Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is when melted a thermoplastic polymer that is suitable for FFF 3D printing.
It melts consistently at around 225°C, which can easily be achieved with small and home-safe electronics. It is relatively strong, a little flexible and has a relatively high “glass transition temperature” of around 100°C. That’s the temperature above which a plastic goes from its solid state to a pliable state where it can lose its shape. These characteristics mean ABS is very suitable to 3D Print functional parts, like spare parts for machines or objects that are exposed to high temperatures like sunlight or hot water.
To smooth the surface of 3D Print, ABS is sanded and then wiped with acetone, which dissolves its outer layer. This process smoothes the plastic by reducing the visibility of layers in the print. This is done via acetone vapor (Warning: Do not try this at home). Acetone Vapor removes small intended details and can give ABS prints that would’ve had a matte finish, a high glossy look (see the image). This image is an example of ABS 3D Prints with and without Acetone Vapor - Smoothing examples by Sink Hacks.
The negative side of ABS is the smell it produces while being heated. It is neither nice nor healthy to live or work around. It also shrinks and expands during the heating process which can cause a problem for 3D printing, because it causes 3D prints to curl up while cooling too quickly, called warping. Therefore, ABS has to be printed on a heated build plate and preferably in an enclosed heated build chamber. Therefore it stays warm during printing and can cool down more slowly. This increases the costs of a 3D printer and uses more electricity. Another downside is that the bonding between layers isn’t always perfect.
Polylactic Acid is completely different. It is made of corn starch or sugar cane and is biodegradable making it greener than ABS.
It can also be melted at lower temperatures and doesn’t have a bad smell. Therefore, more detailed objects can be printed at higher speeds. It’s especially good at producing sharp corners. A heated build plate is also not required, because it’s less prone to warping. It has a relatively glossy surface compared to ABS, but the amount depends on the supplier, colour and print temperature.
(In the image left) Black PLA has a more glossy finish than Black ABS. Examples by CubeX.
PLA cannot be dissolved in acetone, but in Sodium Hydroxide. This is quite dangerous and the right container for this process must be chosen. It’s not suitable for objects that get exposed to high temperatures, because PLA gets pliable above temperatures of 60°C. It’s not wise to use for functional parts that need to last. Thus, PLA is easier to print than ABS and is the best standard material for home and office 3D printing of decorative objects.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT FILAMENT?
Herewith a list of characteristics to consider when choosing the right type of filament:
- The melting temperature of the plastic
- The glass temperature of the plastic
- The printing environment
- The requirements for a heated bed to prevent warping
- The stiffness or flexibility of the plastic
- The advised print speed of the filament
- The possibilities of finishing prints. Some materials can be sanded, polished, vapor-smoothed, painted or finished otherwise to get interesting results, some don’t.
- The availability of the colour you require: ABS and PLA are available in almost every colour, but other plastics might have a more limited range. Some materials even offer special effects, like glitters, glow-in-the-dark or colour changes by heat or light.
- The compatibility between a material and your 3D Printer and Extruder Type. Read both your printer’s manual and warranty conditions before experimenting with materials. Some materials can seriously damage certain extruders and because of this printer manufacturers won’t even allow the use of different filament brands other than those they’re selling.
- Check which filament diameter your printer supports: most printers use 1.75 mm filament but some use 2.85 mm filament, which is sometimes referred to as “3 mm”.
- The size of the spool. Every printer has its own way of suspending the filament spool while printing and can usually accommodate a wide range of spool sizes. However, some suppliers design their printers so they can only hold their own filament. There are also FFF 3D Printers in development that don’t use spooled filament altogether, but instead use pelletized filament, but at this moment most used spools.
Filament Prices & the Differences between Premium and Non-Premium
Quality is truly important when talking about filament. Really cheap filament is sometimes made from less quality source material and is usually less well-checked for consistency.
The most important factor is the filament diameter. If a 3D printer is designed for 1.75mm filament, it needs to be very close to that measurement. If the filament you use is too wide it could jam your extruder and if it’s too narrow, it could lead to your extruder losing grip and extruding inconsistently resulting in lower-quality prints.
Express3DParts only sell premium filament, because they are certified by international 3D printer manufacturers, they are traceable and all kind of characteristics of the plastic is available on their websites. See our Partners Page to view our reliable suppliers.