ABS 3D printing is affordable and practical
ABS, or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, is a widely used thermoplastic material in the 3D printing industry. The popularity of ABS 3D printing stems from the affordability of the material, coupled with its unique combination of desirable properties such as strength, durability, and temperature resistance, making it suitable for a variety of prototyping and end-use applications. In this article, we will delve into the world of ABS 3D printing, exploring the material’s mechanical properties, ideal printing parameters, and possible applications, providing you with a comprehensive understanding of this versatile material.
ABS, or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, is a thermoplastic polymer that is widely used in various industries, from car production to the consumer goods market, primarily via injection molding and other molding processes. Because of its range of uses, it is the best-selling engineering thermoplastic. It is also a popular material for 3D printing, where it is used in filament form for the fused deposition modeling (FDM/FFF) process.
ABS is a copolymer, meaning it is composed of three different monomers: acrylonitrile, butadiene, and styrene. These monomers contribute to the unique properties of ABS, making it a versatile material for a range of applications.
Acrylonitrile is responsible for the material's strength and rigidity. It is a polar molecule, which allows ABS to have good chemical resistance and dimensional stability. The presence of acrylonitrile in the polymer chain also contributes to the material's resistance to heat and impact.
Butadiene is a non-polar molecule that provides ABS with its toughness and impact resistance. It is a rubbery material that can absorb energy, making ABS more resilient to mechanical stress. This property is particularly important in 3D printing, as it allows printed parts to withstand the stresses they may encounter during use.
Styrene is the third monomer in ABS and contributes to the material's processability and surface finish. It is a non-polar molecule that provides good flow characteristics, making it easier to extrude and process during 3D printing. Styrene also imparts a glossy surface finish to ABS parts, which can be desirable for certain applications.
The combination of these three monomers results in a material with a balance of strength, toughness, and processability. ABS has a glass transition temperature of approximately 105°C (221°F), which means it can maintain its structural integrity at higher temperatures than other common 3D printing materials, such as PLA. This property makes ABS suitable for applications where parts may be exposed to elevated temperatures or require higher heat resistance.
At present, FDM and closely related extrusion technologies are the only major 3D printing processes that use ABS plastic as a raw material. The material is not suitable for other additive manufacturing technologies like SLS or SLA.
High Impact Resistance: ABS exhibits excellent impact resistance, making it durable and capable of withstanding external forces.
Good Tensile Strength: It has strong tensile properties, allowing it to withstand pulling forces without breaking.
Moderate Glass Transition Temperature (Tg): ABS has a moderate glass transition temperature of around 105°C (221°F), making it stable at relatively high temperatures.
Chemical Resistance: ABS resists various chemicals, including acids, alkalis, and organic solvents.
Low Density: ABS has a relatively low density, resulting in lightweight printed objects.
Smooth Surface Finish: It provides a smooth surface finish for printed objects, allowing for aesthetically pleasing results.
Moderate UV Resistance: While not highly UV-resistant, ABS can endure moderate exposure to sunlight without significant degradation.
Printability: ABS filament adheres well to heated print beds and has good layer adhesion, enhancing its printability.
Toxic Fumes: ABS emits toxic fumes when heated, necessitating proper ventilation during the printing process, though research has shown that emissions from ABS filament cause minimal transient pulmonary and systemic toxicity.
For successful ABS 3D printing, specific 3D printer settings should be used. In this section, we will discuss the most important settings and general recommendations for ABS 3D printing. Although slicers like Cura will have pre-loaded profiles for ABS — and even for many manufacturer-specific ABS products — it can help to understand the parameters in case any adjustment is needed.
One of the most important settings for ABS 3D printing is the print bed temperature. A heated print bed is essential for preventing warping and ensuring proper adhesion of the first layer to the build platform. The optimal print bed temperature for ABS typically ranges from 90°C to 110°C (194°F to 230°F), depending on the specific filament and printer.
