PETG vs. PLA vs. ABS – Which is the Best 3D Printing Filament?

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PETG vs. PLA vs. ABS – Which is the Best 3D Printing Filament?

When searching for the ideal 3D printing filament material, it’s quite likely you’re torn between choosing ABS, PLA, or PETG.

If you find yourself in such a dilemma, it is understandable as each of these filaments has its own merits and drawbacks.

In this article, I will take you through an in-depth review of all these types of 3D printing filament, so you know which projects they are best suited to.

Once you understand the differences between them, you will be in a better position to decide which filament best suits your needs and budget.

Summary

If you don’t want to read the whole article, here is a quick summary of the conclusions.

PLA

Great for detail. Safe and easy to print. Doesn’t need heated bed. Brittle and not resistant to heat like PETG and ABS are.

PETG

All the benefits of ABS but easier to print and safer. Can’t be smoothed with Acetone like ABS can.

ABS

Much less brittle than PLA. Can be smoothed with acetone. Withstands higher heat than PLA. Hard to print due to warping. Releases toxic fumes when printed. PETG is a better alternative to ABS.

PLA vs. PETG 

Both these 3D printing filaments are thermoplastics and belong to the polyester plastic group. This means that they become soft at certain temperatures and solidify once they are cooled down.

PLA stands for Polylactic Acid and is sourced from natural and renewable sources like sugarcane and corn starch. It is commonly used in a broad range of applications, including making medical implants and plastic cups. 

Theoretically, this process can be repeated several times without compromising the material’s quality. In most cases, PETG and PLA 3D printing filaments come in a diameter of 2.85mm and 1.75mm. 

Now that you know the similarities, what are the differences between these two 3D printing filaments? To help you get a better idea of this, we will review how they compare on several aspects, therefore, better understand which best meets your needs. 

Stringing

When printing with PETG, one issue you will experience is the filament getting stringy. This is something that many individuals complain about, and this criticism is fair. 

The reason why this happens is that you need to print PETG at hotter temperatures, compared to PLA. One way to avoid the stringing problem when using PETG is to always print at the recommended nozzle temperature, which is the lower end of the manufacturer’s filament.

Fortunately, you can perfect printing with this 3D printing material after gaining more experience; it just takes a bit more trial and error than PLA.

Printability 

One of the reasons you should choose PLA as your preferred 3D printing filament instead of PETG is because it’s really easy to print.

This is mainly because it’s a very soft plastic. Therefore, this makes getting your initial filament layer to attach to the heated bed very easy, plus it does not take long to heat up and doesn’t suffer from cooling too fast or too slow.

If you set your slicer settings correctly, then it is possible to print PLA without requiring a heated bed. This ease of use has made PLA the ideal choice for instructors and many schools when training students on 3D printing. 

In contrast, using PETG 3D printing filament is entirely different. This is because while printing with PETG, you need to put in place some added measures to guarantee great print quality. 

One of the steps you should take is bed leveling. Because PETG has a higher viscosity than PLA when it is molten, the initial layer height should be higher as it can’t be squished down as much as PLA. You can change your initial layer height settings in your slicer software.

Another way of doing this is by leveling your bed as though you are printing the PLA printing filament. After doing this, you should then head back and make a half turn for each knob in the opposite direction. Consequently, this makes your paper produce less drag, and your PETG will have no issues. 

Durability 

There is no doubt that PETG is more durable than PLA, as it is not only a harder plastic to work with but also a more robust plastic. The melting point of the PETG 3D printing filament is also a lot higher than that of PLA. Because of this, it is less prone to melting when exposed to hotter surroundings, for instance, being inside your vehicle during the summer. 

PETG is much more resistant to hard impacts and chemicals, plus it also has excellent tensile strength. This differs from PLA, which, when exposed to a moderate amount of stress, will break into two. PETG, on the other hand, will bend instead of snapping, making this 3D printing filament an ideal choice if you are printing a functioning part for a DIY project. 

