How to Find the Best 3D Printer for Flexible Filament [2020]

Most flexible filaments are referred to as TPE or TPU. They have elastic properties that create a final product that’s stretchy. The great thing about flexible filament is that it’s resistant to fatigue, it’s soft, and a heated bed isn’t required for printing.

However, there are some things you need to consider when looking for a 3D printer to use with flexible filament.

Best Printers for Flexible Filament

3D printers with direct-drive extruders are the best options for printing with flexible filament. There are plenty of options on the market, but here are some of the best.

1. FlashForge Creator Pro

creator pro

FlashForge makes some of the best printers for beginners that you can buy. They’re great for the classroom as well. The FlashForge Creator Pro isn’t the top of the line, but for the moderate price tag, you’re getting a workhorse of a 3D printer.

It has a metal frame, acrylic covers, dual extruder with two spools, and an optimized build platform. It also works with ABS and PLA. This direct drive 3D printer delivers a lot for the price.

The Creator Pro is reliable and long-lasting. It’s built on an open-source platform, so it’s easy to adjust and customize to make it your own. This is one of the reasons it works so well with flexible filament. You can adjust all of the settings to create an optimal printing environment.

The metal platform can withstand high print bed temperatures and also offer a sturdy platform for more stability during vertical movement. It’s also sturdy enough to reduce wobbling during printing.

The powder-coated steel frame backbone holds the mechanisms for motion in place during printing to make it faster and more precise when you’re not using flexible filament. This versatility makes it an ideal solution for those who want to print using other materials.

The downside to the Creator Pro is that it has a closed unit, which reduces the print volume. However, it does help to maintain consistent temperatures and it offers more safety for younger printers, beginners, or in a classroom setting.

Setup is a cinch because it comes fully assembled. The front door opens to almost 180 degrees, giving you full access to your completed job so you can remove it easily when it’s done. While it’s not a touch screen, it does have Wi-Fi, so you can connect your mobile device via the smartphone app and monitor your jobs.

Features:

  • Nozzle: 0.4mm
  • Filament: 1.75mm
  • Print volume: 200mm x 145mm x 150mm
  • UI: Button controls
  • Wi-Fi enabled
  • Heated bed
  • Max print speed: 100mm/s

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Fast and accurate
  • 3-point leveling system
  • An open-source platform for extra customization

Cons:

  • No touchscreen
  • Small build volume

Further Read:

2. Dremel 3D45

dremel digilab

This award-winning 3D printer comes with a heated build plate, connections to all of your smart devices, Wi-Fi, a built-in HD camera, and compatibility with ECO ABS, PLA, PETG, and Nylon filament types. While you’ll never find a 3D printer that’s good at everything, this one comes close. Its impressive list of features makes it appealing to a wide range of users and helps it stand out among its competition.

It’s a more expensive solution, but for many, the easy setup, reliability, consistency, and high-quality finished prints will make up for that. The closed frame controls print jobs in a regulated environment and keeps users safe. Two plastic doors that open outward give easy access to the print area. The doors are clear, helping you monitor your jobs with ease.

The large print volume will accommodate most jobs and the huge 5-inch touchscreen is intuitive and easy to understand.

One problem you may run into is that Dremel only supports their own filament, so if you do use another brand and run into trouble, you won’t find help from the manufacturer. However, it’s fully capable of printing with third party materials, and people familiar with 3D printing shouldn’t have a problem.

Dremel also only offers a limited range of colors, so if you want more than the 10 they offer, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Loading filament is straightforward and the direct drive extruder eliminates some of the problems you might have with flexible solutions.

With connections like Wi-Fi, Ethernet, or USB, you can print from almost anywhere. There’s also a printing app so you can use your phone to slice files, send prints, and monitor progress, thanks to the built-in camera.

One of the cool things about this printer is that after your build is done, it creates a time-lapse video of the whole job so you can download and view it.

