the material that birthed it. Since it was adopted from an environmentally friendly material, it sure would be safe for the environment and less harmful to the human body.

More so, if you are looking to print out material and you’re concerned about the aesthetics of the material, then PLA is the best. It also documents precise details on your object as a result of its low melting point. This low melting point makes PLA suitable for the 3D printing process.

PLA vs. ABS

As earlier stated, PLA and ABS are part of the leading players in materials for 3D printing. Although PLA is starting to gain more popularity than ABS, both are still used for printing in the PLA world. Curious about how these two filaments compare? Here are some of the differences and similarities between these two materials.

Application:

Although both PLA and ABS are plastic, using them for the same printing purpose is wrong. The reason is, while ABS is challenging and rigid material, it is suitable for use in much tougher settings. For instance, ABS is perfect for manufacturing purposes like creating automotive parts like wheel covers or dashboards in a car. Thanks to its rugged surface, it won’t be subject to scratch, corrosion, or rot anytime soon. ABS also impact resistance, making it perfect for cars, pipes, vacuum construction, etc.

Generally, if you need to construct anything in the engineering field and products for end-user, your go-to plastic should be ABS plastic. On the other hand, PLA isn’t that tough. Hence, it is perfect for making prototypes. These prototypes help with understanding the details of the end-use product to be constructed. For instance, if you want to create a cup, you can’t entirely use PLA to build the cup; you can only make a prototype that shows you the fine details on the cup up close.

So, when you get down to creating the cup, you’d know better to include the details. Quite often, beginners in the 3D printing field make use of PLA. It’s a comfortable and great way to help them be familiar with the product they want to 3D print and how the 3D printing works. One of the reasons it’s better for beginners is that they can use it for 3D printing practice in the home. The best contexts for PLA in 3D printing are casting models for an end-user product and creating mockups.

Strength:

Although both PLA and ABS have similar tensile strength, ABS is more functional when compared to PLA. The reason is, with low impact and heat resistance, objects forged with PLA materials cannot withstand usage in harsh conditions. Hence, it becomes ideal for prototypes to model the final product you intend to create. On the other hand, ABS can elongate better before it reaches its breakage point, unlike PLA.

Thanks to its better elongation properties, ABS becomes the go-to material for creating the final product version. Its durability would also ensure that it serves the purpose it was created for.

Aesthetics:

When it comes to 3D printing, you should already know that 3D printers print your objects in layers. While this isn’t bad, you might not like the final result of the objects as the layer lines would be visible. This line visibility or grooves is visible when you print with both PLA and ABS. However, you can get rid of the grooves with ABS materials through the process of smoothing.

Now, the smoothing process requires the use of acetone creams that are only effective on ABS materials. Acetone is not very PLA friendly, except if the PLA material in question is mixed with other materials. But acetone won’t work on pure PLA but works well with ABS.

Also, you can try to get rid of the grooves using the filing and grinding method. But it consumes a lot of time and energy. The smoothing process is a more effortless and less stressful method to get rid of grooves on your 3D printed objects. But it only works best on materials printed with ABS.

Biodegradability:

When it comes to the biodegradability of both filaments, PLA readily biodegrades. Specifically, when in water, it can biodegrade in 50 days. Here’s the thing: it was born out of environmentally friendly materials like sugarcane and cornstarch.

As a result, it is an environment-friendly material that would naturally return to nature once discarded. More so, you can use PLA to produce items for food. The only thing is, you need to be sure that the manufacturer intends for it to be used to make food items. ABS, however, isn’t biodegradable at all. It’s not carved from natural materials. Hence, it won’t biodegrade. However, you can easily recycle ABS. You need to get creative when recycling it.

Temperature:

When it comes to the temperature suitable for deploying these filaments in printing, they generally require that the printing bed be heated before printing. However, ABS requires a lot more bed heat, and you’ll never guess why! During printing, ABS tend to wrap a lot. As a result, it might make the printing process messy or consume more time than required. Hence, the solution to this requires that you heat the printing bed to at least 80 degrees C and at most 110-degree C.

With the bed heated to the above degree, you’ll find it easy to print with this filament. Aside from heating the printed bed, you’ll also need to get a higher nozzle for printing with ABS. Meanwhile, with PLA, the regular nozzle and a printer bed are heated at 60 degrees. C is all you need to make printing with PLA work for you. In addition, ABS material is temperature-sensitive.

That is, you need to keep the temperature around it at an all-time high to prevent it from cracking while you’re printing. It would help to have an enclosure around your printer when printing with ABS material. It would prevent air from flowing into your printer while you’re printing with ABS. On the contrary, PLA doesn’t need this dramatic setup as it is not temperature sensitive, and printing with it is relatively easy.

Fumes:

It is typical for the majority of filaments to exude fumes during the printing phase. The fumes are not healthy for the human body. Hence, the fumes from ABS are toxic to human health. The kind of fumes that ABS exudes isn’t pleasant at all. From the odor, you can tell that you shouldn’t inhale it.

Consequently, it’s not ideal to use ABS filament to print around the home or office. Better still, use it at an industrial factory where you’re required to wear protective gear. Also, ensure that the room you’re going to print in is adequately ventilated. However, if you insist on using ABS in your home, ensure that your machine comes with a filter.

It would protect you from fumes that pose a high threat to your health. When it comes to PLA, you don’t need to worry about the fumes. Since it’s a vegetable-based material, the fumes it exudes are odorless and pose no health risk.

Price:

Generally, ABS and PLA are two filaments that are not expensive at all. Although we’ll get specific with pricing, you’ll notice that ABS is the cheaper option between the two. The reason? When it comes to injection molding, ABS is the preferred filament. You can use ABS to makes things like Legos and car parts. On the other hand, PLA is also cheap but is a couple of dollars higher than ABBS. Nevertheless, the price difference isn’t significant at all.

Related: PETG vs PLA

Last Words

Now that you know the PLA vs. ABS difference, we hope you’ll know which filament to choose what’s appropriate for the function you need it for. It is important to note that the differences between these filaments do not necessarily mean one filament is better than the other. Instead, it should help you make an informed decision when next you want to get a filament.

Before you purchase any filament, you need first to clarify what you intend to use it for. Do you need a filament that helps you with model casting so you’d use these created parts in a presentation to a company? Or are you a beginner in the 3D printing field that needs a filament to practice with? Then opt for PLA. It is perfect for creating objects that are not heavy-duty functional. For printing equipment for heavy-duty functions, ABS is the way out for you.

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