ABS filament is the most used home 3D printer filament after PLA. But what are the advantages and disadvantages? Let’s take a look.
1. ABS Explained
If you have kids or drive a bike, you already know ABS. It is used in LEGO bricks and bicycle helmets alike. Today, you find it everywhere, as it’s probably the most popular plastic for injection molding. Pipe systems, musical instruments, joinery panels, home appliances, keyboard caps, toys, canoes, medical devices and even flat-screen TV’s and computer monitors.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is one of the most popular plastics. It became available in the 1940’s and was instantly marketed as an alternative to Bakelite. But it wasn’t until the 1950‘s it became the plastic material worldwide. Its variability of copolymers and ease of processing has led to this plastic becoming the most popular of the engineering polymers.
It is made from the monomers Acrylonitrile, 1,3-Butadiene and Styrene – the basis is petroleum. The chemical formula is (C8H8)x· (C4H6)y· (C3H3N)z). While its increased toughness over styrene made it suited for many applications, its limitations led to the introduction of a rubber (butadiene) as a third monomer and hence was born the range of materials popularly referred to as ABS plastics.
Today, it is invaluable for most industries as it’s easy to process and easily machined. Common machining techniques include turning, sawing, drilling, milling, die-cutting and shearing.
Uncolored, it has a yellowish tint and is usually delivered in small pellets for industrial use.
2. ABS Filament: What are the Benefits?
As a thermoplastic polymer, it can melt and cool without altering its chemical properties. That makes it an interesting 3D printer filament. There are some companies like Zortrax, which have dedicated 3D printers for the material.
- Great mechanical properties: The material is known to be strong, tough and durable. It is also forgiving to scratches, offers good resistance to heat and everyday chemicals. It can endure heat, pressure and stress like no other home 3D printer material, making it a great choice for „wear and tear“ prints. You can try this out yourself: If you move a strain of ABS filament, will distort and bend before breaking. PLA breaks much more easily.
- Great results: It’s quite forgiving, as long as you print with the right settings and a proper temperature management. You can even achieve overhangs of around 45 degrees. If the print succeeds, the results are very convincing.
- Easy to process: Most makers like the material because you can process its surfaces with acetone, glue parts and even file off some material. Lastly, it can be easily painted with acrylic colors.
3. ABS Filament: What are the Drawbacks?
As good as that sounds, there are some drawbacks when 3D printing with ABS filament.
- Temperature issues: To 3D print ABS filament, you need a proper temperature management. It needs to cool slowly, otherwise, you get cracks or split layers in your prints. If your 3D printer has an enclosure, you might stand a better chance of a perfect print.
- Common problems: Curling and warping are also an issue when printing with ABS filament. This is especially true for objects with a big standing surface.
- Sunlight: It can also sustain damage by direct sunlight – so you might want to 3D print these outdoor parts in another material like PET.
- Smelly printing: When printing, you will smell foul odors („There’s nothing like the stench of ABS filament in the morning“, as our maker friends say).
4. ABS Filament: Is it Sustainable?
Sorry to say: No, not at all. ABS filament is neither biodegradable nor made from renewable resources.
The 3D prints can be recycled (look for the recycling code “#7”), but in the process, you lose a lot of energy and produce waste materials. If you’re an environmentalist, think twice before using ABS filament.
ABS filament is not toxic when 3D printed. Only at very high temperatures (400 °C), the material decomposes into butadiene (which is carcinogenic to humans), acrylonitrile (possibly carcinogenic to humans), and styrene. Nothing you want to inhale at any circumstances.
Also, it is not food-safe. Read more about food-safe materials here.