PLA vs ABS

PLA vs ABS – What’s the difference?

PLA vs ABS...there can be only one! Well actually there are two plastic giants in the 3D printing industry and we take a look at both.

When it comes to 3D printing, whether it be with a 3D pen or desktop printer, the two most common filament types are ABS and PLA. Both are thermoplastics, which means that they become malleable when heated.

In this way, you can use the heated plastic to create any shapes you want, and then let them cool down to preserve your shape permanently. There are many other materials for 3D printing, but not all of them are suitable for the standard 3D pen.

Most 3D pens currently on the market are designed to work with only PLA and ABS. However, many artists are experimenting with different types of plastic, and the latest of Professional 3D pens and 3D printers are allowing for these special kinds of plastic.

 

Drawing with a 3D pen
PLA

ABS
Draw free-standing parts (spirals, verticals)NOYES
Draw free-standing parts (spirals, verticals) NO YES
Draw 3D parts, applying plastic layers.
YESYES
Use of flexible parts of the model.YESYES
Separate the part from the surface of the paper.YESYES
Drawing on glass, metal and ceramic surfacesYESNO
 

 

If you haven’t bought a 3D Pen yet check out our Buyers Guide: Best 3D Pens for 2017. In this article, we will discuss the differences between these two basic types of plastic for 3D pen and printer. Before comparing PLA vs ABS, we will briefly describe each plastic.

minion drawn with 3D Pen

PLA plastic is a biodegradable thermoplastic, made from renewable resources like sugarcane or corn starch or soy beans. When it melts, there is no smell, so it is very comfortable to use in the home or classroom. Outside of 3D printing, it's commonly used in medical implants, food packaging, plastic cups and plates etc. The main benefit of PLA is that it's easy to print with, as it melts at a lower temperature.

ABS plastic is an oil-based thermoplastic, commonly found in automotive trim, protective headgear, and toys such as LEGO. When ABS melts, it lets off the odour of burning plastic, so we recommend using it in a well-ventilated room.

Objects printed with ABS boast slightly higher strength, flexibility, and durability than those made from PLA. Since the focus of this website is on 3D pen printing, our focus will be on what you can draw with each plastic. The table below shows what you can print with PLA vs ABS.

Detailed comparison: ABS vs PLA

List of features


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    Melting temperature is usually 180 - 220C
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    PLA is based on natural materials (sugarcane, grain cropsбcorn, corn starch, and soybean).
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    When it melts, it's odourless, or there is a slight sweetish smell similar to the smell of corn or honey
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    PLA is dissolves in dichloromethane

Advantages of using PLA


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    PLA plastic is convenient, easy to use and child-friendly.
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    High tackiness allows you to paint on surfaces like glass, ceramics and metal.
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    Many options for colours, including translucent and glowing in the dark.
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    Increased fluidity provides better cohesion between layers, thus improving durability
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    No odor when melting the plastic

Disadvantages of using PLA


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    Low melting temperature makes the PLA unsuitable for some situations. Influenced by hot temperature, it can deform and "flow".
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    PLA is a bit harder to grind and handle compared to ABS
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    Although PLA can also be easily dried in a conventional oven (t 50-60 ° C), it should be noted that plastic may change the degree of crystallisation, resulting in characteristic changes
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    Products from this polymer begin to disintegrate in a year, which is unacceptable when creating high-quality mock-ups and details.

List of features


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    Melting temperature 225 – 250C
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    Natural ABS has a beige and milky hue before painting
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    Low stickiness, but sufficient for drawing on paper. If you use a hair spray, you can draw or print on other surfaces.
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    In the production of ABS plastic in its composition, you can add any colouring pigment, giving the finished raw material the desired colour or shade.
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    When working with conventional colourless plastic, the finished product can be easily coated with almost any colour.

Advantages of using ABS


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    The most popular 3D printing material.
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    Hard, shock-resistant and at the same time it is resistant to slight bending.
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    Painted with ABS plastic often has a glossy surface.
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    Can be recycled as normal plastic.
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    Plastic ABS makes it easy to create elements of various connections and fasteners.
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    It is easily ground and processed.
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    It is important to note that ABS dissolves in acetone, which allows you to glue the parts together and achieve a very smooth surface.
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    At the same time it is more resistant to other chemicals (excluding acetone)

Disadvantages of using ABS


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    Based on oil. Most of the plastics you encounter daily are ABS.

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    When printing ABS, there is often a strong smell of hot plastic. To reduce odour, adequate ventilation should be provided in small rooms.

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    It is more vulnerable to overheating during operation.

So which plastic should you buy?


Kids printing with a 3D Pen should use PLA plastic, due to its non-toxicity and lower temperatures. Due to PLA’s biodegradability, for all permanent applications, ABS plastic remains the best choice.

If you choose to buy PLA please keep in mind that you should store it in a way that it is isolated from moisture, i.e. keep it sealed. This does not mean that the plastic is destroyed if it spends a week is on the shelf, but long-term storage in a humid environment can undesirably affect both the printing process and the final product.

ABS and PLA are best kept in a vacuum or tightly sealed package to avoid excessive moisture in the materials.

Conclusion

There is no way to say which plastic is the best for your 3D pen. PLA vs ABS; they both have advantages and disadvantages. If you want to take a look at the full range of plastics available for 3D pen or printer then check out our review of the best 3D printing materials.

PLA has a bigger colour range including translucent, transparent and luminous in the dark plastic. If you are a beginner, and you do not have the skill to create complex objects, then PLA is the best choice.

ABS has a wider range of applications, but one of its greatest deterrents is of course the smell it gives off when the extruder heats it to the melting point. If you buy are looking to buy the best plastic for a child to use with his or her 3D printer, then PLA is the best choice.  

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