Features:

  • Nozzle: 0.4mm
  • Filament: 1.75mm
  • Print volume: 255mm x 155mm x 170mm
  • UI: 5-inch full-color IPS touchscreen
  • Wi-Fi
  • Smartphone app
  • Heated bed
  • Max print speed: 100mm/s

Pros:

  • Easy to set up and use
  • Great print quality
  • Semi-automatic bed leveling
  • Automatic filament detection
  • Smartphone app

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Doesn’t support third-party filaments

3. QIDI-Tech X-Pro

x-plus

QIDI Tech produces a line of quality 3D printers that many experienced users love. The X-Pro is labeled as a commercial printer with Wi-Fi, dual extruder, and high precision double color printing with ABS, PLA, and TPU filament.

At its moderate price point, it’s an affordable, industrial-strength 3D printer. The enclosed design makes it ideal for temperature-sensitive ABS filament and ensures the safety of beginners.

With a large clear door, you can still easily monitor your job while maintaining a controlled environment. Plastic and metal construction gives this machine a premium look.

The stylish design is shipped almost fully assembled. A small amount of setup will have you up and running in no time.

The direct drive extruder and heated aluminum build plate make this product ideal for flexible filament because it can solve many of your common problems. From jamming to slipping on the print bed, many of your challenges will be alleviated.

You’ll find that the build volume is much larger than the Creator Pro but still smaller than the Monoprice Maker Select Pro. An LCD touchscreen makes it easy to interact with the printer and the build plate can be removed completely to access your completed job.

Features:

  • Nozzle: 0.4mm
  • Filament: 1.75mm
  • Print volume: 230mm x 150mm x 150mm
  • UI: LCD touchscreen
  • Wi-Fi
  • Max bed temperature: 110 degrees Celsius
  • Max nozzle temperature: 250 degrees Celsius
  • Max print speed: 150mm/s

Pros:

  • Removable build plate
  • Dual extruder for multi-color jobs
  • Durable construction and premium design
  • Large LCD touchscreen

Cons:

  • Noisy fans
  • Wi-Fi can be unreliable

4. Monoprice Maker Select Plus

monoprice maker select plus 3d

The large heated bed, LCD touchscreen, and MicroSD card loaded with printable models make this a worthwhile purchase. The direct drive extruder moves along X and Z axes and it shares a lot of features with other popular 3D printers but at a super affordable price.

You’ll get a bigger print volume than the Creator Pro at a fraction of the cost, and it also has a smaller footprint, thanks to the control box integrated beneath the print bed. Even if you have a limited workspace, you can still take advantage of a large print volume for your flexible filament products.

The convenient touchscreen in the front makes it easy to control the print settings and a USB connection means you can print even when your computer is offline. While the open design doesn’t make this printer ideal for ABS, you can still print with a wide variety of filaments, including the most flexible ones.

You can use your own designs with this one, but it also comes with a MicroSD card loaded with 3D print designs that you can use for practice, making it a good, affordable purchase for beginners.

Further Read: Monoprice Maker Select Plus Review.

Features:

  • Nozzle: 0.4mm brass
  • Filament: 1.75mm
  • Print volume: 200mm x 200mm x 180mm
  • UI: 3.25-inch touchscreen
  • Wi-Fi
  • Heated bed
  • Max print speed: 150mm/s

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • User-friendly touchscreen
  • Wi-Fi
  • USB enabled

Cons:

  • Not ideal for ABS
  • No auto-leveling mechanism
Monoprice Maker Select Plus
$389.99

The large heated bed, LCD touchscreen, and MicroSD card loaded with printable models make the Monoprice Maker Select Plus a worthwhile purchase.

We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.
09/27/2020 06:10 pm

5. Tevo Tornado

This is another great option for flexible filament 3D printing, particularly if you are in the market for a BUDGET 3D printer.

Further Read: Tevo Tornado Review.

Overview of Flexible Filament

flexible filament

Thermoplastic Elastomers, or TPE, are a material made from a blend of rubber and hard plastic. It’s an elastic material that allows the plastic to be stretched. While there are several different types of TPE, Thermoplastic polyurethane, or TPU, is the most common.

A lot of times you’ll see these two names used interchangeably. The brand name Ninjaflex also falls into this category and is used commonly to describe flexible filament, even though it may be a different brand.

How much the material stretches depends on the chemical composition chosen by the manufacturer. While some filaments are somewhat flexible, like the rubber used to make car tires, other types can be fully elastic, like a rubber band.

