PLA vs. ABS Filament: Which One to Choose for 3D Printing?
3D printing offers a cost-effective and rapid way to prototype and manufacture parts for a wide range of applications. The choice of material is crucial in determining the final characteristics of your 3D printed part, including surface finish, hardness, size, and shape.
Two of the most commonly used materials for 3D printing are PLA (polylactic acid) and ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). Both of them are versatile and suitable for various applications. However, PLA vs. ABS filament, which is better for 3D printing? What is the difference between PLA and ABS? It's important to know about it.
This article will present a comprehensive comparison of these popular materials, PLA and ABS, to assist you in selecting the most suitable material for your 3D printed parts.
What Is PLA?
PLA (Polylactic Acid) is an eco-friendly thermoplastic that is widely used in 3D printing. PLA is considered biodegradable because it is made from renewable resources, such as corn starch or cane sugar. PLA filament is comparatively easy to print because it has a relatively low melting point, making it applicable even for 3D printers without a heated bed. PLA-printed parts are more for prototyping or for hobbyists to make decorative objects.
Pros of PLA
- PLA is easy to print without the need for a heated bed, making it a beginner-friendly material to deal with.
- Under the right conditions, PLA is biodegradable, so it is a sustainable material.
- PLA parts have good surface brightness and high strength.
Cons of PLA
- PLA has a relatively low melting point, so it is prone to deformation in high temperature environments.
- PLA has lower heat resistance and chemical resistance compared to ABS.
- PLA is more brittle than other materials like ABS and cannot withstand high pressure or severe impact.
What Is ABS?
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is also a thermoplastic that is popular not only in 3D printing but also in traditional injection molding. ABS filament features good strength and excellent abrasion and chemical resistance, so it is suitable for making durable parts. This material requires a higher temperature to work with, so you need a 3D printer with a heated bed to process it.
Pros of ABS
- ABS has high strength, and great abrasion, heat, and chemical resistance.
- ABS can withstand higher pressure than PLA and at the same time is a lighter and more durable material.
- ABS can be adopted in both 3D printing and traditional manufacturing process. It is perfect for making a variety of applications.
- ABS is an ideal engineering material for making a wide range of applications from daily used itemsto professional parts.
Cons of ABS
- ABS is hard to 3D print with compared to PLA. You need an extra heated bed to deal with ABS because it requires a higher temperature.
- ABS gives off strong odors and fumes during the 3D printing process. Thus you need a 3D printer with a filtration system and a well-ventilated room.
PLA vs. ABS: What's the Difference?
Above you have the basic information about PLA and ABS. But is ABS better than PLA? It's not an easy question to answer because these two filaments are different in many ways. Check out the ABS vs. PLA filament comparisons below and find out the difference between ABS and PLA.
PLA is a biodegradable material derived from renewable resources. It is considered an environmentally friendly and non-toxic material. ABS is a non-biodegradable engineering plastic with good strength, abrasion and chemical resistance. It is often used to make durable application parts.
The prices of PLA and ABS are relatively low among all 3D printing materials. However, PLA is even less expensive than ABS. PLA is made from plant starch, so PLA filaments are readily available. ABS is relatively expensive, especially for high quality filaments.
The ideal print speed for different filaments may vary, and incorrect print speed settings can lead to quality problems. Overall, PLA and ABS can print between 45mm/sec to 65mm/sec. For PLA, the preferred print speed is 60 mm/sec because it requires lower operation temperature. For ABS, the print speed will be relatively slower.
Like all FDM 3D printed parts, PLA and ABS printed parts will have visible layer lines on the surface. But PLA will give you a brighter and smoother surface finish than ABS. You may need to post-process the ABS-printed part to get a glossy finish, while the PLA-printed parts need to be hand sanded to get a greater surface finish.
Strength & Durability
PLA has better tensile strength properties than ABS. But is PLA stronger than ABS? In fact, PLA is more brittle compared to ABS, which means that ABS exhibits better impact resistance. PLA-printed parts can be torn apart under high pressure or impact. In terms of durability, ABS has better abrasion resistance, so it can be used to print more durable parts.
PLA is more suitable for rapid prototyping due to its easy-to-print and brittleness. That means PLA-printed parts may focus more on decorative purpose. But it also has been found that PLA-printed parts can be used as medical implants. ABS, in contrast, can be used in almost any industry to print functional parts. Those parts require better impact, chemical and abrasion resistances and overall roughness.
The transition temperature of PLA starts from 60℃, while for ABS, it starts from 105℃. Thus, ABS performs better heat resistance than PLA. But PLA can be printed at a lower temperature, making it easier to print.
PLA is biodegradable under the right conditions. PLA is more environmentally friendly. But the entire process time can be 80 years or even longer, and it requires a specific biodegrading environment. ABS is not biodegradable. The decomposition process for ABS can take hundreds of years.
To sum up, PLA has good strength performance and gives a smooth finish surface. It can be used in a wide range of applications in daily use. ABS, on the other hand, is an engineering plastic that can be used to print functional parts with greater strength and durability for many industries.
Tip: The Best 3D Printers Using PLA and ABS
To make the best use of the PLA and ABS material, it’s important to choose a nice and functional 3D printer. Here are the two 3D printers we recommend to you:
- AnkerMake M5 3D Printer
AnkerMake M5 3D Printer can perfectly process PLA filament with its PTFE hotend, which is well suited for processing low-temperature materials.
In terms of accuracy and print size, this printer supports up to 0.1mm accurate printing and a print size of up to 235×235×250 mm³, which is suitable for many 3D printing projects.
The printer also offers great intelligent features. It is equipped with deep learning AI recognition, and a dual CPU system helps process complex tasks and handle multi-tasks. To help you control the printing process more easily, it even offers automatic time-lapse video to monitor the entire printing process.
- AnkerMake M5C 3D Printer:
AnkerMake M5C 3D Printer can also process multi-material, including PLA and ABS, making it an ideal choice for printing various projects. It has an all-metal hot end to handle more types of materials, and is more suitable for processing high-temperature materials.
In addition, the printer offers a faster print speed with its 35 mm³/s extrusion flow. The customizable one-click button and multi-device control function serve to improve the printing experience.
PLA and ABS are two of the most commonly used and popular materials among all 3D printing filaments. From the PLA vs. ABS filament comparison in this article, you can learn the differences between these two materials, including PLA vs. ABS strength and other key properties. Since they are different in several ways, which one to choose for 3D printing should depend on your printing purpose.
What is the lifespan of PLA?
The lifespan of PLA objects can be 5 years or more under proper conditions and normal room temperature. When used outdoors or in harsh conditions, PLA may be more susceptible to environmental effects, which may result in a shorter lifespan. In addition, PLA has some inherent properties such as gradual degradation and increased brittleness that may affect its performance over time. Therefore, if you need to store PLA items for an extended period of time, it's best to store them in a dry place, away from direct sunlight and high temperatures.
Is PLA or ABS better for outdoor use?
ABS is more suitable for outdoor use than PLA. ABS offers better temperature and weather resistance. This leads to better durability and results in a longer service life in outdoor environments. Whereas PLA-printed parts tend to deform or decompose under high temperatures or humid environments.
However, to suit the changeable outdoor environments, you still need to carefully design, print, and post-process the ABS filaments. To extend the life of parts, it is recommended to post-treat ABS-printed parts to give them extra waterproof, weatherproof and UV-resistant properties.