Another critical setting for ABS 3D printing is the extruder temperature. The extruder temperature determines how effectively the filament is melted and deposited during the printing process. For ABS, the optimal extruder temperature typically ranges from 220°C to 250°C (428°F to 482°F), depending on the specific filament and printer.
For ABS, a moderate print speed is generally recommended to ensure proper layer adhesion and minimize the risk of warping. Typical print speeds for ABS range from 40 to 60 mm/s, although this can vary depending on the printer and filament. If you experience issues with layer adhesion or warping, try reducing the print speed in increments of 5 mm/s until the problem is resolved.
Recommended reading: ABS Printing Speed Limits and Other Considerations
One of the biggest challenges with printing ABS is getting the first few layers right. This challenge can be mitigated by adding rafts to your print, allowing any deformities in the build to be offset onto the disposable base structure. While this will add a small amount of time and material usage to the print, the results may be worth it.
Because ABS is prone to warping as it cools, it can help to maintain a consistent and relatively warm temperature around the build. The best way to achieve this is by using an enclosed printer. If your 3D printer has an open design, search for tips on how to build your own DIY enclosure, then leave prints on the bed within the enclosure for several hours before removing them.
For dual extrusion 3D printing, ABS parts work very well with HIPS supports, which can be dissolved using d-Limonene for a clean break with minimal artifacts. Use of HIPS supports allows for the design of more complex overhanging structures.
ABS is hygroscopic, meaning it can absorb moisture from the surrounding environment. Excessive moisture in the filament can lead to print quality issues, such as bubbles, inconsistent extrusion, and poor layer adhesion. To prevent moisture absorption, store your ABS filament in a cool, dry place, preferably in an airtight container with desiccant packets. If you suspect your filament has absorbed moisture, you can dry it using a filament dryer or a low-temperature oven before printing.
While ABS is more heat-resistant than materials like PLA, it is still important to store it away from direct sunlight or heat sources to prevent warping or degradation. Ideally, store your ABS filament in a temperature-controlled environment to maintain its quality and performance.
When handling ABS filament, avoid touching it with dirty or oily hands, as contaminants can affect the print quality and adhesion. Use clean gloves or tools to handle the filament and minimize contact with skin. To prevent tangling and ensure smooth feeding during printing, always secure the loose end of the filament to the spool when not in use. This can be done using the provided holes or clips on the spool, or by using a filament clip or holder.
Post-processing techniques can significantly improve the appearance and functionality of ABS 3D printed parts. In this section, we will explore some common post-processing methods and their benefits and drawbacks.
Methods of support removal depend on the support material and thickness. Supports printed in a dedicated, ABS-compatible support material such as HIPS can be dissolved away, leaving minimal blemishing. Supports printed in ABS should be removed using cutting tools, followed by sanding, as with other materials.
Sanding and polishing are popular post-processing techniques for ABS prints — as well as those made from other materials — as they can improve the surface finish and appearance of the printed object. Sanding involves using abrasive materials, such as sandpaper or abrasive pads, to remove layer lines and imperfections from the surface of the print. Start with a coarse grit sandpaper and gradually progress to finer grits to achieve a smooth finish.
Polishing is the process of using a polishing compound and a buffing wheel or cloth to further refine the surface of the ABS print. Polishing can help to achieve a glossy, mirror-like finish on the printed object, which can be desirable for certain applications, such as display models or decorative items.
While sanding and polishing can significantly improve the appearance of ABS prints, they can be time-consuming and labor-intensive processes. Additionally, care must be taken not to remove too much material or damage the print during sanding, as this can affect the part's dimensions and functionality.
Vapor smoothing is another post-processing technique that can be used to improve the surface finish of ABS 3D prints. In fact, one of the biggest advantages of ABS filament is the ability to use acetone as a smoothing agent. The process involves exposing the printed part to acetone vapor, which dissolves the surface layer of the ABS material, smoothing out layer lines and imperfections.