Summary of PLA vs. PETG

  • Both these filaments are perfect for making food products and are considered food safe
  • Both these filaments undergo minor shrinking
  • PLA doesn’t require a heated print bed.
  • PLA is more scratch-resistant than PETG 
  • PLA is relatively cheaper compared to PETG 
  • Both these 3D printing filaments are user-friendly, with PETG slightly more durable, stronger as well as capable of resisting stronger impacts.

Is PETG or PLA the Better Choice? 

Both PLA and PETG are ideal 3D printing filaments, and each has its specific use. However, PETG has a slight edge over PLA despite being harder to use at first. With just a small amount of trial and error to get the right temperatures, you can print reliably with PETG.

If you are 3D printing with children, then PLA is a better choice as it is non-toxic and doesn’t require a heated print bed making it safer for inquisitive young hands.

PLA vs. ABS 

PLA and ABS are the two most popular 3D printing filaments. Because they are thermoplastics, ABS and PLA become soft and moldable when heated and turn solid after being cooled.

PLA stands for Polylactic Acid and is sourced from natural and renewable sources like sugarcane and corn starch. It is commonly used in a broad range of applications, including making medical implants and plastic cups. 

ABS, meaning Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, is a popular choice in the injection molding industry. It is made use of when making automotive bumper parts, electronic housings, and LEGO. From these uses, you might have already guessed that ABS is very strong and resilient.

With that in mind, here are the differences between these two 3D printing filaments. 

Printability

ABS is harder to print than PLA because it warps as it cools. This means you must ensure your print is kept at a very consistent temperature throughout its printing cycle. The best way to achieve this is to use a 3D printer that has a built-in enclosure. This keeps the print area at a consistently high temperature and prevents changes in room temperature and air draughts from affecting your print.

If your printer doesn’t have a built-in enclosure, you can build one or buy one that your 3D printer fits into. Not only will this make ABS printing possible, but it will also increase the reliability of printing other materials.

Strength

PLA and ABS printing filaments have identical tensile strengths, thereby making them perfect for numerous prototyping applications. Nevertheless, ABS is seen as a better choice, unlike PLA, because of its enhanced ductility. That means that where PLA will just snap when subjected to a large force, ABS will bend and then return to its original shape.

This improved elongation and greater flexural strength make ABS an excellent choice to use across different applications. Conversely, PLA is seen as preferable when the function is not crucial to the design.

Biodegradability and Recycling

In atmospheric conditions, PLA is stable and is biodegradable within 48 months in water and just 50 days in an industrial composter. ABS, on the other hand, is not biodegradable but is recyclable. 

PLA is often used in the food industry; however, you should always check with the manufacturer of your specific filament to see if it is food safe, as often additional additives are used to enhance colors and appearance.

Heat Resistance 

ABS is the perfect choice compared to PLA for higher temperature applications because its glass transition temperature is 105 degrees Celsius. In contrast, the glass transition temperature of ABS is 60 degrees Celsius. 

This then means that PLA will start to lose its structural integrity quickly and then start to droop and collapse, especially when under load as the 60 degrees Celsius approaches. 

This is especially important if you intend to use your print in a car or outside in under the heat of the sun.

Part Accuracy 

In general, the accuracy and tolerance of FDM printed components depend on the model complexity as well as printer calibration. Nonetheless, you can use PLA and ABS to make dimensionally precise parts, with the minimum features down to 0.2mm.

When designing interlocking or connecting parts, the wall thickness needs to be at least 1 to 2 mm, whereas a tolerance of 0.5mm is advised to offer enough strength to the wall elements. 

PLA is less vulnerable to warping because of its reduced printing temperature, thereby making printing a lot easier. Therefore, you can use it to make sharper features and corners comparison to ABS. 

Post-processing and Surface Finish 

PLA and ABS print layers that are noticeable after printing. ABS usually prints in a matte finish, whereas PLA is semi-transparent, leading to a sleeker finish. 

During the post-processing of ABS, acetone can be used to give the parts a silky glass-like finish but with a slight loss of fine details.