Pros:

  • Impact resistance
  • Long life
  • Great vibration dampening
  • Soft and flexible

Cons:

  • Doesn’t work well with Bowden extruders
  • Can blob or string
  • Doesn’t bridge well
  • Difficult to print

Types of Flexible Filament

Before printing, it’s important to understand the types of flexible filament available to you. There are many, but here’s a quick overview of some of the most common types.

NinjaFlex

ninjaflex

NinjaFlex TPE is soft but very strong. The low-friction exterior helps to speed up printing without causing a lot of buckling. Users online give it good reviews, but there have been some problems feeding. A low heat bed is best for this type of filament.

The makers of NinjaFlex also make SemiFlex, which you may have guessed based on the name is only semi-flexible and not as soft as the NinjaFlex.

FlexSolid

This product made by MadeSolid has good elasticity but is still very strong. If your final product needs to be highly durable, this is a great choice. It works for mechanical items and sporting equipment.

It’s best used in simple designs. Intricate details may come out stringy using this type of filament. If you keep it simple, it’s relatively easy to print with compared to others.

FlexiFil

flexifil

FlexiFil is still very strong and soft, but not as soft as NinjaFlex. It’s a TPC (Thermoplastic Co-Polyester) material, so it’s incredibly flexible. It’s also resistant to high temperatures and environmentally friendly.

It’s made from renewable carbon content, which makes it a great responsible solution, but it can get clogged in the extruder easily.

Fila Flex

This type of TPE is made from the same materials as NinjaFlex, so it has similar properties, but it’s not as strong. It’s really soft and because it’s highly adhesive, the layers of your job will stick together well.

It’s more elastic than NinjaFlex and is great for final products that need a lot of stretches. However, that also makes it very hard to print with. Because it’s soft, it can come out stringy and it can clog the nozzle. It can be printed on a cold bed rather than a heated one.

Makerbot

This polyester-based filament is more firm than FlexiFil and NinjaFlex. With a lower melting point, it’s a lot easier to extrude. The cool thing about Makerbot’s flexible filament is that you can run it under hot water to reshape it.

It has a glossy, iridescent finish, but you may have some trouble with tangling while feeding.

Further Read: Makerbot 3D Printers.

Flexible Resin

This type of filament only works with SLA 3D printers. The good thing about it is that SLA doesn’t use a feeding system, so you won’t encounter the same challenges that other flexible filaments do.

If you have an SLA 3D printer, this material is great for tactile designs. Watch bands, stamps, grips, and other things you touch frequently are great projects for this type.

See the best flexible resins and 3D Printers here:

Challenges of Printing

As with any technology, printing with flexible filament can be very useful, but it does come with some challenges.

Feeding

Because the flexible filament is so soft, it can be difficult to feed through the extruder. It can jam, clump, and string. When feeding the filament through to the hot end of the extruder, it needs a direct path so it doesn’t get deformed and stuck.

Buckling

If you print too quickly with flexible filament, it tends to buckle when it gets pushed through the hot end of the extruder. It can also happen if you don’t have a tight or narrow enough pathway from the extruder to the hot end.

Buckling is pretty annoying and can ruin the whole job. It can also cause jams, which means you have to stop the whole job to clean the extruder.

Difficulty sticking

Sometimes you’ll encounter shrinkage or your print job won’t stick to the bed, causing problems with slipping. It may require adjusting the print bed temperature, but often it can be solved with just a bit of hairspray or painter’s tape.

Stringing

When pressure builds up in the extruder, it can release extra filament and create a messy or a stringy print. This happens more often with flexible filament than other types. It can be caused by speed, temperature, or retraction settings.

Tips

If you’re going to print with flexible filament, here are some tips for ensuring a successful job without any problems.

Print slowly

It’s recommended that you print with flexible filament between 30mm and 40mm per second. Every manufacturer will have different recommendations. FlexiFil recommends you print with their filament at 10mm to 20mm per second.

You could set your print speed as low as 5mm per second if you want more precision. It’s slow, but it will increase your chances of a perfect finished product because it helps to avoid pressure build-up in the extruder, which we already know leads to buckle and messy prints.

