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PLA vs. ABS - a comparison

Different coloured plastic filaments for 3D printing

If you are involved in 3D printing, there is one thing you cannot avoid: filament.

But there are different materials and therefore some things you have to consider for your project. To make it easier for you to choose the right material, you will get a clear comparison of the 3D printer filaments PLA and ABS.

Especially for beginners it is challenging to choose the right filament. Apart from a wide range of colours, what makes the decision difficult is above all else the choice of the right material. PLA and ABS are particularly common in 3D printing.

So for your project you will most likely have to choose between these two.

By the way, in everyday life you can find ABS in Lego bricks. PLA, on the other hand, is mainly used as packaging material. And with the right preliminary considerations you too will quickly find the right material for your project.

With these few questions you will come to your suitable filament:

What do I want to print?

The reason why you should think about this beforehand is very simple: PLA and ABS have different properties. These properties decide whether a plastic is the right choice for your project or not. This topic becomes especially important if you want to print larger quantities of either utility or decorative items.

For the former, the filament ABS is more suitable compared to PLA. This is because the surface structure of the plastic enables higher weather resistance and is very scratch-resistant. In addition, ABS behaves dynamically, i.e. it is flexible and can take slight bends without any problems.

I have also put together a small table for you on the subject of heat resistance:

Thermal properties at a glance

Features PLA ABS
melting point 150 – 160 °C / 302-320°F 210 – 240 °C / 410-464°F
Softening temperature 70 – 80 °C / 158-176°F 110 – 125 °C / 230-257°F
Print temperature 190 – 220 °C / 374-428°F 230 – 250 °C / 446-482°F
Pressure bed temperature (Recommended) 50 – 70 °C / 122-158°F 80 – 120 °C / 176-248°F
melting point150 – 160 °C / 302-320°F 210 – 240 °C / 410-464°F
Softening temperature70 – 80 °C / 158-176°F 110 – 125 °C / 230-257°F
Print temperature190 – 220 °C / 374-428°F 230 – 250 °C / 446-482°F
Pressure bed temperature (Recommended)50 – 70 °C / 122-158°F 80 – 120 °C / 176-248°F

Here you can see that ABS withstands higher temperatures compared to PLA. This has obvious advantages, but also means higher energy consumption for 3D printing. An important point is therefore


The Budget

The cost aspect is particularly important before every purchase. First of all: PLA filament is the cheaper choice. This is not only because the plastic is cheaper than ABS at a price of around 20 euros. The energy required for 3D printing is also much lower with PLA thanks to its lower melting temperature.

This makes PLA filament a good choice both economically and ecologically. It is even well suited for recycling.

Multiple rolls of plastic for 3D printing

You see, there is a clear difference between PLA and ABS. And there is a lot more that you should consider:

The user-friendliness

Here too, PLA is ahead of the game, because it is less susceptible to problems like warping. This is an effect you can see when the lower layers cool down too quickly when printing your 3D object. This creates curvatures that cause tension in expression. In the worst case, this can lead to cracks that render your end product unusable.

Another advantage offered by the filament PLA: It can probably be used with any standard 3D printer. Therefore, beginners are right in any case.

However, some aspects for your decision are less obvious:

The aesthetics of 3D printer filament

This point does not concern the filament itself, but the result of your printing. Because it is usually easy to see that your object was printed in individual layers. If the grooves that you see in this example bother you, you better turn to ABS.

A figure of Julius Caesar created with a 3D printer

Because to remedy this there is the so-called Smoothing. This is the name given to processes that smooth out your 3D printing. Of course, you can also file and grind. But this work is time-consuming, and once the tool has slipped off, your whole result might be a case for the yellow bag. Smoothing is only particularly efficient with acetone steam. However, this process is only suitable for ABS filaments.

If you still want to know how Smoothing works, I have another video for you. From Make magazine:

For your project, choosing the right filament is very important, as you can see. However, it is not possible to say which material is generally better for 3D printing. But you can take advantage of the properties of different plastics. Thus, both PLA and ABS filaments have preferred applications.

Still looking for the right filament? We recommend the following products. We have had first-class experience with both plastics.

I hope this 3d printer filament comparison helped you in your decision. What filaments have you used in 3D printing so far? How do you get rid of the grooves on your 3D prints? Write us your experiences in the comments!

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