• June 21, 2024
  • Shatou, Changan, Dongguan, CN
PLA and ABS 3D printing materials

3D printing with PLA and ABS: What’s the difference?

After purchasing a 3D printer, you must start thinking about which filament to buy, and most beginner’s guides recommend PLA or ABS. They are interchangeable, but the truth is that there are significant differences between the two. We’ve taken a closer look at the similarities and differences between PLA and ABS to help you figure out which material you should use for your 3D printing needs.

What is PLA?

PLA (polylactic acid) is a biodegradable polymer made from plant-based raw materials such as corn dip, sugar cane, and wood fibers. Unlike traditional plastics, PLA can be analyzed by microorganisms and eventually transformed into secondary carbon dioxide and water without polluting the environment.PLA materials have good light transmission and can be used to make transparent cups and plates with certain softness and strength, and are widely used in food packaging, medical devices and other fields.

What is ABS material?

ABS is a high-strength, abrasion-resistant, high-temperature engineering plastic with good mechanical properties, chemical resistance, thermal stability and surface effects, and is widely used in automobiles, electrical appliances, toys, furniture and other fields.

What is the difference between PLA and ABS?

PLA and ABS are two common thermoplastic materials used in 3D printing.
PLA stands for polylactic acid and is a biodegradable plastic made from renewable resources such as corn starch, sugar cane or cassava root. It has a low melting point and is easier to print, making it a popular choice for beginners. PLA is also known for its vibrant colors and smooth finishes.

ABS stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, a petroleum-based plastic that is strong, durable and heat resistant. It has a higher melting point than PLA, making it more difficult to print. ABS is also known for its matte finish and its ability to sand and smooth after printing.

In summary, PLA is a biodegradable plastic that is easier to print and has a glossy finish, while ABS is a petroleum-based plastic that is stronger and more heat resistant, but harder to print and has a non-glossy finish.

What are the prices of PLA and ABS?

The price of PLA and ABS varies depending on region, brand, quality, and other factors. In general, PLA is relatively inexpensive, with prices ranging from $2-30 per kg; while ABS prices range from $4-50 per kg. These prices are for reference only and may vary according to market demand.

What is the accuracy of PLA and ABS parts?

The accuracy of PLA and ABS parts is highly dependent on the particular printer used and the settings selected for printing. In general, PLA has higher accuracy than ABS because it cools and hardens faster, resulting in less warpage or distortion. However, with the correct printer settings, both materials can produce highly accurate parts with very tight tolerances. Key factors that affect part accuracy include layer height, bed adhesion, print speed, temperature control and material quality.

How robust are PLA and ABS parts?

The robustness of PLA and ABS parts depends on several factors.

1. Material properties

PLA is a more brittle material than ABS, which means it can break or fracture more easily than ABS under stress. On the other hand, ABS is tougher and more flexible, making it more suitable for parts that need to withstand shock, vibration, or temperature changes.

2. Printing Parameters

The quality of the finished part depends heavily on printing parameters such as layer height, fill density, print speed, and temperature. An improperly calibrated printer or incorrect settings can result in weak or unstable parts.

3. Design considerations

The strength of parts also depends on their geometry, wall thickness, and support structure. Parts with thin walls or complex shapes may be more prone to cracking or warping.

4. Post-treatment

Certain post-treatment techniques, such as annealing, sanding, or painting, can enhance the strength and durability of PLA and ABS parts.

How fast can I print with PLA and ABS?

The speed of printing with PLA and ABS depends on several factors, including the printer, filament quality, and the complexity of the printed model. In general, PLA is easier to print at higher speeds than ABS because it has a lower melting point and requires less time to cool between layers. However, it is recommended to print at the speed that best suits your particular printer and filament quality, as printing too fast may result in poor quality or print failure.

Surface preparation and post-processing for PLA and ABS?

PLA and ABS are the two most common materials used in 3D printing. These two materials exhibit different surface treatment and post-processing techniques. The followings are some common surface treatments and post-treatments for PLA and ABS:

Surface Finishes

1. Matte

A matte finish is obtained by sanding the surface of the printed object. It is a popular surface treatment that gives the object a uniform appearance.

2. Glossy

Glossiness is obtained by smoothing the surface of the printed object using polishing agents. It requires more effort but produces a uniform, reflective surface.

3. Texture

Texturing is achieved by using a brush or other abrasive tool to create a pattern on the surface of the print. This is a popular surface treatment used to create a tactile surface.

4. Milling

Milling is obtained by trimming and smoothing the edges of the print using a CNC machine. It is a precise finish that gives a professional look to the object.

Post Finishing

1. Sanding

Sanding is the most common post-finishing technique. It is used to smooth the surface of the print and remove any roughness. 

2. Painting

Painting is a popular post-processing technique that adds color and texture to the print. It is a great way to customize the object and make it visually appealing.

3. Acetone Vapor Bath

Acetone vapor bath is a post-processing technique used to smooth the surface of ABS-printed parts. The object is placed in a container with a small amount of acetone, which melts the surface of the object and creates a smooth surface.

4. Electroplating

Electroplating is a post-treatment technique used to add a metallic coating to the surface of the printed object. It is a precise technique that produces a professional, high-quality finish.

In summary, a variety of surface treatments and post-treatments can be achieved with both PLA and ABS. The choice of finish will depend on the intended use of the end product and the desired appearance.

What is the heat resistance of PLA and ABS?

PLA has a very low heat resistance and begins to soften at temperatures above 60°C. ABS has a higher heat resistance and can withstand temperatures up to approximately 100°C without deformation. However, both materials can warp and deform if exposed to high temperatures for extended periods of time.

Are PLA and ABS biodegradable?

PLA (polylactic acid) is biodegradable and compostable under commercial composting conditions. However, it may take longer to degrade in a home composting environment.

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is not biodegradable and does not readily break down in the environment. It is also not compostable.

Applications of PLA and ABS

Both polylactic acid (PLA) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) are versatile engineering thermoplastics used in a variety of applications.

Applications for PLA

1. 3D printing

PLA is widely used for 3D printing due to its biodegradability, ease of use and output quality.

2. Packaging

PLA is used in food packaging because it is biodegradable and safe for contact with food.

3. Medical implants

PLA is also used in medical implants because of its biocompatibility, biodegradability, and easy absorption by the human body.

4. Textile industry

PLA is used as a substitute for polyester in the textile industry because it is biodegradable and friendly to the environment.

Applications of ABS

1. Automotive industry

ABS is widely used in instrument panels, door handles, interior parts and other automotive parts for its strength, durability, and high-temperature resistance.

2. Household appliances

ABS is used to manufacture various household appliances such as washing machines, refrigerators and vacuum cleaners.

3. Toys

ABS is used in the manufacture of toys such as Lego blocks, computer keyboards and remote controls due to its strength, toughness and impact resistance.

4. Pipes and fittings

ABS is used in the manufacture of pipes and fittings for various applications such as drainage, irrigation and ventilation due to its strength, durability and chemical resistance.


Overall, both PLA and ABS are commonly used for prototyping and functional parts in a variety of industries, including automotive, aerospace, and medical. While neither material is indestructible nor suitable for all applications, when printed correctly and designed properly, they can both produce reliable and robust parts.

Have you decided which material to choose based on the purpose of your printout?
If so, you’ve taken the first step toward making the most of your 3D printer.

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