ABS and PLA: Differences, advantages and disadvantages.


Day after day, articles appear in newspapers, magazines and the internet: new applications (most experimental or industrial printers), new personal printers, reviews of existing printers…

But little is said about the consumable, in this case plastic, which once the printer is purchased is the main expense we will have. In this article we will talk about materials for FMD printers for personal use.

3D Printing Pieces

ABS and PLA: The filament used by 95% of 3D printer users.

ABS is extensively used in today’s manufacturing processes: Lego parts, household appliance casess, automotive components… As it has a high melting point, it can be used to manufacture containers of hot liquids, it has to be extruded at 230-260ºC and printed on printers with a hot printing base (resistors that heat the base where the material is deposited).

When the melting point is reached, the ABS emits gases that in high concentrations can be harmful. It can be used without problems at home or in the office, but to avoid high concentrations it is not recommended to have several printers running in a small, unventilated space.

ABS can be mechanized, polished, sanded, filed, drilled, painted, glued, etc with extreme ease, and the finish is still good. In addition, it is extremely strong and it has certain flexibility. All of which makes it the perfect material for industrial applications.

PLA is less known than ABS, it is comparatively much less used in industry. It is a product that is sold as “natural“, as the basic components are plants such as corn. Recently, this ecological status of PLA is being much discussed. With the new recyclers that are appearing (the best known, Filabot) the ABS is much more ecological than the PLA, because these recyclers are boxes where we put remaining ABS, and from it they make a new reel. At the moment, the PLA cannot be reused.

PLA advantages: more colours, easier.

Currently the PLA filament has two main advantages over ABS: it does not emit harmful gases (you can have several printers running in a closed space and there is no problem) and there is a wider range of colors (fluorescent, transparent, semi-transparent …). It can be printed with all types of printers (it does not need a hot bed) and it can be printed without a base.

Its disadvantages with respect to ABS are basically two: it does not resist high temperatures (it begins to decompose from 50-60ºC) and post-processing (mechanizing, painting and, above all, gluing) is much more complicated. It is basically used in the domestic market.

Prices of the two materials are quite similar. The market for personal 3D printers is very new and there are two opposing trends. On the one hand, some brands try to copy the model of paper printers: once the customer has bought the printer, he is charged for the expensive consumable. On the other hand, some brands try to make the printer more open, so that the customer can use material from any manufacturer.

Buy ABS filament or PLA: Beware of bargains.

In the end FMD printing consists of a plastic thread of a certain diameter that goes through a hole and is heated, so the number of companies and factories that offer material is amazing. But buying too cheap is expensive, with frequent blockages of the extrusion head. The range of material at prices from 15€/kg usually gets good results.

Anyway, there are already brands that have broken their heads thinking of some system that allows them to make proprietary cartridges, forcing them to buy their consumable and forcing the captive customer to pay much higher prices than those on the market. So before buying a printer it is highly recommended to verify the price of the consumable. Let’s hope for the good of the consumer that the open consumable market will end up imposing itself, and as the volume increases, prices will continue to fall and materials will be better and better.

In our shop you can find the filament PLA and ABS of the main brands on the market: ESUN, FORMFUTURA, and SMART MATERIALS, among others. If you are looking for the best quality price, your filament is ours (impresoras3d.com): it offers a quality far superior to its price.

If you are looking for something more exclusive, we recommend SMART MATERIALS, which are also a Spanish brand, or the Dutch FORMFUTURA: They stand out for their R+D, they do not stop taking out new filaments, and improving the formula of the existing ones.

In addition to the usual ABS and PLA, you will find a whole range of options:

  • PVA
  • PC
  • HIPS
  • WOOD
  • and many options that we recommend you to explore progressively.

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