Furthermore, ABS is frequently machined and can be sanded with ease after printing. PLA conversely can be machined and sanded, but greater care needs to be taken when doing this as it is more brittle. 

Summary of PLA vs. ABS 

  • ABS is ideal for applications that need thermal stability, machinability, flexibility, and strength but is more susceptible to warping. 
  • ABS requires a stable temperature environment when printing to prevent warping, ideally an enclosed printer.
  • PLA is a perfect choice when details are important. This is possible because of its reduced printing temperature, which makes printing a lot easier. Therefore, it is the best choice when printing parts with fine details.  
  • ABS parts can be acetone smoothed to give them a glass-like appearance.
  • PLA and ABS 3D printing filaments cost about the same.
  • ABS has better mechanical properties, but this makes it more challenging to print in comparison to PLA. 

PETG vs. ABS 

ABS was one of the first 3D printing materials used in FDM printing and is used in processes such as injection molding to make anything from LEGO bricks and airplane seats. 

The entry of PETG is, however, threatening the popularity of ABS as the preferred choice for general use due to its high-strength applications.

Moreover, PETG offers you the perfect balance between the ease of use of PLA and the strength of ABS. 

So, let us dive in and see how these two 3D printing materials compare on various aspects. 

Durability and Strength

Whereas ABS has traditionally been the preferred material for high-strength applications, PETG has mounted a serious challenge. 

The reason for this is that PETG is sturdier compared to ABS. This is especially the case when the loads head in the same direction as the layer lines, with ABS typically having inferior layer adhesion. Therefore, you need to choose to PETG over ABS due to its wide range of uses. 

One aspect that ABS edges PETG even though slightly is its temperature resistance as it can resist temperatures reaching 100 degrees Celsius. PETG, on the other hand, can only withstand temperatures approximately 80 degrees Celsius. 

This margin is slim, ABS can survive boiling water, and this is vital if you require to sterilize the print, whereas PETG lasts longer in many electronic applications. Therefore, it is evident that ABS has a better temperature resistance compared to PETG. 

Ease of Use 

One of the main drawbacks of ABS was that printing with it was quite challenging. This is not an issue you will experience using PETG, and why the popularity of this 3D printing filament has soared in the recent past. 

Getting ABS to stick on a print surface and itself is quite hard unless the heated beds run at temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Celsius. The same applies to heated build chambers that can either break or make prints. Poorly heated prints start to deform, warp and peel off drastically from the build plate and might begin to crack between the layers. 

PETG, in contrast, is not as prone to warping, cracking, and deforming. This is because the bed temperature only needs to be between 50 and 80 degrees Celsius. 

Nonetheless, PETG is more hygroscopic hence easily absorbs air moisture, making it harder to store compared to ABS. The humidity is detrimental to the material and can lead to the damage of the 3D printing filament. This means you can leave out ABS on the shelf due to its enhanced tolerance. 

Price and Availability

ABS is slightly cheaper compared to PETG, and also lighter, meaning you can use it for a longer duration. It, however, does not have lots to offer when it comes to variety. 

PETG stands out from ABS as it comes in transparent colors, making it useful when making vases and lampshades. It also comes in several blends from the manufacturer with different names, such as nGen from Colorfabb and CPE from Ultimaker. The cost of PETG varies between premium to daily-use, and this is especially the vase when blended for print quality or strength. 

Which is Best? ABS or PETG?

PETG is a much better pick than ABS as this 3D printing material is more durable, more robust, comes in transparent colors, and prints better. The only edge ABS has over it is its ability to be painted and glued or higher temperature resistance. 

Conclusion 

After reading this article, you are now well aware of the differences between each of these 3D printing filaments. By knowing this, then you are in a better position to know which of these filaments best suits your needs.   

In most cases PETG is the superior filament as it has similar strength properties to ABS but is less toxic and easier to print. However, there are specific examples where you should pick ABS or PLA.

PLA is the safest of the three filaments, as it is non-toxic, and can be printed without a heated print bed.

ABS has very similar properties to PETG but has the advantage of being able to be smoothed with acetone to give an ultra sleek glass-like finish.

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