3D printing has come a long way and in today’s market there are tens if not hundreds of different variations of thermoplastics you can use to print with but amongst various different hybrids of plastics there are the three most common plastics that almost everyone uses is PLA, ABS and PETG. However, which one should you use?
Well, let's go through each one!
PLA is definitely, without a doubt the sexiest plastic out there in the 3D printing space! Not only is the plastic durable enough for prototyping and making functional prints such as phone stands, hooks, pencil cases or whatever, but it is also biodegradable as well! Along with that, there is also the added bonus of it being a very easy plastic to print with, as it succumbs to minimal warping and no splitting during the printing process, AND it prints at the lowest temperature of all of the filament types out there making it the perfect plastic to use with any 3d printer (As long as it is the FDM type printer)! As well as that, PLA is also the cheapest type of plastic out of the three mentioned, with there being hundreds of different colour variations and composites to choose from as well such as marble PLA, metallic PLA or wooden PLA!
Okay, so if PLA is so great then what is the point of using the other plastics?
Well, here's the catch. Because the printing temperature of PLA is so low (around 200°C), this means that the material is not able to be used in high-temperature applications such as a cup holder for the inside of your car as it may melt in the summer time.
I know, I did say that the printing temperature is 200°C, which I’m sure there is no way the inside of your car will get that hot without setting itself on fire! However, the temperature at which PLA starts to degrade and soften at is much lower than that, at around 60°C, which is a temperature that the inside of your car can easily get up to when left out in the sun!
Also, do you remember how I said PLA is biodegradable earlier? Well, that can have a devastating effect on prints that are left outside as it can slowly lose colour at first before cracking and softening upon exposure to the sun and rain after a few weeks or months!
So, what if we want to overcome these downsides of PLA? Well, we can use plastic ABS instead…
If PLA is the sexiest, then ABS would be like the grandfather to all 3D printable thermoplastics as it is the original plastic that was used when 3D printers first came out!
Not only is ABS strong and rigid and can basically overcome all of the downsides of PLA by having strong resistance to chemicals and the elements, it turns out that it is also the plastic used to manufacture LEGOs as well (yes the thing that broke your foot when you accidentally stepped on it)!
Along with that, ABS is also the toughest plastic out of the three mentioned with the ability to stay intact and last for a lifetime if left outside! However, this is also one reason why hobbyists may shy away from using the plastic as the ability to last forever comes with the obvious downside that is the plastic is non-biodegradable.
BUT, that isn’t actually the main reason that most people tend to avoid ABS as there are much more serious downsides to printing the with this plastic. One such issue is the fact that this plastic is really hard to print with as you first need a printer that has a heated bed and a nozzle that can reach temperatures of 260°C, and even then there are further problems that can crop up such as the printed object warping and the layers separating.
A second issue is a fact that ABS can also release styrene fumes when printing which can have a serious health effect in the long term. This means that to print ABS, you should preferably have the printer placed somewhere else other than in your bedroom or study.
Now, even though there are a lot of issues with ABS, if you get the right brand of plastic it can still be really useful, especially as the ABS which I use to print is specifically made to have fewer styrene fumes and overall better finish so there are less of a chance of layer separation.
Click here for the affiliate link if you wish to purchase the brand ABS which I use to print with.
Ok, so if ABS is hard and durable and PLA is easy to print with, then is there a plastic that has the combined strength of both of these attributes?
Well, YES! That’s where PETG comes in!
PETG is a plastic that has a translucent sheen that gives it an overall high-quality look.
With its high durability that outperforms PLA and good temperature and chemical resistance, this is the perfect material to use for those prints that you would like to use outside and in your car!
Not only that, the incredible ease of printing of PETG has made the material much more favourable than ABS as it exhibits no layer separation and minimal warping! It actually turns out that PETG can sometimes stick too well, with people experiencing prints becoming permanently stuck to the print surface or bits of glass becoming detached from the print bed when the print is being removed!
A good way to avoid this is to apply a layer of glue or hairspray onto the printing surface before printing which would act as a barrier between the print and the print bed, allowing you to remove the finished print much more easily.
Along with the ease of printing, PETG’s printing temperature is only 240°C making it more widely available to be used on cheaper printers compared to ABS!
As you can see, all of this along with other benefits of PETG like not producing toxic fumes is why this thermoplastic is the most popular among the 3D printing space and it is also my go-to plastic which I print with most of the time as well!
In the future, we are definitely going to see advancements in material technology and chemical engineering which will no doubt provide us with even better, stronger materials that are easy to use and cheap to obtain. But for now, PETG really is the wonder material of 3D printing!
If you are interested, click HERE for the affiliate link to purchase the brand of PETG which I personally use and have used for about a year now! It is a very accurate filament with an incredible precision of ± 0.02mm and I have not come across any issues with it at all so far!