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  • Charlie Kocur

PLA Filament: Everything you need to know



I. Introduction

Definition of polylactic acid (PLA)

Polylactic acid, or PLA, is a type of plastic that is often used in 3D printing. 3D printing is a process that creates three-dimensional objects by building them layer by layer using a special machine called a 3D printer. PLA filament is the material that is used to make these layers. It is made from plant materials, like cornstarch or sugarcane, which makes it more eco-friendly than other types of plastic.


One of the reasons that PLA is a popular choice for 3D printing is because it is easy to use. It doesn't require high temperatures to work properly and it doesn't warp as much as other types of filament. This makes it a good choice for people who are new to 3D printing, or for those who want to print objects that need to be very precise. PLA is also available in a wide range of colors and finishes, so you can choose the one that best suits your needs.


Overview of 3D printing and its increasing popularity in the home market

3D printing is a process that allows people to create three-dimensional objects using a special machine called a 3D printer. It has become increasingly popular in recent years, especially in the home market. This is because 3D printers have become more affordable and easier to use, making them accessible to a wider range of people.

One of the benefits of 3D printing is that it allows people to create custom objects and prototypes without having to spend a lot of money on expensive tools or materials. It is also a great way for people to learn about design and engineering, and to explore their creativity.

In the home market, 3D printers are being used to make everything from toys and games to household items and even parts for other machines. As 3D printing technology continues to improve, it is likely that we will see even more people using it in their homes.


 

II. Benefits of using PLA as a 3D printer filament

Eco-friendliness and sustainability

One of the benefits of using PLA is that it is more eco-friendly than other types of plastic. This is because it is made from plant materials, like cornstarch or sugarcane, which are renewable resources. This means that they can be replenished quickly, rather than being extracted from non-renewable sources like oil.


Another benefit of using PLA is that it is more sustainable than other types of plastic. This means that it has a lower impact on the environment and can be used for a longer period of time without causing harm. For example, when PLA is disposed of, it breaks down into water and carbon dioxide, which are both natural and safe for the environment. In contrast, other types of plastic can take hundreds of years to decompose and can release harmful chemicals into the air and water.

Overall, using PLA for 3D printing can help to reduce the environmental impact of plastic and promote a more sustainable future.



Ease of use and minimal warping

One of the benefits of using PLA is that it is very easy to use, especially for people who are new to 3D printing.

One reason that PLA is easy to use is that it doesn't require high temperatures to work properly. Most 3D printers have a heated bed, which helps to keep the printed object in place and prevents it from warping. With other types of filament, the bed needs to be set at a high temperature to prevent warping. However, with PLA, the bed can be set at a lower temperature, which makes it easier to use and less likely to cause problems.

Another reason that PLA is easy to use is that it doesn't warp as much as other types of filament. Warping is when the edges of the printed object curl or lift up, which can make the object difficult to use or ruin its appearance. With PLA, warping is less of a concern, which means that people who are new to 3D printing can focus on learning the process and creating their designs, rather than worrying about technical problems.

Overall, PLA is an easy-to-use and reliable choice for 3D printing, whether you are a beginner or an experienced user.


Wide range of available colors and finishes

One of the benefits of using PLA is that it is available in a wide range of types, colors, and finishes. This means that you can choose the one that best suits your needs and preferences.

One type of PLA that is available is transparent PLA. This is a clear version of the filament that allows light to pass through, which can be useful for creating objects with see-through parts or for adding a subtle touch to your design. Transparent PLA can be especially helpful if you are working on a project that requires precise details or if you want to showcase the inner workings of your design.

Another type of PLA is metallic PLA. This type of filament has a shiny, metallic finish that can give your printed objects a sleek and sophisticated look. It is available in a variety of colors, including silver, gold, and copper. Metallic PLA is a great choice if you want to add a touch of glamour to your designs or if you want to create objects that look like they are made of metal.

In addition to these special types, PLA is also available in a wide range of solid colors, including traditional shades like red, blue, and yellow, as well as more unusual hues like purple, pink, and green. Solid-colored PLA is a good choice if you want to create objects that have a more traditional look or if you want to create a specific color scheme for your project.

