ABS vs PLA, Which is Better?

ABS, or better known as Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene , is one of the most commonly used 3d filament types next to PLA (Polylactic Acid).
PLA and ABS filaments are the two most popular printable plastics on the market. Whilst both are similar, they both share their differences.
There are many different web searches done by people who have an interest in 3d printers and want to know more about filament types, which one they should use and for what purpose. One of the most commonly asked questions is:

Which is better, PLA or ABS?

This can be a tough question to answer because both PLA and ABS filaments have their own purposes. To say one is better than the other would make no sense as they are both meant for different things.
For example, if you are wanting to print a mechanical-support type of object like a bolt, you would opt into using the ABS over the PLA because ABS is a lot stronger and more durable.
On the other hand, if you are wanting to print something which is visually pleasing, you might want to use PLA because it prints out in better detail. People who create prototypes and concept models also like to go for PLA filament.

What are the biggest differences between PLA filament and ABS filament?

There are a few key differences between these two filament types.

Smell

One of the biggest differences between ABS and PLA filaments is the smell they produce. While ABS filament produces a rather offensive odour, PLA filament emits a candylike smell due to it being made from sugar cane and corn starch.
Many people choose PLA as their better option because it does not require a high, well-ventilated room.
Most of the time when people use ABS filament, they have some sort of a room with good ventilation as the fumes are not the most pleasant.

Printing

Both of these filaments have the ability to produce well printed 3d objects. Depending on the job, they can vary in performance. Some people may find that ABS filament tends to print easier than PLA because it isn’t prone to clogging or jamming. On the other hand, some people might find that PLA is easier to print because there is little to no shrinkage on the print bed and you can print bigger parts on more open framed printers.
Warping of models is a common problem that comes with printing with an ABS filament, as is shrinkage. Shrinkage can cause breakages and splits or cracks.

It is important to note that whilst you do not always need a heating bed for PLA filaments, you must always use one for ABS.

Temperature

Another key difference between the two filaments is their heating temperatures. ABS filament is a lot more heat resistant than PLA. The heating temperatures for PLA filaments are generally lower, which means that you cannot produce objects that are as strong as ABS. The high-temperature resistance that ABS filament has, allows it to produce materials that are strong and durable.

You can even purchase PLA filaments that change their colour when their hot and change back when they cool down.

The recommended printing temperature for PLA filament is 190 – 220°C.

The recommended printing temperature for ABS filament is 220 – 250°C.

Printing purposes:

PLA: Is widely used in the packaging industry as it is good for creating storage containers and bottles. It is also a great material if you want to create gifts and prototypes.

ABS: Is widely used for parts due to its durability and strength. It can be used for making bolts, brackets, toys, keyboards, handles etc.

Printing beds

The use of printing beds is one of the biggest differences when deciding between PLA and ABS filament. While it is optional for most 3d printed projects which use PLA, it is absolutely mandatory that you use one when printing with ABS. If you don’t use a printer bed while printing with ABS the bottom of the print will cool down faster than the rest and will result in warping.

In conclusion

As you can see, both of these filament types have their advantages and disadvantages . It is all just really dependant on what you choose to print. PLA is safer to use and more environmentally friendlier than its counterpart, and generally more popular. ABS, however, is a lot stronger and more flexible.

The options for printing with ABS filaments are wider than PLA filaments, however, it is a lot easier, especially if you are a beginner, to print with PLA. Although your printing ideas can go further with ABS filaments, PLA can come in composite materials, like wood for example, which you can find here . That doesn’t mean that ABS doesn’t have cool materials, you can get filament that glows in the dark.

Do you have experience using either ABS filaments or PLA filaments? If so, we’d love to hear your stories. Leave a comment below detailing your experiences with ABS or PLA filaments and which one it is you personally prefer.