PLA filament is one of the most popularly used filaments for 3d printing because it can be transformed into thin sheets, spun into fibers, molding textiles, and thermoformed packaging. One of the most user-friendly filament and easier to print with cost-effective benefits make it an ideal choice. Apart from its chemical and mechanical properties, it is also environmental-friendly.
According to a survey, the global production volume of PLA was around 190,000 tons in 2019. PLA filaments can easily decompose within 3 to 6 months and are one of the best alternatives to traditional plastics.
Thus, it plays a crucial role to save the environment from global warming and plastic pollution.
What Is PLA Filament
The polylactic acid filament, commonly known as PLA, is one of the most popular plastic filaments used for printing in different industries. This is a biodegradable thermoplastic polyester that is produced by condensation of polymerization of lactic acid.
It is made from corn and sugarcane starch instead of harmful petroleum-based chemicals. PLA is often used for printing a range of applications due to its easy processing and minimum warping issues.
Properties Of PLA Filament
PLA has properties of advanced mechanical and chemical composition. The chemical properties directly affect the glass-transition temperature. PLA is very user-friendly and easy to print. You can cast your designs by extruding them at the perfect temperature. You just need to know the correct method and temperature to achieve this.
As PLA is available in a range of colors and textures, the extrusion heat also differs accordingly. One of the interesting features of PLA is that it can be heat treated. It can be cooled and reheated again. This can be done without much degradation of the plastic. By doing so, you can easily recycle it. You can get PLA filament in a wide range of colors in both 1.75mm and 3mm diameters.
Different Types Of PLA Filament
PLA filaments come in various types, each one has some upgraded and unique features. You might come across varied prices of PLA filaments, it is better to buy good quality PLA. The cheap PLA tends to break and spoil soon. Some of the awesome PLA variants are listed below-
MatterHackers PRO Series PLA
MatterHackers PRO Series PLA 3D printing filament, made in the USA, is one of the better versions of normal PLA filament because for many reasons like high-quality material, finishing, and strength. It obtains the upgraded properties by fusing together with NatureWorks 4043D Ingeo polylactic acid biopolymer.
MatterHackers PRO Series PLA 3D printing filament can 3d print accurate and seamless printed parts for prototype end-user, models, and projects. They are available in spools of 1kg to 5kg and in different colors. Easy to print and better than conventional PLA, this one has better printing for both big and small applications’ parts.
Tough PLA 3D Printing Filament
This PLA is called tough PLA for a reason- it can endure more heat than the normal PLA. Usually, normal PLA warps in low heat but the tough PLA can be processed at 60°C too. It is an upgraded and modified version of conventional PLA which is more compatible with 3d printers and less prone to warping.
It is even better than ABS filament while printing larger prints. Tough PLA is also compatible with different materials and easily blends with them. Thus, a large variety of texture designs and geometric prints are easy to develop. However, they are only available in two diameters-1.75mm and 3mm.
Soft PLA 3D Printing Filament
Soft PLA 3d printing filament is called flexible PLA because of its rubbery property. The flexible filaments go through a process of vulcanization where the filament is heated and shaped. Then leave the molded part to cool down for the final product.
But you cannot recycle the molded substance for making it another product. The soft PLA is compatible with most of the 3d printers and has flexible features. They are also available in two diameters of 1.75mm and 3mm.
Magnetic Iron PLA 3D Printing Filament
Magnetic Iron PLA filament is unique because it is a blended form of iron powder with PLA enhanced with magnetic properties. To print Magnetic Iron PLA filament, the extruder temperature should be around 200° Celsius and bed temperature at 35-45° Celsius. Use a wire brush to enhance the rustic features of your prints. However, it takes more time to print than traditional PLA.
After that, blend 16oz of hydrogen peroxide with 2oz of vinegar and 1 Tbs of salt to spray on the printed parts and leave them to cool down. Keep spraying for few rounds until it brings a rusty look to the print. For printing this version of PLA, you should use a hard steel nozzle instead of normal nozzles in the printing machine because it might break during the process.
