You’ve got a 3D Printer, or you’re looking to buy a 3D Printer and each one seems to indicate it prints in either ABS, PLA, or both. So you find yourself wanting to know, what is the difference between ABS and PLA.
Both ABS and PLA are known as thermoplastics; that is they become soft and moldable when heated and return to a solid when cooled. This process can be repeated again and again. Their ability to melt and be processed again is what has made them so prevalent in society and is why most of the plastics you interact with on a daily basis are thermoplastics.
|Some report a bad plastic smell, but it is less noxious than a permanent marker
|More of a com-like/sweet smell
|Hard, impact resistant and tough and has a decent flex or “bend” to it
|Hard, but more brittle than ABS when bent. More likely to snap when bent/flexed
|Vulnerable to moisture and sunlight, as well as over-heating in processing
|Vulnerable to moisture and sunlight, although PLA is more prone to overheating, which can cause dripping and degradation
|Much sticker. Sticks very well to acrylic, not as well suited to peeling off paper as ABS.
|Generally glossy, but very varied.
|Option for various translucencies.
|Environment & recycling
|Although it can be recycled, many local recycling programs do not accept ABS.
|PLA is a bio-plastic, which means it biodegrades, but very slowly.