PLA filament; biodegradable plastic made from starch and soybeans

By Site editors - Disclosure - Price update: 2020 February 21 -

PLA stands for polylactic acid and has different characteristics that can be seen as an advantage but also as a disadvantage. PLA is a biodegradable thermoplastic that is especially known for its use as a print material for 3D printers.  PLA is obtained from corn starch and soybeans and this makes PLA environmentally friendly. By choosing this material you will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because of its agricultural production method. A disadvantage, however, is that PLA is less durable than other filaments.

The PLA thermoplastic is melted during printing at a temperature between 190 and 240 degrees Celsius and the smell of the melted thermoplastic can be compared with the smell of sweet corn. The print speed and quality are of a high standard with PLA. This means it is possible to print designs that require more detail and depth. This means that more complex designs are usually printed with PLA.

PLA is known as an excellent print material for beginners who have bought a 3D printer for the first time. When people talk about PLA and 3D printing, then PLA filament is meant.

The word filament is derived from the Latin word filum, which means wire. When people talk about 3D print material filament, then the 'ink' of the 3D printer is meant. The 3D filament is usually made of thermic plastic or thermoplastic.

Thus, PLA is a thermal plastic that is used in 3D printing. The PLA filament is supplied as a wire on a roll. The plastic wire is heated and liquified by the printer nozzle of the 3D printer. The 3D printer moves the nozzle and places the molten material on the desired locations where it cools and hardens. This hardened material then forms the model layer by layer. PLA is next to ABS the most popular print material at the moment.

Advantages of printing with PLA filament:
• Biodegradable and environmentally friendly;
• Cools quickly, preventing warping of the model;
• Available in many colors (also transparent) and gives objects a beautiful shiny look.

Disadvantages of printing with PLA filament:
• Low melting point can cause distortion at high heat;
• Difficulty in processing models with interlocking parts.

PLA filament versus ABS
Choosing between ABS and PLA is not easy and online there are many discussions on what print material is the best suited for what situation. In short ABS stands for robustness of an object. The flexibility of an object can be optimally used with ABS, because it has good resistance against high temperatures. ABS is more suitable for more experienced 3D printer users, because they are often used for more challenging objects. ABS has a higher melting temperature than PLA.

PLA, in constrast, is more suitable for the 3D printing fanatic that wants to work with multiple colors. The glossy feel that PLA brings with it can make objects even more beautiful. When PLA is well cooled, higher speeds can be maintained, making thinner layers possible.

Check out our special about ABS for more information.

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