Uses Of PLA Filament
Bio-plastics have gained popularity due to the increasing environmental crisis. PLA products have also replaced the traditionally used petroleum-based plastics. PLA filaments are more popular for aesthetic purposes instead of mechanical components. It best suits applications where look and form are more important than strength and durability.
PLA is best for making visual models, decorative items, props, and rapid prototypes. The filament comes in a variety of colors, so you can print visually appealing three-dimensional objects with more detailed features.
Why PLA Is Perfect For Printing
PLA is the first choice for 3d printing for beginners because it is easy to process and also cost-effective. By using good quality PLA, you can get amazing prints. Such filaments will not warp or blob. Instead, you will get smooth and flawless prints.
Easy To Post-Process
There is no need to do a lot of post-processing rituals. PLA post-processing is simple and straight. Follow three steps- sand, drill, and cut- and it is done!
Offers Different Colors Choice
PLA filaments are available in many colors because they are easy to pigmentation. As PLA is available in a range of colors and textures, the extrusion heat also differs accordingly. But, such variety allows printing in so many variations and textures.
This is one of the crucial factors of any filament because odor inhalation can cause health hazards. Thanks to PLA, it does not odor. It does not smell while printing but you should always print it in a well-ventilated workspace.
PLA filaments can easily decompose within 3 to 6 months and are one of the best alternatives to traditional plastics. Thus, it plays a crucial role to save the environment from global warming and plastic pollution.
How To Process PLA Filament
Due to the copolymerization of PLA with other bioplastics, it has become better than ABS. Thus, PLA obtains the properties of other thermoplastics. PLA filament is very easy to print. It does not require a heated bed surface in most cases. But if your machine has a print bed, it would be easy for printing smoothly. Every material filament is chemically different that have their own requirements for processing.
The different glass transition temperatures of PLA allow the filament to turn from a brittle to a soft rubbery substance and the machine can easily extrude the hot filament. PLA filaments naturally melt around 80°Celsius. Well, there is no exact printing temperature available for printing the specific PLA filaments but keep experimenting for the best results.
You can start 3d printing on PLA plastic from 205° Celsius heat treat and keep adjusting the temperature by 5° Celsius up or down. Since PLA has a relatively low glass transition temperature, more heat can mess with the design. So, avoid using PLA for high-temperature applications and it is also fragile than abs for 3d prototyping.
PLA does not require a heated bed but for a better printing process, a hotbed will be helpful. The hot print bed with a range of temperature between 20°-70° Celsius is crucial for 3d printing of filament. However, hotbed temperature also varies from PLA materials, color and brands. Another detrimental factor is the printing machines’ capabilities because they also come in different heat-bed diameter and temperature settings.
Always keep records for printing the filament in different temperatures for future references. It will save you a lot of time, effort, and minimal printing mess. Otherwise, if the printing temperature will be too hot or too cold, it will compromise the printing quality. Apart from the printing errors, it will also damage machine parts like the bed and nozzle. The annealing process can save the printed part from too hot temperatures.
It is better to fix a certain temperature because the hotbed also provides adhesion to the printed object. Always ensure that the first layer of the object is well fixed because it will impact the other printed parts. For annealing, you can use different software like Temp Towers to set the perfect temperature and Cura, Simplify3d, and Slic3r for instructing the machine.
Things To Consider While PLA 3d Printing
The first layer of PLA is the foundation of the entire printed parts, so it must be perfectly cast. Specific PLA filament requires a specific hotbed temperature otherwise printed material can shrink and warp while printing. The hotbed retains heat and allows these materials to cool slower during extrusion. Cold PLA can not print as per the design and also damage the machine bit and printed PLA.
PLA materials can also directly print on glass. For this, the bed temperatures should be around 60° Celsius. Make sure the printer setup is fine. A glue stick or masking tape is good for adjusting the filament on the bed.
The hotbed level should be at the right level and place the extruder at the right height. The nozzle must remain close enough. So, it can print easily. The fast speed will pressure the PLA and damage it and the plastic might also get cool easily. So, print it slowly.