To perform vapor smoothing, place the ABS print in a sealed container with a small amount of acetone. The solvent will evaporate, creating a vapor that reacts with the surface of the print, smoothing out layer lines and creating a glossy finish. The duration of exposure to the vapor depends on the desired level of smoothing and can range from a few minutes to several hours.
Vapor smoothing offers several advantages over sanding and polishing, including a more uniform surface finish and reduced labor. However, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider. The process can be hazardous due to the use of volatile solvents, so proper safety precautions, such as working in a well-ventilated area and using appropriate personal protective equipment, are essential. Additionally, vapor smoothing can result in a loss of fine details and dimensional accuracy, as the solvent dissolves a thin layer of material from the surface of the print. Careful monitoring of the process and adjusting the exposure time can help minimize these issues.
Recommended reading: ABS Smoothing: Acetone Vapor Baths & Other Ways to Remove Layer Lines
Painting and finishing are additional post-processing techniques that can be used to enhance the appearance of ABS 3D prints. These methods can be employed to add color, texture, or other visual effects to the printed object, making it more aesthetically appealing or suitable for specific applications.
Before painting an ABS print, prepare the surface by cleaning it thoroughly to remove any dust, grease, or residue. This can be done using a mild detergent and water or a suitable cleaning solution. After cleaning, it is recommended to lightly sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper to improve paint adhesion.
When selecting a paint for ABS, choose a product that is compatible with the material. Acrylic paints, enamels, and lacquers are commonly used for painting ABS prints, as they adhere well to the surface and provide a durable finish. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions for application, drying times, and any required primers or sealers.
ABS and PLA are popular choices in 3D printing, each with distinct characteristics that impact their suitability for different applications. Along with PETG, they are the most popular entry-level materials for 3D printing, and many beginners struggle to choose between them. Here is a concise comparison of their key differences:
ABS: Glass transition temperature of 105°C (221°F) makes it suitable for high-temperature applications.
PLA: Lower glass transition temperature of 60°C (140°F), making it less resistant to heat.
ABS: Tough and impact-resistant, ideal for parts needing mechanical stress resistance.
PLA: More rigid with higher tensile strength, suitable for projects prioritizing rigidity.
ABS: Requires a heated print bed, making it more challenging for beginners and certain 3D printers.
PLA: Can be printed on a non-heated bed, making it accessible and user-friendly.
ABS: Derived from non-renewable petroleum resources, not biodegradable, and requires more energy during printing.
PLA: Biodegradable, derived from renewable resources, and generally considered more eco-friendly.
Both ABS and PLA can be recycled, but PLA requires specialized facilities due to its biodegradable nature.
In summary, ABS is preferred for high-temperature and mechanically stressful applications, whereas PLA is more user-friendly and environmentally conscious. Consideration of specific project requirements, environmental concerns, and ease of use guides the choice between ABS and PLA in 3D printing.
Recommended reading: ABS vs. PLA: A Comprehensive Guide
Due to its affordability, reasonable strength, and good level of printability, ABS is often used as a base material in reinforced composite materials. Such materials have added non-polymer reinforcing materials that can provide added strength, stiffness, or other material properties.
Carbon fiber: ABS 3D printing filaments infused with carbon fiber offer increased strength, stiffness, and dimensional stability compared to standard ABS. This makes them suitable for applications that require high-performance parts, such as automotive components or drone frames. However, carbon fiber-infused ABS can be more abrasive, requiring the use of a hardened steel nozzle to prevent wear on the printer's extruder.
Glass fiber: Similar to carbon fiber, glass fiber additives can enhance the strength and rigidity of ABS parts. Glass fiber-infused ABS is less abrasive than carbon fiber, making it easier on the printer hardware, but it may still require a hardened steel nozzle for optimal performance.
