ABS vs PLA vs FL700 (August 2014)

There has been a lot of talk around 3D printing recently but what questions should you ask yourself before you go out and invest in your very own printer … should I use ABS or PLA, and what actually are the differences?

Lots of different products have been tried and tested for 3D printing but the two most popular materials are ABS and PLA. They are both thermoplastics which become soft and moldable when they are heated up and return to a solid form when cool. Their ability to melt and be processed again is the main reason they have become so popular in todays markets.

As mentioned previously there are lots of thermoplastics available, however, only a few are currently used for 3D printing. There are a variety of tests a plastic needs to pass before it becomes a viable material to use - initial extrusion into Plastic Filament - second, extrusion and trace-binding during the 3D Printing process, then finally, end use application.

What is different?

ABS

Typically it is a strong plastic with mild flexibility, naturally (before adding colourants) it is beige in colour.  Due to the flexibility of ABS, it is easily sanded and machined, making it a good option for the creation of interlocking pieces. ABS is soluble in acetone which allows pieces to be welded together and the surface can be smoothed to create a high gloss finish.

Its strength, flexibility, machinability and higher temperature resistance frequently make it a preferred plastic by engineers and those with mechanical uses in mind.

PLA

PLA is typically recognised as the more environmentally friendly plastic as it is created from plant based ingredients, as opposed to the oil based product ABS.  PLA is naturally transparent and much stronger and more rigid than ABS. Sometimes it can be harder to work with in complicated interlocking designs. When printed, PLA will have a higher gloss finish then ABS and can also be sanded and machined.  PLA also has a lower melting temperature than ABS, which makes it unsuitable for many applications which will spend periods of time in heat.

FL700

Floreon 700 is a Floreon formulation designed to give stable extrusion (for uniform filament diameter) over a wider range of temperatures. The finished product is tougher than PLA allowing the creation of more resilient structures. The printability and finish is excellent making this a good choice for 3D printing applications. Colours and pigments can be added as required.

 

ABS and PLA typically differ in the following categories - storage, smell and part accuracy. These are the deciding factors for many people on which material to choose.

Moisture

ABS is hygroscopic which means it will absorb moisture from the air around it.  If it picks up too much moisture, it will tend to bubble and spurt from the tip of the nozzle when printing, which affects the quality of the part in appearance and strength it also increases the risk of clogging up the printing nozzle. You can easily dry ABS using hot and preferably dry air.

Although less hygroscopic than ABS, PLA still has a tendency to absorb moisture over time. This can cause it to bubble and spurt like ABS, but also leads to discolouration and potentially a drop in viscosity.  PLA can also be dried out using a simple food dehydrator, however this may affect the normal extrusion characteristics.

FL700 maintains mainly PLA and therefore can pick up moisture and behave in a similar fashion. If treated correctly Floreon can give more stable extrusion and fewer strand breaks compared to PLA.

Smell

If you have printed with ABS before, you may have noticed a distinct smell of hot plastic which may be unpleasant. Concerns about the health effects of printing with ABS, particularly regarding the release of ultrafine particles, makes sufficient ventilation important if using this material. High quality ABS and careful temperature control can also help reduce the strength of the smell.

However, when printing PLA you will experience a mild smell which is similar to semi sweet cooking oil or burning sugar. PLA has been shown to emit far fewer ultrafine particles than ABS and although data is limited as to the chemical makeup of the particles, PLA itself is non-toxic whereas the breakdown products caused by heating ABS have been shown to be toxic.

Again, FL700 is very similar in characteristics to PLA and the smell during processing will be similar. The special ingredients in Floreon have all been approved for food contact as well as being completely biodegradable, unlike some other modified PLA’s. The standard for biodegradability (EN13432) to which PLA and the other Floreon ingredients show that when turned into compost, no toxic effects are experienced by plants grown from the resulting compost.

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