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Filament Plastics Information

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Filament plastics are an essential part of your 3d printing experience. That’s why we stock a wide variety of plastics filaments in the Modfab shop. 

It’s also important to know how to use your filament, regardless of type.

Here’s some useful information about the filament plastics commonly used in the FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) process common to many 3D printers. 

For starters, here’s the approximate weight, volume and length of a 1Kg spool of the common plastics. 

PLA

Density: 1.25 g/cm^3 

Volume: 0.80 cm^3/g or 800 cm^3/kg

1.75mm filament length per 1Kg spool: ~330m / ~1080 ft 

ABS

Density: 1.04g/cm^3. 

Volume:0.96cm^3/g or 960 cm^3/Kg 

1.75mm Filament length for 1Kg spool: ~400m / ~ 1310 ft

ABS plastic (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

ABS is an oil based thermoplastic and one of the most common filament plastics in use today.  For the purposes of 3D printing, it is an excellent choice as the objects that you print can be used as working parts in assemblies or other situations, the same way any plastic part can be used.  ABS filament is available in a multitude of colours and two standard thicknesses. 1.75mm is the most commonly used size in this era.  3mm was the standard in the early days of 3D printing but as users have wanted finer results most printers use nozzles that are in the 0.35 to 0.5mm range and subsequently, the smaller sized filament is easier to process through the hotend/extruder than 3mm.

Properties.

Softens at 90C (also known as the “glass transition” temperature)

Melts at 105C

It can be extruded at 180C

It needs to be extruded at 230-240C to bond properly to the previous layer.

Bed temperature should be around 80C

Bed preparation can be done with 3M blue masking tape, Kapton tape or my recommendation ABS/acetone slurry.

ABS is soluble in acetone.

Handily, ABS parts can be easily glued together either by using neat acetone or an acetone/ABS slurry.  The resultant join will be easily as strong as the parts themselves.  This makes creating a large part from sections quite easy and is something you should take into account if you need to create an object larger than the print volume of your machine.

Storage

ABS is hygroscopic, that is, it will absorb water from the atmosphere.  It should be stored in a container with a lid and some form of desiccant to keep the air inside dry.  ABS that has become affected by moisture will tend to bubble as it leaves the extruder nozzle and the result will be a rough, porous surface to your print

 

PLA (Polylactic Acid)

PLA is starch based filament plastics which can be made from a range of plants. Some of the most common sources are cornstarch, tapioca root and sugar cane.  PLA is currently the greenest material you can use in your 3D printer. In 2010, PLA was the second most important bioplastic of the world in regard to consumption volume. Left to break down, PLA reverts to lactic acid and is classified as being biodegradable.  PLA is more brittle than ABS and parts made from it have a harder surface than ABS. PLA filament is available in a multitude of colours, unlike ABS, PLA is translucent by nature and so many translucent colours are available.  PLA comes in two standard thicknesses. 1.75mm is the most commonly used size in this era.  3mm was the standard in the early days of 3D printing but as users have wanted finer results most printers use nozzles that are in the 0.35 to 0.5mm range and subsequently, the smaller sized filament is easier to process through the hotend/extruder than 3mm.

Properties.

Softens at 50C (also known as the “glass transition” temperature)

Melts at 60C

It can be extruded at 160C

It needs to be extruded at 180-190C to bond properly to the previous layer.

Bed temperature should be around 50C

Bed preparation can be done with 3M blue masking tape, Kapton tape or my recommendation, a good thick layer of hair spray.

PLA is soluble in sodium hydroxide, commonly known as caustic soda which is the basis for many drain cleaning products.

PLA does not offer the same properties as ABS in being able to be glued together.  Joining PLA parts needs to be done with another, separate adhesive.  PLA will also display “stringing” when being printed to a larger extent than ABS.  Stringing can be minimised by setting the “retract” on the extruder to the correct value.  This function will withdraw the filament momentarily and prevent the nozzle from drooling on non-print movements.  Due to its relatively low glass transition and melting temperatures, PLA is not suitable for making objects that could be exposed to heat.  A PLA part could easily distort if left in a hot car for example.