Use direct drive extruders

If you want to avoid jamming at the extruder, the best thing you can do is give your filament a direct path from the cold end to the hot end. Many people love Bowden extruders, but they aren’t ideal for flexible filament. It’s not impossible, but it does make it challenging.

If you need some quick tips on how to print flexible filament with a Bowden extruder, this video is pretty great.

Set the ideal temperature

You want your flexible filament to flow easily through the nozzle without buckling, getting jammed, or creating a messy print. However, heating up your extruder too much can cause stringing, oozing, or uneven prints.

While every printer is different and will require some slight adjustments, it’s always best to check on the material, which are the recommended temperatures for use.

Adjust your retraction settings

Retraction relieves pressure from the hot end of the extruder and keeps your filament from oozing through the nozzle when you’re not printing. You can adjust these settings based on your specific problem.

If it’s clogging, you may need a lower retraction setting. You may even try setting it at zero. You want the lowest retraction setting you can get away with to avoid stringing.

Adjust bed temperature and use tape

While you can use hairspray on your print bed to avoid slipping, usually adjusting the bed temperature and using painter’s tape works better. Temperature settings vary depending on the type of filament you’re using, but most flexible filament manufacturers recommend temperatures of 113-140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Flexible filament sticks well to blue painter’s tape, so lining your print bed with some blue painter’s tape can help with slipping, which creates an uneven print job.

FAQs About 3D Printing Materials

What is the most flexible 3D printing material?

While it can be confusing because there are many different brand names, thermoplastic polyurethane, or TPU, is the most commonly used flexible filament. There are many manufacturers who make TPU, so whether you’re buying a brand name product or not, if you’re looking for something very flexible, make sure it’s TPU.

What is the strongest 3D filament?

If you want a printer that’s versatile enough to print with several different types of filament, you may want to look into using polycarbonate. It’s the strongest material used for 3D printing, surpassing even nylon.

It’s the best choice for high-strength components if you don’t need them to be flexible.

How do I print with flexible filaments?

It can be tricky to print with flexible filaments, especially if you’ve just started experimenting with a 3D printer. PLA is the most forgiving and is a great place to start. However, if you need to print something with flexible filament, check out this guide.

Can Ender 3 print flexible filament?

Yes, Ender 3 has a direct drive extruder ideal for printing with flexible filament. There are several others besides what is reviewed here. You can check out the JGAURORA A8 for an extremely large print volume, the Original Prusa i3 for incredibly slow print speeds, ideal for printing with flexible filament.

The Verdict: Findning the Right Flexible Filament 3D Printer

If you’re looking for 3D printers ideal for printing with flexible filament, you’ll want to pay attention to a lot of different things. Specifications like slow print speeds and direct drive extruders are important.

You also want to make sure you have complete control over your retraction and can adjust every aspect of the job for optimal performance. Other considerations you might want to make are features like Wi-Fi, print volume, smartphone apps, and touchscreen UIs.

All of these 3D printers are fantastic, but there are many others. Choose the right one for you based on the specifications you need for the jobs you plan to print.

Further Reading:

ABS vs PETG 3D Printing Filament: Which Filament is Best?

ABS vs PETG 3D Filament

One of the biggest factors in the adoption rate of new technology is how easily people can adapt to it.

Users are much more likely to be drawn to something that is easy to understand and straightforward as the quicker they can master it the more they can enjoy it.

Unfortunately, 3D printing is not the easiest to understand or the most straightforward concept, but that’s okay — we’ll make it easy for you here, which is why we are comparing these two filaments: ABS vs PETG 3D, so you can decide which is best to 3D print with.

The Main Differences Between ABS vs PETG 3D

The main differences between ABS vs PETG 3D are:

  • ABS is not a sustainable, environmentally friendly filament, whereas PETG is recyclable
  • ABS is extremely an extremely durable, lightweight filament, whereas PETG absorbs moisture, so you have to store properly
  • ABS requires a heated bed, whereas PETG does not required a heated bed
  • ABS is a thermoplastic polymer typically used in lego building blocks, whereas PETG is a glycol modification material typically used in plastic water bottles

A Little About 3D Printing

Not only do you have hundreds of choices of 3D printers that all seem very similar to the naked eye, but you also need to understand the filament you are using.

