We frequently get asked about the differences between ABS and PLA and which of them is better suited for 3D printed models.
Clearly, there is no black and white answer as it depends on the intended purpose for your print. Let’s have a look at these material’s respective properties.
Key Differences between ABS and PLA
PLA is a polymer produced from renewable resources like maize and sugar cane. It in general is easier to print, does not require a heated bed and warps less. It is bio-degradable under the right conditions.
ABS on the other hand is made from fossil fuels, is much harder and more impact resistant, hence often used for mechanical parts or parts to be exposed to the elements.
PLA in general can be printed at lower temperatures than ABS. PLA can be printed starting from 180 C while ABS requires around 230 C to be printed effectively. We had a look at print temperatures in a recent blog post and also provide detailed print temperature charts for our ExcelFil Filament on our support site.
Also PLA adheres easier to most print beds with out requiring heating. If you do have a heated bed, using it for PLA as well certainly will help with adhesion and prevent warping for thin walled parts. For ABS on the other hand, a heated print bed is pretty much a requirement. Also, a suitable 3D print surface will greatly improve adhesion of the first layer.
Post processing wise PLA and ABS have similar properties and can be cut, filed, or glued in a similar fashion. ABS has one special post processing treatment that wont work with PLA. ABS can be exposed to Aceton vapors, which will render its surface smooth and shiny. You will find more information about this treatment on You Tube for example.
Use cases for printed objects
PLA’s advantage during printing due to its lower melting point can turn into a disadvantage in certain use cases. If you leave a PLA printed model exposed to temperatures of for example a car parked in the sun during the hot summer month, they will most likely loose their shape slightly.
Also PLA is a bio degradable material. Given the right temperatures and humidity levels, it will disintegrate slowly, just like any other organic product.
So in summary, for high temperature and outdoor use cases ABS is certainly the better suited choice. However, PLA is much more environmentally friends and we prefer to print with it whenever possible.