What is 3D printing filament?
Filaments: ABS and PLA
While different types of 3D printing materials exist, the most common on the market for consumers today is known as 3D printing filament. Thread-like in appearance (though much thicker), 3D printing filament is heated and extruded through a moving nozzle. The material is layered vertically until a 3D object with height, width, and depth is formed. From standard plastic to simulated metal or wood, there is a variety of 3D printing filaments to choose from.
Of the many filaments available, certain materials are used more commonly than others. We’ll be looking more closely at two of the most commonly used 3D printing
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)
While ABS is stronger and harder than PLA, it requires a higher melting point and consistent temperature distribution along the geometry of an object. As a result, a heated build platform is used to prevent uneven shrinkage, layer distortion, or warping. ABS is petroleum based & emits fumes during printing, so an enclosed build area or proper ventilation is required. While it has its 3D printing nuances, ABS is an extremely durable, reliable and is a sturdy material used across multiple industries. Its tough, glossy (with appropriate finishing) surface also provides a longer service life for parts. ABS is however sensitive to prolonged exposure to sunlight, which can degrade its characteristics over time.
PLA (Polylactic Acid)
PLA is derived from cornstarch, sugar cane, and tapioca root, making it a bio-degradable plastic that emits a sweet popcorn-like aroma when heated. It doesn’t require excessive ventilation or an enclosed build area, though there’s no harm in using either of those to limit any fumes. While it prints at lower temperatures compared to ABS, it’s also generally less finicky and does not require a heated build plate. Somewhat shiny and smooth in appearance, PLA offers minimal flexibility (depending on the object’s geometry) but is also more brittle than ABS. While ABS is robust and hard, PLA can offer smoother layering and better handling of details (once appropriately configured).
In The End
ABS and PLA are used for a variety of 3D printed objects, are available in a wide range of colors, and are most often used for their versatile material properties, ease of use, and limited printing difficulty. While PLA and ABS share some overlap in characteristics, they differ. ABS is extremely durable, used for outdoor furniture, toys, consumer products, and other high impact applications. PLA is fairly strong, but may be less susceptible to heat and more brittle depending on the object’s geometry. PLA is also easier to print with, as it does not require a heated build platform as compared to ABS.
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