Storage.

PLA is hygroscopic, that is, it will absorb water from the atmosphere.  PLA is worse in this respect to ABS. It should be stored in a container with a lid and some form of desiccant to keep the air inside dry.  PLA that has become affected by moisture will tend to bubble as it leaves the extruder nozzle and the result will be a rough, porous surface to your print.

 

PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol)

PVA is a water-soluble synthetic polymer hydrolysed from polyvinyl acetate, not to be confused with polyvinyl acetate which is a common wood glue.  The primary use for PVA in 3D printing is as a support material, subsequently a machine with at least two extruders is necessary.  When support material is generated on a single extruder machine, it is printed in such a way that it can be separated from the main print.  This works with a range of success from good to awful depending on the slicing software and machine set up.  With PVA, the support can be generated with a lot more structural strength than with break-away support.  When the print is completed, the PVA can be dissolved easily in water without resorting to mechanical removal and the subsequent clean-up.

Properties.

Softens at 85C (also known as the “glass transition” temperature)

Melts at 160C

It can be extruded at 180C

It needs to be extruded at 180-190C to bond properly to the previous layer.

Bed temperature should be 60-80C which makes it compatible with ABS. If you want to print with neat PVA set your bed temp to 60ᵒC

Bed preparation is less critical as PVA is going to form a support rather than the actual print.

PVA is soluble in water.

Special attention needs to be paid to the extruder temperature as PVA breaks down rapidly at temperatures over 200C and the subsequent pyrolysis will clog the extruder.

Storage.

 PVA is very hygroscopic and needs to be kept in a sealed bag with desiccant.  You will receive your PVA filament with a suitable bag.  It’s a good idea to take the reel off the printer after use and seal the product up.

HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene)

HIPS is very similar to ABS and is commonly used in toys and product casings such as CD boxes.  Unlike PLA and ABS, HIPS is non-hygroscopic.  HIPS is a very tough plastic and can be painted and glued, it is also recyclable.  HIPS is quite a useful plastic inasmuch as it can be used as the primary print or as a dissolvable support with ABS.  HIPS dissolves quickly in d-Limonene or orange oil. d-Limonene is much cheaper than pure orange oil.  HIPS has very similar requirements to ABS as far as  printer settings are concerned.

Properties.

Softens at 85C (also known as the “glass transition” temperature)

Melts at 104C

It can be extruded at 180C

It needs to be extruded at 230-240C to bond properly to the previous layer.

Bed temperature should be around 80C

Bed preparation can be done with 3M blue masking tape, Kapton tape or my recommendation ABS/acetone slurry.

HIPS is soluble in Limonene or orange oil.

 

 PET G (Polyethylene terephthalate glycol)

PET would be familiar to most of us as the plastic used for soft drink bottles and other food containers.  In it’s natural form it is transparent or opaque based on the crystalline structure in the plastic.   This crystalline structure is one of the interesting properties of PET.  See the graph below.

10ptKHmaterials2

From the graph, you can see the point at which the material bill go from clear to cloudy.  The flow is also affected at this point.

The filament here however is PET G.  The G stands for Glycol and this is a glycol modified polymer created to overcome the crystallization and subsequent decrease in flow at that temperature.  The bed can be prepared with 3M blue tape and the material does not have major shrinkage problems, more than PLA but less than ABS.  The plastic is hygroscopic but very tough when dry.  Support material can be a bit harder to remove than ABS as it tends to adhere to itself very well.  PET sticks well to 3M blue tape also and does not require any other special preparation.

Softens at 75ᵒC (also known as the “glass transition” temperature)

Melts at 200ᵒC

It can be extruded at 230ᵒC

It should be extruded at 230-250ᵒC. Layer bonding is very good with this plastic.

Bed temperature should be 60 – 80ᵒC

Bed preparation can be done with 3M blue masking tape.

PET G is still hygroscopic so it needs to be stored along with your other filament in a container with sesiccant or other humidity control measures.

 Looking for filament plastics and other equipment to help you with your 3d printing journey? Check out the Modfab shop

 

 

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