PLA vs ABS Filament: Plastic Strength, Flexibility Compared! Which Is Better For 3D Printing?

ABS and PLA filaments are the most popular materials for 3D printing. But one is stronger and more flexible while the other is easier and more convenient to use.

Do you agree that one of the vital parts of 3D printing is to know that you are using the right kind of material to do the job? When looking for the building material that you will be using, there are plenty of things that you have to consider like accuracy, flexibility, and strength so that it will properly and accurately print what you want.

There are several types of material that are commonly used for 3D printing. The two most common ones are ABS and PLA filaments. While they may seem similar, they do have their respective differences. Here, we will explore ABS vs PLA filaments and which one of these two is better for 3D printing.

PLA vs ABS 3D Printing: What’s the Difference?

There are many materials that you can use for 3D printing. However, the most popular plastics are PLA and ABS. Since they are the two dominant materials, they are often compared.

In fact, if you search the web, you will often encounter the words: “filament pla vs abs,” “filament abs vs pla,” “abs filament vs pla” or “3d printer filament abs vs pla.” A number of people just like you wish to know which is better between the two.

The first thing that we will do is to define these materials to grasp a better understanding of them. Then we will examine its temperature, price and availability.

In general, both PLA and ABS are thermoplastics. This means that when they are superheated, they will become malleable. Before they cool, you can sculpt and mold them into the shape that you want.

📌Furthermore, you can do this process over and over without losing the materials’ integrity. One of the key similarities between these two is the process they go through in the course of 3D printing.

But just like what was mentioned earlier, they do differ in some ways especially when it comes to their melting points, strength and flexibility. Let’s take a closer look at each of these thermoplastics in the next sections.

What is ABS Filament?

ABS plastic filament stands for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. It is a sturdy and strong plastic that is oil-based.

Lego building blocks are made of this plastic. Many businesses and professionals prefer this material for construction of car parts and musical instruments. This material is usually used for protective headgear, automotive trim, pipe systems, and toys.

However, this plastic is not easy to print. ABS has a high melting point and has the tendency to warp if cooled while printing. Thus, ABS needs to be printed on a heated bed which unfortunately is not easily available in most at-home printers.

Melting Point

ABS is considered to be amorphous. Thus, it has no definite melting point. However, the standard temperature for printing is at 230°C while the temperature for glass transition is at about 105°C.

Meanwhile, others suggest to print at 210-240º C with a heated bed at 80º C or more. Thus, you may need to experiment until you get the best result.

Printing Process and Performance

As mentioned, ABS filaments have the tendency to warp and must be printed in a heated bed. Since this feature is not readily available in most at-home printers, newbies and hobbyists may find it difficult to print with ABS even if they love this material.

In addition, you need ventilation when using this filament because the fumes may be unpleasant. ABS’ fumes are considered more toxic than PLA.

However, under normal processing conditions it is safe, but the fumes during the melting processing may cause eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation. Overexposure may cause nausea and headache.

These factors are what you have to consider if you are planning to use ABS filaments. While it may not be preferable for hobbyists, they certainly make great 3D printing material for more professional applications.

Availability and Price

ABS filaments are readily available in online stores. You can check out several brands. You can also go through the forums so you can see which brand is most preferred by users.

Generally, the price of the ABS filament is at around $20USD per kilogram. If you find one that is a lot cheaper, be sure to check if it’s the real deal as there can be fake ones at a lower price.

Always bear in mind that the quality of your filament affects the quality of your output. Thus, make sure to only purchase the real deal.

Also, buying a poor quality ABS filament might not serve its purpose. It will cost you more if you can’t use it as you need to purchase another one.

What is PLA Filament?

PLA filament is made from sugarcane and cornstarch which are organic materials. Unlike ABS, the fumes from this plastic smell sweet and like candy.

PLA is considered safer than ABS. In addition, it is easier and more convenient to use for 3D printing.

When you use PLA, your final product tends to be shinier and smoother. It is generally more pleasing aesthetically.

PLA is one of the most popular bioplastics. This is usually used in plastic cups, disposable tableware, food packaging and medical implants.

