ABS plastic has long been used in manufacturing for its strength and durability. It was one of the first materials used in 3D printers and remains one of the most popular as well. Let's take a closer look at ABS plastic, it's properties, and best practices for use in 3D printing.
ABS is an abbreviation for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, which is a petroleum-derived thermoplastic. Thermoplastics are plastics that become pliable, or soft, upon reaching a certain temperature. As you might imagine, this pliability makes ABS a perfect candidate for use in 3D printing.
ABS is a plastic that is familiar to us, whether we know it or not - it's used in appliances, toys, and vehicle bumpers, among other everyday items. ABS is a very sturdy plastic, and, when stressed, tends to bend rather than break. Additionally, ABS plastic is impact resistant and lightweight, which are the main reasons why Lego blocks are made out of this plastic. ABS also has great shock absorbing attributes making it a favorite for helmets, luggage, and similar protective items. It can withstand extreme weather conditions and is resistant to most chemicals. These properties make it an ideal plastic for many uses, 3D printing being just one.
ABS Use in 3D Printing
As mentioned above, the amorphous qualities of ABS are one of the things that make it a great plastic for 3D printing. When printed in the proper environment it prints cleanly and quickly, with minimal clogs, jamming and stringing. In order to get that nice clean print, be sure to hone in on the optimal printer settings. There may be some fine tuning required as every 3D printer is slightly different.
ABS comes in a wide variety of 3D filament colors. Dye and colorant are mixed with ABS resin pellets to create a nice even color of ABS filament. ABS is naturally white in tone making it a perfect backdrop for creating vibrant colors. Colored ABS plastic generally does not fade, so the printed 3D part will last for ages.
ABS Filament Printing Temperatures
ABS plastic filament is extruded between 220-240˚ Celsius. Since ABS has a tendency to warp when cooled, a heated build plate is required with a temperature of 110˚ Celsius. This will ensure minimal warping or separation of layers as the piece cools. An even better environment would be an enclosed printer, but good results are possible with the aforementioned temperatures and heated plate.
Whether 3D printing mechanical parts, interlocking pieces, or pin joints, it is important to consider the environment and temperature at which the print will be used. ABS plastic lends itself to a wide variety of applications due to its high glass transition temperature. ABS plastic does not begin to soften until 105˚ Celsius, which is well above most settings. This flexibility makes 3D printing with ABS popular for both prototyping and final designs.
ABS Filament Smell
ABS filament is an oil based product, so some fumes and a strong smell will be present when you are printing. This smell does not bother most people, but it is always recommended that no matter what type of filament you use, you should always print in a well ventilated area.
ABS Filament Sizes and Storage
ABS 3D printing filament comes in nominal diameters of 1.75mm and 3mm. The size you'll need will vary with your 3D printer make and model.
As with most 3D filaments, moisture absorption is always an issue. When not in use, store your 3D printing filaments in an airtight plastic bag. If you go through 3D printing filament fairly quickly, that method should be sufficient. If you have multiple rolls of filament or go through your supply slowly, consider storing the filament in an airtight plastic bag or container with a couple packs of desiccant.
Also, make sure you store your filament - even if you are keeping it stored in an air-tight container - away from solvents or chemicals that are known to erode or alter ABS, such as acetone.
Post Print Possibilities
3D prints generally look great fresh off the build plate, but if you're looking to do some post-print work on your piece, there are several options.
ABS can be easily be sanded for a smoother finish or machined to attain certain specifications and improve part accuracy. You can also paint your 3D print using acrylic paints.
ABS prints can also be finished with acetone vapor bath for a smooth glossy finish. Acetone is a solvent that is able to dissolve ABS plastic. By surrounding a 3D ABS print with acetone vapor, the exterior slowly melts to create a smoother finish. Acetone can also be used to adhere ABS prints together. Apply a small amount of acetone with a brush onto the ABS parts like glue, and the pieces will become one. ABS is seen as the standard in creating pre-production prototypes as multiple prints can be bonded together easily.
- ABS Filament Sizes: 1.75mm or 3mm
- Glass transition temperature: 105°C (221°F)
- Extrusion temperature for printer: 220° - 240°C (428° - 464°F)
- Heated Bed Temperature: 110°C (230°F)