Choosing the Right Slicer Settings
As any experienced 3D printing enthusiast will tell you, slicer settings make a big difference when working with different materials. ABS and PLA filaments share similar properties, but you should always adjust your settings to get the best results with each material.
To give you an idea of the best slicer settings for PLA and ABS, this article will walk you through all of the most critical settings. You will need to fine-tune these settings to match both your 3D printer and your filament. This process is much easier when you have a head start.
What is the difference between PLA and ABS 3D printer filament?
There are several key differences between PLA and ABS that you should be aware of before you start printing with them. PLA is generally considered easier to print, although not as strong or durable as ABS. But what else is different?
PLA (polylactic acid)
PLA is a popular thermoplastic derived from plant starches. Although this material is not as strong as other 3D printer filaments, it is extremely easy to print and suffers few problems such as warping. PLA is also excellent for adhering to almost any building surface.
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)
ABS is made from a mixture of three different plastics/rubbers. It is stronger than PLA, but also more difficult to print. ABS likes to warp, requires higher temperatures than PLA, and can also pose health risks when misused.
It is worth taking the time to learn about the different types of 3D printer filaments so that you can also choose the best option for your projects.
Nozzle and bed temperature
FDM 3D printers use heat to soften filament materials so they can be shaped and glued together. ABS and PLA have very different nozzle and bed temperature requirements; ABS prefers it warmer, while PLA works well in cooler conditions.
PLA 3D Printer Nozzle and Build Surface Temperatures
You can print PLA without a heated build surface, as long as it has a texture that the plastic adheres to. Despite this, PLA benefits from a bed temperature between 50°C and 60°C.
Your build surface must also be level to work properly. Learning how to level your 3D printer bed takes time and patience, but the results are worth it.
The best nozzle temperature for PLA is usually between 200°C and 215°C. You can use temperature tower calibration 3D models to find the best printing temperature for your printer.
ABS 3D Printer Nozzle and Build Surface Temperatures
It is almost impossible to print ABS without a heated bed, as this material suffers severe warping when exposed to different temperatures. Use a heated bed between 90°C and 110°C is a good place to start with abs.
ABS has a higher melting point than PLA. It is better to aim between 210°C and 250°C before you start experimenting with ABS 3D printing temperatures.
As the name suggests, layer height is the height of each of the layers created by your 3D printer. Both PLA and ABS are extremely forgiving when it comes to layer height, and you should choose this setting based on your nozzle size and the quality you want. For example, a 0.4 mm nozzle should be used for layer heights between 0.12mm and 0.28mm.
Your 3D printer’s extruder and hotend move to create your 3D prints, and the speed of those movements must be precise. PLA and ABS print well with movement speeds between 40mm/s and 60mm/s. Going too slow can lead to over-extrusion, while going too fast can lead to under-extrusion and poor quality prints.
Retraction speed and distance
Many 3D printers are able to retract filaments to stop extrusion. This allows the hotend to move without leaving plastic strings behind. PLA and ABS work well with a retraction speed between 40mm/s and 60mm/s and a restriction distance between 0.5mm and 1mm for direct drive extruders, and between 30mm/s and 50mm/s with a 2mm distance for Bowden configurations.
Fill type and density
It is unusual to print a solid object with an FDM printer. Instead, pattern fills fill the space inside the object, saving weight, filament, and time. ABS and PLA work best with at least ten% infill density, but you can push that up to 30% for a stronger object. Beyond 30% infill density, you won’t get a significant increase in strength in most cases.
Many slicer programs allow you to choose from a range of different models/fill types. The pattern you choose can impact the strength of your prints and the time it takes to 3D print them, but the difference is too small for many users to notice.
Media type and material
Supports are an essential part of 3D printing, allowing objects to be printed with overhangs that would otherwise be out in the open. PLA and ABS work well with tree-shaped stands and regular tower stands. The cantilever angle you choose determines the slope of a cantilever before supports are generated. 0 degrees will support all overhangs, while 90 degrees will not support any overhangs; 55 degrees is a good starting point. It should be borne in mind that different slicers handle media in their own way.
It’s always helpful to think about the materials you use for your 3D printed materials. Multi-material prints work with water-soluble filaments that disappear when soaked in water. This is ideal for strong materials like ABS and materials with good adhesion, like PLA.
3D printing additions
Most slicing tools can include a range of additions to your 3D prints. This includes rafts and ledges to help with surface adhesion, as well as other tools like wipe towers and walls. Rafts are the perfect base for many PLA 3D prints, especially if your slicer software turns up the heat for the first few layers. This can allow you to control the small amount of warping that can occur with PLA.
ABS warps much more easily than PLA, and a raft can make the situation worse if your bed isn’t properly leveled. Edges can be much better for ABS than rafts because they anchor each corner and round it off. This distributes the stress caused by warping and allows the object to stay on the print bed more easily.
3D printer and parts cooling
PLA and ABS are similar, but their cooling requirements are radically different. PLA has the advantage of being cooled as soon as it leaves the nozzle, but ABS prefers no cooling of the parts. Using part cooling with ABS increases the chances of warping and poor layer adhesion, but case cooling is still a good idea.
General structure of the 3D printer (beds and housings)
PLA is an amazing material that is suitable for almost all FDM 3D printers. Glass, metal, and tape build surfaces can all provide great results, and you don’t need any sort of enclosure to print with this material.
ABS, on the other hand, is a very different story. Enclosures are vital for ABS 3D printing. Not only do they protect the print as it is made, but they also trap heat and reduce the chance of warping as the part cools. Luckily, you can make your own 3D printer enclosure with relative ease if you follow a guide.
3D printing with ABS and PLA
As two of the most common 3D printable materials on the market, it makes sense that PLA and ABS are well tested. Even then, you should still put some effort into dialing in your printer to make sure you choose the best settings for your brand of filament and the 3D object itself.