Material Science Part 4: ABS – PLA – the Magnificent Two

In Archive by trinckle team

On the first sight, you might wonder why we are introducing both materials, ABS and PLA, as they seem to be very similar. Indeed,  both materials are processed with FDM and most printers can cope with both of them. ABS, as well as PLA, do best if, before use or when stored long term, they are sealed off from the atmosphere to prevent the absorption of moisture from the air. Moreover, both materials have in common that they are capable of creating dimensionally accurate parts. But be careful: ABS can get not very skilled users in trouble easily!
Are you interested why ABS can be a ‘troublemaker’? Here we go:

ABS – the Devil in Disguise

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is a petroleum-based plastic with lots of faces. Natural ABS comes in a soft milky beige and can be tinged with almost every color. You probably can’t remember the name anymore, but you maybe remember the smell when you held a flame in front of your desk during the chemistry lesson. If not don’t try it, the smell is horrible! ABS is a form of a copolymer that can be described in easy words  as a thermoplastic polymer. ABS doesn’t actually have a true melting point, but it melts constantly around 225°C, a temperature that can be achieved easily with a home printer. Be aware the minimum wall thickness for ABS is 1mm, and the minimum range for details is 0,3mm.


  • Good strength
  • Mild flexibility
  • Good higher temperature resistance
  • Easy accessibility
  • Very high accuracy of models
  • High grade of design freedom
  • Reasonable price
  • Good solubility in acetone (Acetone Vapor Smoothing for outer layers)
  • Relatively high glass transition temperature ( app 100°C)
  • Easy to repair moist damages (e.g. food dehydrator)


  • Unpleasant smell while printing process
  • Shrinking when cooling down too quickly
  • Use of a heated build plate is mandatory (100°C-125°C)
  • Not perfect bonding between layers
  • Rougher surface quality compared to other materials
  • Limited variety of colors
  • Sensitive to moist (bubble, reduction of quality)

Use in 3D printing:

  • Industrial 3D printing
  • Prosumer 3D printing
  • Experienced Maker Community

Preferred for:

  • Strong plastics
  • Functional applications (spare parts)
  • Machine parts
  • Objects that are exposed to high temperatures (e.g. sunlight or hot water)
  • Objects with mechanical use

PLA – Easy, Breezy for Beginners

Even though PLA (Polylactic Acid) is a thermoplastic as well, its characteristics are totally different compared to ABS. First of all PLA is biodegradable as it is made of sugar cane, cornstarch, potatoes or sugar beets. It is naturally transparent and can be colored to various degrees of translucency and opacity. Compared to ABS it shows the following differences:


  • Lower melting temperature (190-210 °C)
  • Higher rigidity
  • No necessity for an extra heated bed
  • Relatively glossy surface
  • Possibility to vary the temperature during the print (different glossiness levels of surface)
  • No unpleasant smell
  • Possibility to mix it up with other materials (wood, brick, bronze)
  • Higher maximum printing speed
  • Lower layer heights


  • Not dissolvable to acetone
  • Dissolvable to highly caustic metallic base Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH)
  • Chance to be very brittle
  • Very sensitive to moist (bubbles, discoloration)
  • Sharpe printed corners
  • Not weather proof

Use in 3D printing:

  • Standard material for desktop 3D printing
  • Maker community
  • Schools

Preferred for:

  • Durable parts (car parts)
  • Decorative objects
  • Objects with a need for special effects (glow in the dark, photochromatic, sparky)
  • Objects with a need for extra colors

In case you have suggestions for other material which are important to you, let us know on twitter, FB or here as a comment. We will gladly include it in our material series.

Come back on Thursday for our Alumide special!

Read more about other materials here:
For more information on materials read here:
Material Science Part 1: Polyamide (PA11) – Have You Ever Wondered What Nylons, Toothbrushes and 3D Printed Designs in SLS Have in Common?
Material Science Part 2: Polyamide (PA 12) – A Boring Material or Actually a Game of Fire and Glass?
Material Science Part 3: Polyamide (PA 6) – PA 6- Some Polyamides Like It Hot to Get in Shape
Material Science Part 5: Alumide – the ‘Hot Dog’ in the Polyamide Family
Material Science Part 6: Silver – The most precious of them all
Material Science Part 7: Ceramics – Not Only for Fine Art

Written By

trinckle team

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