PLA vs ABS Filaments: Complete Guide With Differences

PLA and ABS filaments are the most popular filaments used in 3D printing. The materials possess many unique properties, which proves their demand for the usage in Fused Filament Fabrication(FFF) 3D printing technology. Both the filaments are easily available in a wide range and are handy for experienced and new users too.

Try to analyze the unique properties of PLA Vs ABS filaments before you choose one of them as your print materials.  

Do you know why PLA and ABS filaments are so popular in producing successful prints? Continue reading the article to know the reasons behind choosing them widely. This article provides you a complete guide on the characteristics and material properties of PLA and ABS filaments along with the differences among them. 

What Is PLA?

PLA is the short form of Polylactic Acid. It is composed of organic materials and it can also be mentioned as a viable 3D printing filament. It’s aesthetic properties make it well known because it is very easy to print with such filaments, which are made up of plant-derived compostables(corns) and are available at a cheaper price.

Highly complex and detailed parts with a filmy and shiny nature can be printed using PLA filaments. The filament is ideal enough for innovators and helps them to pick up their speed in the 3D printing process. Since they are capable of printing highly complex parts, they are widely used for the production of both architectural and functional prototypes.

What Is ABS?

ABS or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is a thermosetting plastic filament used to provide endurance to the part by increasing its rigidity. These filaments are most commonly used for the production of moving parts and end-use tools.

ABS filaments possess exceptional mechanical properties and thus they are popular for the production of complex parts with high mechanical stress. They are hard filaments and are highly resistant to heat. For new users, it is more complicated to print with ABS than PLA and it is due to the frequent occurrence of warping issues.

But a happy thing is that the user can get rid of this issue by using Ultimaker ABS.

These are unique materials of ABS, distinctly composed to reduce warping and also helps in increasing interlayer adherence.

Characteristics Of ABS & PLA:

Although both ABS and PLA look pretty same to all appearances, they still show differences while printing. Let us now discuss the factors that make the difference between ABS and PLA. 


In contrast to PLA, high nozzle and bed temperatures must be compulsory provided to ABS filaments. Most ABS filaments demand a mandatory bed temperature of about 80-30 °C. In case of not providing this sufficient temperature, parts face a lot of warping issues. Whilst PLA does not demand this high nozzle and bed temperatures, it is good if you heat up the print bed to avoid print failures while using these materials.

When we speak about nozzle temperature there is only a slight difference between the filaments. PLA requires a nozzle temperature of about 180-30 °C and ABS requires a temperature around 210-250 °C while printing.

Since ABS is highly reactive to heat, there might be a high probability of getting air drafts or variation in temperature, which ruptures the parts while printing. So it is preferred to cover your printer with an enclosure or a barrier. By doing so, it helps in trapping and inhibiting heat and airflow respectively. But when it comes to PLA, enclosure is not required even though you can expect a good quality print.

PLA vs ABS Strength:

In regard to PLA in strength, ABS filaments are the strongest. ABS filaments are rigid and impact modified with high durability. They are resistant to tremors and strong blows.

Besides these, ABS filaments are also greatly resistant to water and impacts at low temperatures when opposed to PLA filaments.

PLA filaments possess a pretty good firmness and are UV resistant. They are very hard and brittle materials. PLA and ABS both are non-resistant to solvents in contrast to other 3D printing filaments.


ABS filaments have a precise printing speed from 40-60 mm/s similar to PLA and it is only the end speed of this material. It is an appreciable thing with these materials because you need not change the slicer profile settings every time you choose a different material. When it comes to PLA, 60mm/s is the usual printing speed. But many users have crossed this speed and reached beyond 150 mm/s.

This speed setting not only depends on the materials but also on the other settings too. So it is not a limited selection for PLA and ABS materials.


While printing filaments exhibit aroma, this is quite common for most of the filaments. Formation of fumes is ordinary when a thermosensitive plastic is exposed to heat. Since these fumes contain hazardous particles, they harm the user vigorously when they are inhaled.

In regard to ABS and PLA about fumes, PLA is far better than ABS. PLA being a plant-based organic material, does not produce a stinky smell like ABS filaments and it is no matter to worry about the user’s health about harmful particles. Whereas, ABS is highly noxious and produces horrible aroma when heated.