The filament for a 3D printer as is important as the jelly in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You can’t have the printer without the filament (3D printing material). These days there are a ton of different filament types for printing. And who really knows the differences between them all. Aren’t they all just spools of plastic?

While some are spools of plastics, they each have very different characteristics. Some are hard, some are soft, some are flexible, some are strong. You get the point. Filament alone can take days upon days of reading and research to just begin to understand some of the basics. Luckily for you, we can do much of the research for you.

Just as anything else, there are some types that are more popular than others. Without a doubt, PLA is the uncontested champion of the 3D printing world. It’s great for all skill levels. It is super easy to use and has a low melting point. It is just an all-around pretty awesome filament. But we aren’t here to talk PLA all day. Let’s discuss some other filaments.

What are ABS and PETG?

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), is a thermoplastic polymer, and it is the second most popular 3D printing filament right behind PLA (polylactic acid ). ABS is popular as it is extremely durable (ideal for mechanical parts with mechanical properties), very lightweight, and relatively cheap to produce and purchase.

You can associate ABS as the material used for LEGO bricks, as well as other consumer goods. It is a very popular material to be used for injection molding.

There are some drawbacks to this filament. It requires high temperatures to reach the ideal melting point (225C). This means you will need to have an extruder that can reach these temperatures (heat resistance) and a heated chamber print bed to avoid warping.

A good ventilation system (e.g. a cooling fan) will help the melted material set and strengthen as it requires such high printing temperatures. As well, ABS puts off a strong, unpleasant odor that can become toxic to humans and pets if too much is inhaled.

Another downfall of ABS is the negative environmental impact. ABS is not a sustainable filament. It is not made of recycled material nor biodegradable material. Any bad prints and unused/unwanted filament will most likely live on for ages in the town dump. Be sure to get your settings dialed in to limit the amount of waste you produce when printing with ABS.

The other filament is an up-and-coming filament that I quickly becoming a favorite of many 3D printing enthusiasts. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the base material with the G representing a glycol modification. This modification adds a lot of durability to PET.  PET is most commonly known as the material used for plastic water bottles.

PETG material maintains a reputation as the best of both worlds for 3D printing’s most popular filaments. It has the tensile strength, temperature resistance, and durability of ABS. Those are combined with the ease of printing PLA and you can understand why PETG is quickly becoming so popular.

Some of the more noteworthy aspects of PETG are that the 3D printer filament is recyclable. It is not the most sustainable material, but it is better than sending PETG print misfires straight to the dump.

Also, PETG is food safe if you want to make any storage containers for edible treats. And this filament does not require a heated bed in order to print without warping (can work on heated or not heated surface plates).

While PETG is quite impressive as a filament, it still has its pitfalls. For example, PETG is a hygroscopic material, which means it easily can absorb moisture. If PETG is not stored in a dry place to keep humidity and moisture from it, the dampened filament will not print how you want it to.

Pelican cases make a great storage box/dry box for PETG. Also, this filament does not do well in UV light. This isn’t the end of the world unless you wanted to print something that would be used outdoors often. The little makes the material become brittle and breaks apart easily.

What makes it popular?

ABS’s strength and durability make it a great choice for a wide range of products and industries. It withstands heat and stress without cracking or weakening, and it is one of the strongest plastic filaments you can buy. The finished product will hide scratches and is highly resistant to chemicals (chemical resistance) and lights. This makes it a great material for finishing polishes, paints, glues, and other post-manufacturing processes.

3d printing abs

ABS will print very smoothly as long as you have your printer settings dialed in. As mentioned before, it has a very high melting point so you will need to ensure you can reach and sustain temperatures throughout the duration of the print. It is recommended you use an enclosed printer as this will make it easier to maintain the temperatures.

PETG, on the other hand, is also known for being a tough and durable filament. A plus-side of this one is it is odorless when melted. While tough and durable, it is also maintained soft and flexible characteristics. This makes it great for prints such as cases, bumpers, and protective pieces. However, this is not the ideal filament for structural or stiff pieces.

Best Practices

It is no secret that filaments can be very tricky to print with. If your printer is dialed in exactly to where you need it, you can end up with a sloppy, stringy, mess of plastic. Nobody wants that. This is why it is very important to pay attention to the specific traits for whichever material you choose.

