ABS print temperature considerations: Nozzle, bed, enclosure

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15 Apr, 2022

The ABS print temperature is higher than PLA

The ABS print temperature is higher than PLA

ABS is a low-cost 3D printing filament with excellent impact and wear resistance. However, the ideal ABS print temperature is quite high, and the material also requires a heated bed to prevent warping.

ABS filament is a must-have for FDM 3D printer users. Cheap, wear-resistant, and heat-resistant, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene offers a few important advantages over PLA, such as superior ductility and durability. A good example of the thermoplastic’s value is its use in LEGO bricks, which require a good degree of toughness and flexibility so they don’t break during playtime.[1]

But although printing ABS has its benefits, newcomers to the material should be aware of the challenges it poses, the most significant of which is the high required ABS print temperature. Because ABS has a higher glass transition temperature and higher melting point than PLA, extrusion of ABS plastic requires a higher nozzle temperature. Additionally, since the material is also prone to warping as it cools down, it requires a heated print bed and ideally an enclosure to prevent that warping from getting too extreme.

This article serves as a quick introduction to ABS print temperature considerations. It discusses the ideal nozzle temperature, build plate temperature, and heated enclosure temperature, as well as other important additive manufacturing considerations like print speed and retraction settings.

Recommended reading: PETG temperature considerations: Nozzle temperature, heated bed & cooling

LEGO ABSLEGO bricks are made of durable ABS

ABS nozzle temperature

During FDM 3D printing, a key print temperature consideration is nozzle temperature (sometimes called extruder temperature or extrusion temperature), which relates to the amount of heat generated by the printer’s hotend.

The hotend must heat up the tip of the solid strand of filament until it is pliant enough to be forced through the nozzle and onto the print bed. Some filaments, including high-performance materials like PEEK, require very high temperatures in order to melt — sometimes up to 300 °C — while more basic materials like PLA need relatively gentle heat.

ABS isn’t a high-performance material and doesn’t require specialist high-temperature equipment. However, due to its high temperature resistance, it does require a higher nozzle temperature than PLA. Using PLA nozzle settings (around 210 °C) on ABS would result in problems such as poor layer adhesion, i.e. the individual slices of the printed part failing to stick together.

When 3D printing ABS, the ideal nozzle temperature for the 3D printing material is around 220–250 °C. Some researchers have suggested a figure of 231°C as “optimum for highest tensile properties.”[2] This slightly elevated temperature — similar to the ideal PETG temperature — helps to improve first-layer and inter-layer adhesion in ABS parts. Unfortunately, selecting a precise temperature within this range requires a bit of trial and error, as FDM hardware can vary from model to model and produce different results.

The usual ABS print temperature settings may have to be adjusted slightly when using a nonstandard nozzle. Nozzles with a wider diameter than the standard 0.4 mm typically require a higher temperature in order to heat up the larger amount of plastic passing through. Conversely, small-diameter nozzles can extrude ABS at slightly lower temperatures.

Recommended reading: Nozzle diameter and layer height explained

ABS bed temperature

ABS requires other temperature considerations besides nozzle temperature. Using a nozzle temperature of 220–250 °C is great for extrusion, but that’s only part of the overall printing process. Once deposited, the thermoplastic material must adhere to the print bed, cool down, and then solidify, and this is when problems like poor bed adhesion, shrinkage, and warping can occur.

One way to improve bed adhesion and mitigate problems like shrinkage is to use a heated build platform.[3] Not all FDM printers have this feature, but a heated bed helps to ensure good first-layer adhesion and to prevent there being too much of a temperature discrepancy between the hotend and the bed. When parts cool down too quickly, they can exhibit a high level of shrinkage and warping, sometimes making the parts unusable.

ABS is a material that generally needs the assistance of a heated bed — both for adhesion and shrinkage prevention — with the ideal ABS bed temperature being around 95–110 °C.

To further improve adhesion, additional considerations like build surface material should also be taken into account. One way to improve adhesion is to coat the print surface with ABS juice: a mixture of a small amount of ABS filament and acetone. (When a higher concentration of ABS is used, this mixture is called ABS slurry.) Alternatives include glue stick, hairspray, and kapton tape.