Melting Point

This material melts at a much lower temperature which is at 180°C to 220°C. It can be printed without a heated bed, but it is recommended that you run one at 60º C

Its temperature for glass transition is at 60°C to 65°C. This is actually its downside as it limits the uses of this plastic.

Print Process and Performance

You will probably have a better 3D printing experience with PLA because it does not exude an unpleasant odor. In fact, since it is made from a sugar-based material, it smells sweet. It’s the complete opposite of what users hate about ABS.

Also, PLA is easier and more convenient to use. Unlike ABS, it lays on the print bed with little to no shrinkage. You will have more peace of mind and little fear that it will lift, warp or crack during printing.

Availability and Price

Usually, the price per kilogram of PLA Filaments is at $19USD. There are many brands of PLA filaments in the market that are readily available. Thus, you have a lot of options to choose from.

Again, to check the performance of these brands, go to forums where you can read customer reviews before buying. This will help you greatly in deciding which brand has the best reputation.

 PLA vs ABS Strength

There are times when the answer to this comparison “pla vs abs plastic” depends on the object that you will be 3D printing. PLA and ABS does not share the same strength and one of them is best used when you 3D print objects that will be subjected to wear and tear.

When it comes to strength, PLA filaments have greater tensile strength. But as for the elongation at break, you can expect it to have the same performance as the ABS filaments. The elongation at break is the measure of the object’s maximum length before breaking when it is being stretched.

📌ABS is a strong plastic if printed at sufficient temperature. It has a decent amount of flexibility and tends to bend rather than snap under pressure. In short, ABS is impact resistance.

This is one of the important reasons why users prefer ABS filaments over PLA filaments. ABS bounces back when dropped while PLA can be a bit brittle. Thus, PLA may chip or break.

To give you an overview of the differences of PLA and ABS, you can check the table below.

Specifics PLA ABS
Print Bed Optional Mandatory
Print Bed Temperature 20°C to 60°C 80°C to 110°C
Printing Temperature 180°C to 230°C 210°C to 250°C
Enclosure Optional Recommended
Clogs Nozzle Occasionally Never
Fumes Little/None Intense/Bad
Price $19USD/kg. $20USD/kg.

 

ABS vs PLA Filament: Which is Better?

Considering all of this information, we can clearly see the similarities between the two. Both need dry locations for storage, they have a close price and are both strong.

The two materials produce certain scents during printing because heating the materials produce fumes. It is the temperature of the printing process that affects the fumes’ intensity, not completely the material alone.

Like what we mentioned above, ABS needs ventilation because it smells like hot plastic while the PLA smells a bit sweet. The intensity of the scent they give off will also depend on the printer you are using.

The materials also differ in many ways. ABS will provide you with products that have greater structural integrity. They are also better when it comes to mechanical use because the material can tolerate harsh elements.

However, ABS material will require you particular kinds of printers as well as surfaces for printing. On the other side, PLA is more precise and results in better quality and aesthetically pleasing 3D objects. PLA is also more flexible with printing conditions and is easier to use.

If we take a look at these differences, we can say that PLA is great for hobbyists while ABS is better for those who are looking to produce parts that are commercial grade. Also, always consider the object that you are about to 3D print. If you need a strong and quality material, ABS is better than PLA. But If you want an easier and smoother 3D printing experience, go for PLA.

Conclusion

ABS and PLA offer different advantages. PLA is easier and convenient to use and it is deemed safer than its counterpart. However, ABS is stronger and more flexible. You can print more things with ABS, but it is not as easy to handle. PLA is more user-friendly for beginners.

Have you used these materials? Which do you prefer between PLA and ABS? Do tell us what you think and what your experiences are with these materials.

📌If you have any comments or questions, do share them in the comment section and we’ll be sure to get back to you.

References:
www.3ders.org/pricecompare/
https://www.allthat3d.com/best-3d-printer/
https://www.allthat3d.com/3d-printing-benefits/
https://www.allthat3d.com/3d-printed-objects/
reprap.org/wiki/PLA
reprap.org/wiki/ABS
www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/abs-vs-pla-3d-printing-materials-comparison/
all3dp.com/pla-abs-3d-printer-filaments-compared/
ss.whiteclouds.com/blog/toxicity-abs-plastic-3d-printing