The low heat of the bed surface and extruder impact the performance of hot PLA. As a result, the prints will not stick on the printed bed due to a lack of proper adhesion. For achieving better results, you need to increase bed temperature by 5°Celsius. Keep experimenting to find the ideal heat by slowly adjusting it.
Adhesion In PLA
The hotbed provides adhesion to the printed object. Always ensure that the first layer of the object is well fixed because it will impact the other printed parts. The first layer of PLA is the foundation of the entire printed parts, so it must be perfectly cast. Specific PLA filament requires a specific hotbed temperature otherwise printed material can shrink and warp while printing.
PLA is an alternative to many petroleum-based plastics in commercial applications. It is one of the commercially successful bio-plastic that is commonly used on FDM machines. They are good for 3d printing a wide range of applications because the printed parts could be CNC machined.
The filament melts while heat treating. They are available in different colors and are popular for properties like stiffness, toughness, and heat resistance. PLA has transparent, glossy, ductile, and rigid features as well.
PLA filaments are a better choice for printing food packaging items because they are odorless, heat-resistant, and biodegradable. Food containers, candy chocolate wrappers, soft drink bottles, and many more eatables have PLA packaging.
Another field where PLA is in huge demand in the medical industry is for printing different medical equipment, medical implants, and biodegradable applications.
The fashion industry is on the list of PLA consumption for different cosmetic products like cream tubes, perfume bottles, lipsticks, nail paints, and artificial jewelry.
PLA is best-suited for the rapid prototyping of different application models. It is easy to print, stiff, and durable to handle as well as has better post-processing. All these features make PLA an ideal choice for prototyping many models and experimentation.
Due to the better properties of PLA, markets have many toys made from PLA filaments. The toys range from desktop toys to big ones. The filament is easy to mold and process which gives room for experimentation of various designs. They are biodegradable which can be recycled later.
PLA filament can also be spun into fabric. The rubber-like flexibility allows it to print different wearable apparel like caps, belts, footwear, slipper, clips, and ornamental designs.
The above-mentioned properties make them the first choice for print. They are highly used in a wide range of applications, printed parts for automobile, electronic, medical, and non-medical industries as well. PLA can be transformed into thin sheets, spun into fibers, molding textiles, and thermoformed packaging.
Storage Of PLA Filament
The storage of PLA filament is also important because it absorbs water from the air if left open for longer durations. This absorption affects the quality and durability of PLA filament, making it difficult for 3d printing.
So, always store the unused PLA filament in a sealable bag or pouch. It should be tightly packed to avoid contact with the outside moisture. Otherwise, it will become brittle and will not stick properly.
Limitations Of PLA Filament
It is better to process PLA in the enclosure as the room will keep heat inside. A case in a printing machine will prevent the outside temperature from affecting the process and retain the heat inside the printer. These precautions can manage external factors like a cool breeze, wind, and AC from hampering the process.
The ambient temperature of the surrounding plays an important role. Always use vacuum-sealed PLA filament to reduce the moisture content in the material and easy to process. Good ventilation is necessary during the processing.
It is better to turn on the fan while PLA printing. Use the extruder fan to dissipate heat. To protect the nozzle and Bowden tube from blockage regularly, use the fan and lower the heat temperature. Diameters of the filament and nozzle also affect printing temperature because the filament will take more time to liquify.
Drawback Of PLA Filament
PLA has some major drawbacks like it does not suit for making high-temperature applications because the filament has low heat resistance. Otherwise, it will mess and warp the entire design. It is also weaker than other filaments like ABS or PETG which have more strength and heat resistance. PLA filaments are often used for aesthetic purposes instead of mechanical printed parts.
3d printed PLA is also not safe for food because the process creates very small gaps and pores between the layers of the print. Due to these gaps, food gets contaminated by moisture. The moisture damages bits of food, leading to a build-up of bacteria and mold. Hot PLA can also spill and leak from the extruder while interchanging between segments, creating strings between the separate areas of the printed part, which can result in a flawed print.