It is recommended to make sure the room is ventilated wherever you start printing. It is very important to handle the enclosure lid with great care because there are high chances of fumes getting liberated out at once by which the user faces an intolerable smell. Alternatively, filters can be used to get rid of this problem.


Different 3D printing filaments have different levels of hygroscopy, which means some of them will quickly respond to the atmospheric moisture. Thus, safe storage of filaments also matters a lot. Filaments that are highly responsive to the moist air tend to decrease the print quality which might in turn lead to the print failure. Besides these, formation of bubbles take place when the filament is warmed up and squeezed out of the nozzle. 

Far from other filaments like PETG, PLA and ABS does not belong to the hygroscopic category. But to be on a safer side, it is good to secure the filament in a moisture proof container, which becomes a permeable membrane to the moist air. Another way to secure the filaments is to dry out the filaments before printing, an oven or a dehydrator can be used to dry them.

Material Properties Of ABS vs PLA:

Strength & Durability:

Strength is one the important prospect of a material because no user deserves a delicate featured part.

With respect to this, MatterHackers experimented on distinct materials by printing similar hooks and reported the load that the hooks could bear. The outcome proved that ABS filaments could bear a minimum load of 209 pounds to a maximum of 84 pounds. This experiment proved that ABS’s hook was quite powerful and complicated to print when compared to PLA’s hooks because PLA material’s hook could only bear a weight of around 119 to 84 pounds.

Durability is also an essential aspect of a part. So you have to carefully choose a material that is resistant to cracks when exposed to sunlight, high temperatures and other factors. Although ABS could overcome high temperatures, there is a high probability of parts getting ruptured in cold conditions, whereas PLA is viceversa to ABS in this aspect. Since the parts composed of ABS and PLA get diminished when exposed to UV rays and moist air, not either of these materials are fit for printing outdoor parts.


Unlike filaments like TPU, ABS and PLA are not flexible enough. But still flexibility is a vital aspect because that decides how long the part is durable. Flexibility is somewhat closely related to strength, it means flexibility is inversely related to rigidity of a material i.e, more the flexibility, less brittle the parts are.

AirWolf 3D performed a few trials on hooks printed with different materials and reported that PLA materials reached breaking point faster than ABS. PLA had only 15.3% elongation, while ABS filament elongated upto 21.6%. That is to say, PLA parts are more brittle and could reach the breaking point at a faster rate than ABS parts, and this could be clearly noticed in a functional part.

PLA vs ABS: Surface Finish & Post-Processing:

Surface Finish: 

There is only a slight difference in surface finishing between the PLA and ABS. Both the filaments provide similar surface textured parts with high quality. Yet variations occur only while post-processing.


Post-processing is an important method to be done after printing a part, it is used to improve a part’s outermost texture. PLA and ABS doesn’t limit chief post-processing steps like sanding and painting, despite the fact that ABS parts are sanded effortlessly than PLA.

Smoothing is one more simple method in post-processing done with the use of solvent. In regard with this, ABS parts are best known to be smoothed quickly by the vapours of acetone.

Conclusion: Choosing Between PLA & ABS

If you are willing for an easy print then PLA would be highly suitable for your needs and a negative aspect is that it is not suitable for printing logistics parts. In case you want a strong part to hold out against bumps then ABS is the best choice. 

It is better if you go through a technical data sheet before you choose either of these filaments while printing unique objects. If not this, then you can contact or visit a local seller or shop nearby.

Ultimaker Tough PLA can be used to improve rigidity to the same as ABS and can be used as a regular printing material. 

It is important to note that Ultimaker 3D devices even accept materials beyond ABS and PLA also. They welcome materials from resistant NYLON till the tensile TPU 95A.

Gunaseelan Murugesan
Author | Website

Experienced Project Engineer with a demonstrated history of working in the field of Product Design & Development industry in Mechanical Engineering. Skilled in 3D Printing and Re engineering Technologies with CATIA V5 , Materials Science, Finite Element Analysis (FEA), Mimics, ANSYS Workbench and Casting Simulation software. Strong engineering professional with a Master’s Degree focused in Industrial Metallurgy from PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore.

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