Overall, the variety of available PLA filaments means that you have many options to choose from when it comes to 3D printing with PLA. Whether you want a simple, solid color or a more unique and eye-catching finish, you are sure to find a PLA filament that meets your needs.


 

III. Choosing the right PLA for your 3D printer

Compatibility with different printer models

Polylactic acid, or PLA, filament is a popular choice for 3D printing because it is easy to use and produces high-quality prints. Nearly all "FDM" (fused deposition modeling) printers are compatible with PLA filament.


FDM printers are the most common type of 3D printer and they work by melting a plastic filament and laying it down layer by layer to build an object. They are usually affordable and easy to use, which makes them a good choice for people who are new to 3D printing. FDM printers are compatible with a wide range of filaments, including PLA, and they are able to produce prints with good detail and resolution.


Diameter and tolerance specifications

When it comes to using polylactic acid, or PLA, filament for 3D printing, it is important to make sure that it is compatible with your 3D printer. Compatibility means that the filament will work properly with your printer and produce high-quality prints.

One factor to consider when it comes to compatibility is the diameter of the filament. Most 3D printers are designed to use filament with a specific diameter, usually 1.75 mm or 2.85 mm. It is important to use filament with the correct diameter, as using a filament that is too thin or too thick can cause problems with the printer. For example, if the filament is too thin, it may not be able to feed properly and the printer may jam. If the filament is too thick, it may not fit through the printer's nozzle and the printer may not be able to lay it down properly.

Another factor to consider when it comes to compatibility is the tolerance of the filament. Tolerance refers to how closely the filament matches the specified diameter. Filament with a low tolerance is more precise and will work better with your printer. Filament with a high tolerance may not feed as smoothly and may produce lower-quality prints.

Overall, it is important to make sure that you are using compatible PLA filament with your 3D printer. This will help to ensure that your prints are of the highest quality and that your printer is functioning properly.


Brand options and price considerations

FDM printers come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges. They are usually affordable and easy to use, which makes them a good choice for people who are new to 3D printing. There are many different FDM printers available on the market at different price points, so you can choose the one that best fits your budget and needs.

One example of an affordable FDM printer is the Monoprice Select Mini V2. This printer is priced at around $220 and it is a good choice for beginners who want to try out 3D printing without investing a lot of money. It is compact and easy to use, and it is able to produce prints with good detail and resolution.

Another example of an FDM printer is the Creality Ender 3 Pro. This printer is priced at around $300 and it is a step up from the Monoprice Select Mini in terms of features and performance. It has a larger build volume, which means that you can print larger objects, and it has a heated bed, which helps to prevent warping.

A more expensive option is the Ultimaker 3. This printer is priced at around $3,500 and it is a professional-grade machine that is able to produce very high-quality prints with smooth surfaces and fine details. It has a variety of features that make it easy to use, including an automated bed leveling system and a touch screen interface.

There are many different FDM printers available at different price points, so you can choose the one that best fits your budget and needs. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced user, there is an FDM printer that is right for you.



 

IV. Tips for successful printing with PLA


Proper storage and handling

Proper storage and handling of PLA 3D printing filament is important to ensure that it performs well and produces high-quality prints. Here are some tips for storing and handling PLA filament:

  1. Keep the filament dry. PLA filament is sensitive to moisture, so it is important to store it in a dry place. If the filament gets wet, it can become brittle and break easily, which can cause problems with your printer. You can store your filament in a sealed container or bag, or you can use a desiccant packet to help absorb any moisture.

  2. Store the filament away from heat and light. Heat and light can cause the filament to degrade over time, which can affect its performance. It is best to store your filament in a cool, dark place, like a closet or drawer.

  3. Keep the filament clean. Dust and dirt can build up on the filament and cause problems with your printer. It is a good idea to wipe the filament with a clean, dry cloth before using it to remove any dirt or debris.

  4. Handle the filament gently. PLA filament is brittle and can break easily if it is handled roughly. Be gentle when loading and unloading the filament from your printer, and avoid bending or twisting it too much.

By following these tips, you can ensure that your PLA filament is stored and handled properly, which will help to ensure that your 3D prints are of the highest quality.


