What’s the difference between PLA and ABS?

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What’s the difference between PLA and ABS?

Before you choose your 3D printing supplies, you need to decide on a type of filament. Choosing the right type is essential to the success of your model. To help you choose, here’s a look at the differences between PLA and ABS.

The Basics

Take a step back to the basics of 3D printing. 3D printers use materials called thermoplastics. These thermoplastics soften in the heat. Then, the machine can mold them into any shape. Once they are cooled, they hold that shape.

ABS and PLA are types of thermoplastics. But they’re not the only types. They are just the only common types used for 3D printing. That’s because 3D printing requires more than a material that can be melted down and molded. It requires a specific set of qualities. First, it needs to be able to extrude into plastic filament. Secondly, it needs to extrude and trace-bind in the actual printing process. And lastly, it needs to become an accurate 3D representation. Only a few thermoplastics fit these requirements.

The Differences

Now that you know what PLA and ABS can do, you can take a closer look at their differences. There are four main differences:

  1. The Smell

PLA does not give off the smell you might expect when plastic is being melted. It smells almost sweet. That’s because PLA is made from sugar. Although it doesn’t smell like cookies baking in the oven, PLA doesn’t give off an acrid aroma.

On the other hand, ABS does not have a pleasant smell. It smells like melting plastic. For some people, the smell can be too much. To cope with the smell of ABS filament, you should use well-ventilated rooms for your printing.

  1. Their accuracy as a model

ABS filament tends to curl up when it hits a printer’s print bed. However, you can prevent this by heating the bed and keeping it clean and flat during printing. Another common issue with ABS is rounded corners. If your model requires sharp corners, you might have a hard time achieving the desired result.

PLA is much different than ABS when it comes to accuracy. Curling and rounded corners aren’t major issues. You don’t need a heated bed and can use painter’s tape on the surface for printing. And you can get sharp corners on your models by actively cooling them.

  1. Environmental Impact

PLA is made from plant products. In that respect, it’s more environmentally friendly than ABS. Made from petroleum, the production of ABS leaves a significant ecological footprint. However, PLA is harder to recycle than ABS.

  1. Functionality

A 3D model needs to do more than look good. It also needs to function well. And that’s where PLA falls short. It has a low melting temperature, which rules it out for many jobs involving heat. Furthermore, it’s not very flexible and can break easily.

But ABS shines when it comes to functionality. It is strong, flexible, and has a high melting point. When you’re using your 3D model for mechanical purposes, ABS is a safe choice.

Which is better: PLA or ABS for 3D Printing?

One type of filament isn’t better than another. However, one type may be better-suited for your needs. Choose the type that meets your requirements the best, and you can make the most of your 3D printer.