Heated bedA heated bed leads to improved ABS parts

ABS enclosure temperature

Some 3D printers allow control over a third print temperature parameter: the enclosure temperature (or heated chamber temperature). Of course, some FDM 3D printers have an open rather than an enclosed design, and to these this parameter is not applicable. 

Enclosed printers offer an advantage when printing ABS because they allow for a more consistent printing environment, keeping out cold air and drafts and keeping the air temperature at around 30 °C or slightly higher. This helps to improve inter-layer adhesion and reduces the likelihood of shrinkage and warping. Lots of printers have enclosures, but it is also possible to obtain or construct a DIY enclosure to fit around an open-design machine. Although ABS prints better with an enclosure, it is difficult to control the exact ambient temperature within the enclosure, so users should be careful not to let it overheat.

A more advanced solution than a simple enclosure is a heated build chamber. 3D printers with a heated build chamber contain thermal regulation equipment for heating and maintaining the build area to a precise temperature. The temperature can be adjusted digitally, and this feature is useful for printing high-performance materials that require very high print temperatures. A heated build chamber is not required for ABS, but typical temperatures can be around 60–70 °C.

Other things to consider

Configuration of temperature settings is key to getting good results from ABS filament. But a few other parameters should also be considered.

Build surface

When printing ABS, the heated bed should be complemented with a fairly adhesive build surface such as a PEI sheet. Alternatively, a glass build surface can be coated with ABS juice / ABS slurry, glue stick, or another adhesive substance.

Cooling

A 3D printer’s cooling function is closely related to printing temperature, with the cooling fan serving to reduce the temperature around the part to help the plastic solidify faster. In general, a cooling fan is not required for ABS printing, so fan speed can be set to a low setting, or off.

Ventilation

ABS releases fumes and strong odors when printed. For safety reasons, it is best to situate the 3D printer in a well-ventilated area. Of course, users will then have to balance the need for ventilation with the need to prevent drafts of cold air that could cause warping of the part.

Other print settings

Besides nozzle and bed temperature, the most important print settings when using ABS include:

  • Print speed: Should be kept to a moderate rate, and especially slow for the first few layers.

  • Brims and rafts: Should be used to lock the part to the build surface and prevent warping, though this can add time to post-processing as extra material removal is required.

  • Line width: Should be increased for the first layer to increase contact with build surface and improve adhesion.

  • Retraction: Should use a moderate speed (~50 mm/s) and distance (~0.8 mm) to prevent stringing.

Key Takeaways

ABS print temperature rules can be boiled down to the following key parameters:

  • Nozzle temperature of 220–250 °C

  • Bed temperature of 95–110 °C

  • Enclosure to maintain even ambient temperature

By sticking fairly closely to these guidelines, printing a spool of ABS filament can be straightforward, leading to high-quality parts with good mechanical properties such as durability and ductility. And if the pitfalls of shrinkage and warping can be avoided during the printing process, the resulting parts will be highly resistant to heat and suitable for use in fairly demanding environments.

References

[1] Horikoshi R. Teaching chemistry with LEGO® bricks. Chemistry Teacher International. 2021 Sep 1;3(3):239-55.

[2] Foppiano M, Saluja A, Fayazbakhsh K. The Effect of Variable Nozzle Temperature and Cross-Sectional Pattern on Interlayer Tensile Strength Of 3D Printed ABS Specimens. Experimental Mechanics. 2021 Nov;61(9):1473-87.

[3] Lelinski M. How to Succeed with ABS Filaments When 3D Printing [Internet]. Zortrax. 2018 [cited 2022 Apr 12]. Available from: https://zortrax.com/blog/how-to-succeed-with-abs-filaments-when-3d-printing

More by Benedict O'Neill

Educated at King's College London and the University of Amsterdam, Benedict has been a freelance writer in the 3D printing industry since 2015. He is a contributing editor at Aniwaa and a senior writer at 3dpbm.

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