Temperature and bed settings

To get the best results when 3D printing with PLA filament, it is important to use the right settings on your 3D printer. Here are some tips for setting up your printer to print with PLA:

  1. Set the bed temperature. The bed temperature is the temperature of the heated bed that your printer uses to hold the object in place while it is being printed. For PLA, a bed temperature of around 60-70°C is usually sufficient. If the bed is too cold, the object may not stick properly and may warp or peel off. If the bed is too hot, the object may become too soft and may sag or deform.

  2. Set the nozzle temperature. The nozzle temperature is the temperature of the hot end that melts the filament and lays it down on the bed. For PLA, a nozzle temperature of around 190-220°C is usually sufficient. If the nozzle is too cold, the filament may not flow smoothly and may result in poor-quality prints. If the nozzle is too hot, the filament may become too soft and may produce stringy or uneven prints. Make sure to check the filament you have as all manufacturers have labels that display each filament's ideal temperature ranges.

  3. Use the right printing speed. The printing speed is the speed at which the printer moves the nozzle while printing. For PLA, a printing speed of around 30-60mm/s is usually sufficient. If the printing speed is too slow, the print may take a long time to finish and may be prone to errors. If the printing speed is too fast, the print may become distorted or the filament may break.

  4. Use the right layer height. The layer height is the thickness of each layer of the printed object. For PLA, a layer height of around 0.1-0.2mm is usually sufficient. If the layer height is too thin, the print may take a long time to finish and may be prone to errors. If the layer height is too thick, the print may have visible layers and may not be as strong.

Using the right settings on your 3D printer is important to get the best results when printing with PLA filament. By following these tips, you can ensure that your prints are of the highest quality and that your printer is functioning properly.


Post-processing techniques

Post processing is the process of finishing and refining 3D printed objects after they have been printed. For PLA filament, there are several post processing techniques that can be used to improve the appearance and strength of the printed object. Here are some tips for post processing PLA prints:

  1. Sanding. Sanding is a process that involves using fine-grit sandpaper to smooth out the surface of the printed object and is an excellent first step before painting any printed object. Sanding can be used to remove layer lines and other imperfections, and it can also be used to create a smooth finish for paint to adhere to. To sand a PLA print, start with a low grit sandpaper and gradually work your way up to a higher grit. Be sure to use light, even strokes and pay attention to the direction of the layer lines. Sanding in small circles can work great!

  2. Painting. Painting can be used to add color to a plain PLA print, or it can be used to create more complex designs and patterns. To paint a PLA print, use a primer to help the paint adhere to the surface, and use multiple thin coats to avoid drips and runs. Although paint can somewhat help hide layer-lines from the 3D printer, sanding and then painting is the best way to try and get a smooth finish.

  3. Heat treatment. Heat treatment is a process that involves heating the printed object to a specific temperature. Heat treatment can be used to make PLA prints more durable and less prone to breaking by helping all of the layer lines melt in to one another. To heat treat a PLA print, very carefully use a heat gun until the material just starts to fuse together. Too much heat can ruin the print! This is my least favorite method of finishing, and is only recommended for advanced users familiar with heat guns and working with PLA or other 3D printed plastics.


 

V. Conclusion

Recap of the benefits of using PLA for home 3D printing

At the end of the day, PLA 3D printing filament offers a ton of benefits that are the reason it is the most often used filament type for home 3D printing.


First, PLA filament is (relatively) eco friendly and sustainable. This material is primarily made from renewable resources and can often be broken-down via industrial composting. It's also mostly safe to use indoors (with decent ventilation of course) and is the most common option for 3D printing.


Next, PLA offers a lot of benefits for ease of use. PLA is useable at a temperature that all home 3D printers can achieve easily. It doesn't require any special enclosures or preparation, just a basic FDM 3D Printer. Also, PLA filament doesn't expand or contract very much. This leads to straightforward 3D printing without any warping due to temperature fluctuations.


Finally, because PLA filament is so widely used, it comes in almost any color or style you can think of! From vibrant solid colors, to metallic finishes, to translucent and even rainbow colors; PLA 3D printing filament can give you a ton of options to create unique and one-of-a-kind 3D prints.


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