Metallic fillers: ABS filaments with metallic fillers, such as aluminum or copper, can provide a unique appearance and feel to the printed object. These filaments can mimic the look of metal parts while maintaining the ease of printing with ABS. However, they may require additional post-processing, such as polishing, to achieve the desired finish.
Flame-retardant additives: Some ABS filaments are formulated with flame-retardant additives, which can improve the material's resistance to combustion. This can be beneficial for applications where fire safety is a concern, such as electronic enclosures or automotive components.
ABS 3D printing has a wide range of applications across various industries, thanks to its unique combination of strength, durability, and temperature resistance. In this section, we will explore some of the most common applications of ABS 3D printing and discuss the benefits of using ABS for these purposes.
One of the primary applications of ABS 3D printing is prototyping. ABS is an ideal material for creating functional prototypes, as, besides its low cost and availability in a range of colors, its strength and durability allow for the production of parts that can withstand the rigors of testing and evaluation. Additionally, ABS's temperature resistance makes it suitable for prototypes that may be exposed to heat or require thermal stability.
Examples of ABS prototypes can be found in various industries, including automotive, aerospace, consumer electronics, and medical devices. In these sectors, ABS 3D printing is used to create functional prototypes for testing and validation, as well as for design iteration and optimization.
Another significant application of ABS 3D printing is the production of functional parts and components. The material's strength, durability, and temperature resistance make it an excellent choice for creating parts that need to withstand mechanical stress or operate in demanding environments.
In the automotive industry, ABS 3D printing is used to create custom components, such as brackets, mounts, and housings, that can withstand the rigors of daily use and exposure to heat and vibration. In the consumer electronics industry, ABS is commonly used to create enclosures and casings for devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops. The material's strength and temperature resistance make it suitable for protecting sensitive electronic components, while its ease of processing allows for the creation of intricate designs and features.
In addition to these industries, ABS 3D printing is also utilized in robotics, industrial equipment, and various other fields where strong, durable parts are required. By leveraging the unique properties of ABS, designers and engineers can create functional parts and components that meet the demands of their specific applications.
ABS 3D printing is not limited to functional parts and prototypes; it can also be used to create custom and artistic objects. The material's versatility, ease of processing, and wide range of available colors make it an attractive choice for artists, designers, and hobbyists looking to create unique and personalized items.
Examples of custom and artistic creations made with ABS include sculptures, jewelry, home decor, and fashion accessories. The ability to print complex geometries and intricate designs allows artists to push the boundaries of their creativity and produce one-of-a-kind pieces that showcase their individual style and vision.
ABS 3D printing offers a versatile and robust solution for a wide range of applications, from functional prototypes and parts to artistic creations. By understanding the properties of ABS, optimizing printer settings, and employing post-processing techniques, you can harness the full potential of this material to create high-quality, durable, and visually appealing objects.
What is ABS?
ABS, or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, is a low-cost thermoplastic polymer commonly used in 3D printing. It is known for its reasonable strength, durability, and temperature resistance, making it suitable for various applications.
How does ABS compare to PLA in 3D printing?
ABS has higher temperature resistance, strength, and durability compared to PLA. However, PLA is biodegradable and generally easier to print with, making it a more environmentally friendly option.
What are the most common 3D printing techniques for ABS?
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the only mainstream 3D printing technology suited to printing ABS.
How do I store and handle ABS filament?
Store ABS filament in a cool, dry place, preferably in an airtight container with desiccant packets. Keep it away from direct sunlight or heat sources, and handle it with clean gloves or tools to prevent contamination.
What post-processing techniques can be used for ABS 3D prints?
Common post-processing techniques for ABS prints include sanding, polishing, vapor smoothing with acetone, and painting. These methods can improve the appearance, surface finish, and functionality of the printed object.
What are some applications of ABS 3D printing?
ABS 3D printing is used in various industries for prototyping, functional parts and components, and custom and artistic creations. Examples include automotive components, electronic enclosures, sculptures, and home decor items.
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