PETG happens to be one of the more particular filaments and much less forgiving than some other types. Just remember to be patient and check the box on all the details before you rush into a print.

Depending on your extruder and extrusion settings, PETG needs to be printed between 220-245C. While not necessary, a bed temperature around 75C is ideal. You don’t need to get fancy with your bed adhesion. Blue painter’s tape works just as well here as it will for most other filaments.

3D PRINT

Unlike some filaments, PETG doesn’t smear onto each layer from the extruder. Instead, it lays down better on top of each layer. Because of this, you need to leave slightly more room, about 3mm, between the print bed and the nozzle. It is a little tricky to get your printer and nozzle dialed perfectly, but once you get it there, it is nothing but smooth sailing with this filament.

ABS, can also be painful to work with if you don’t take your time (specifically the nozzle modifications). This filament should not be used with an open-framed printer as a lower printing temperature can cause the filament to cool quickly. The rapid cooling will lead to warping and weakening the final print. If you only have an open-framed printer, you can try using plastic wrap to simulate an enclosed printer. Creating a perimeter around your printer will allow you to maintain some of the heat and block unwanted drafts and cool air.

ABS also needs to be used with a high-temperature extruder and a heated bed for best results. After the first few layers have been laid down, you can lower the temperature of the heated print bed. But you want it to be hot at the start to prevent rapid cooling.

ABS vs PETG Price Difference

For ABS 3D Printing Filamentyou are looking at about $20.00 for a decent spool of filament. The PETG Filament is slightly higher at $27.00 per spool.

Both materials are right on par with most other generic types of filament, which float around $20 to $30. Of course, there are specialty spools that can run you anywhere from $50 all the way up to $100.

Also, be aware of where you are purchasing your filament. Some websites will appear to offer legit filament only to send you the bottom of the barrel filament, which does nothing but cause headaches when trying to print. Be sure you are purchasing from a legit supplier. It is always better to spend a little extra to be assured you are receiving a high-quality filament.

Where to Buy PETG Filament?

Just like your classic printers, brands may guage you on their own “custom” filament. They tend to push THEIR brand, regardless of the many suitable (if not even better) alternatives. 

My top recommended filament source is definitely Matterhackers PRO series PETG filament here. It works with all of the top 3D printers, with higher reliability and often a lower price.

Where to Buy ABS Filament?

Similarly, the Matterhackers ABS filament here is second to none. 

Final Takes: PETG or ABS?

We know PLA is the most popular, but a close second is ABS. Just because something is popular doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best.

Depending on who you talk to, a lot of people will argue ABS is the best, and some will even state their case for PETG. Both ABS and PETG are making a name for themselves among 3D printing enthusiast.

While ABS and PETG are quite similar, they each are different and have their unique qualities. Test your settings, and give each a try to determine which is the best for you.

While some will choose one side or the other, many people will find ways to incorporate both filaments into their designs.

Recommended Reads

PLA vs ABS 3D Print Filament – Which is Better?

3D printing is an exciting industry with new developments and ways of doing things emerging almost daily. If you haven’t tried your hand at 3D printing or relatively new it can be very useful to understand some of the basic concepts involved and how to work with different materials.

ABS and PLA are two of the core materials used in the industry for 3D printers that use Fused Deposition Modeling Technology, also called FDM. Both of these materials are a thermoplastic, which means you can easily shape and manipulate them in various ways once they are heated.

Additionally, once these materials go through the cooling down process they retain their shape. ABS and PLA are both widely available and used in the 3D printing market because they are generally easy to work with and compatible with almost all 3D printer models. While these materials do share a number of similarities they also differ in many ways as well, which can make 3D printing projects easier or more difficult depending on the job.

What is ABS?

ABS stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, which is a plastic that is oil-based. Businesses tend to use ABS frequently because it’s a very strong material that is good for making parts for cars, different types of musical instrument components and even Legos. Its melting point is relatively high compared to other materials and you have to be careful of potential warping during the cooling/printing process.

Because ABS is subject to warping during the printing process, it’s usually necessary to utilize a heated printing bed which is not always included with every type of 3D printer, especially less expensive models. Additionally, the fumes that come with using ABS can be quite unpleasant so printing in an area that is well ventilated is important. Some of these aspects make this material more geared towards professional applications as opposed to a typical 3D printing hobbyist.

What is PLA?

PLA stands for Poly Lactic Acid and is actually made from a mixture of cornstarch and sugarcane. It is much safer to use compared to ABS and in many cases it’s easier to work with. Additionally, PLA can provide a nicer appearance as its surface is smooth and shiny which is preferred when 3D printing many products.

This material does not present the same issue with fumes as ABS but it does have its downsides. It is not near as strong or durable as ABS and the melting point is significantly lower. This means if you were to use it for building parts for cars or other applications that require durability, the material won’t hold up very well especially in extreme hot or cold conditions.

ABS Applications and Advantages

Typical applications and uses for ABS cover a wide range of products but include drain pipes, electronic components, kitchen appliance parts, carrying cases and even many toys or toy parts. The balance of flexibility and durability is what make this material so useful for many commercial uses. Because it is relatively resistant to heat, 3D printers that are can use ABS use a hot end which melts the material before it is fed through the nozzle.

This typically happens in a temperature range of between two hundred ten and two hundred fifty degrees Celsius.

“As mentioned above, these elements of working with ABS make it necessary to use a printer that has a heated print bed as well as a hot end which helps reduce breakage of printed components.”

Another significant advantage of utilizing ABS besides its durability is cost. ABS is significantly less expensive compared to PLA. For many years, this made it the most used material 3D printing, although that is slowly changing with new printer models and techniques becoming available. It is available in a wide range of colors and typically offers a matte type finish on printed products.

Disadvantages of ABS

The first issue working with ABS creates is that it is a non-biodegradable plastic due to its oil base. The unpleasant fumes are becoming less of an issue as time goes by due to some printer models offering HEPA filters of various types which remove most of the problem.

However, the material can become unstable and lose its structural integrity when exposed to natural sunlight for long periods of time, so proper storage is essential. Keep in mind, this means you must store unused spools of ABS material in a safe place.

PLA Applications and Advantages

PLA is made from several different resources such as corn and potato starch as well as tapioca roots, which makes it biodegradable. Compared to the other thermoplastics available in the 3D printing market, PLA is the most environmentally friendly. While it is less durable than ABS it does have its place for use in commercial applications.

The medical industry utilizes PLA quite often to produce pins, screws or rods that are used for various types of medical implants. Within a couple of years, the PLA-based components of an implant will break down inside the body well after they are needed and not harmful.

Additionally, PLA is used for producing all different types of packaging such as shopping bags, disposable forks and spoons as well as a large array of disposable garments.

“The material is a good match for any type of product that needs to be environmentally friendly but does not require permanent structural integrity.”

The melting point for PLA is much lower than ABS and stands between one hundred sixty and two hundred twenty degrees Celsius. A heated printed bed is optional when you work with this material but it can help depending on what type of printing project or object you are trying to print. Additionally, PLA cools slower than other 3D printing materials so it can be useful to use a fan to make the cooling process faster. PLA does not present any fume issues like ABS as it actually smells quite sweet when melted due to the resources that make up the material. This makes it easy to work with in a house, garage or basement where you might have other people close to your work area.

PLA Disadvantages

PLA does have its disadvantages too as it can be a bit sensitive or difficult to work with in some aspects. It has a tendency to be very sticky which means it can sometimes stick to your fingers or other surfaces when you are trying to move or work with an object. This can cause unwanted breakage if the force becomes too great and a printed object has not had time to fully cool.

PLA can also sometimes be a bit difficult to work with when it comes to painting objects and often requires using a coat of primer first. Of course, the obvious disadvantage is its durability which does not make it a good material for any type of device that needs to hold up to any significant amount of pressure or force.

Which is Better Overall: ABS or PLA?

Deciding which material is better for your 3D printing purposes will largely depend on what types of objects you are printing.

Structural Integrity: If you need a material that can withstand force and offers a high degree of structural integrity then ABS is the obvious choice.

Flexibility and Fun: If you are a hobbyist and just starting out then the ease of use, no fumes and no toxicity of PLA may be a better choice. Whatever you choose, have fun, be creative and keep on 3D printing!