Printing with ABS filament

This post is more for you if you already got a 3D printer. It’s also the occasion to inaugurate the tips category. Today, I’m writing about printing with ABS plastic.

Before going further, and if you want to try this material, be sure your 3D printer got a build-late. It won’t work without. Also, the things I’ll explain are following my experience with the Ultimaker 2, I used this machine to try this material.

PLA & ABS platics

If you’re new to 3D printing, you might be not familiar with the materials behind those acronyms. Many filaments exist with different quality and for different plastics. I only tried PLA and ABS yet, but I’d love try other types and brands (also if colorFabb, eSun or others wants to send me samples of their different products, I’ll be happy to make it and share it with  you here).

Anyway, let’s get back to the ones which matter.

First, PLA  plastic or Polyactic Acid (named form the initial), is a biodegradable thermoplasticaliphaticpolyester derived from renewable resources, such as corn starch (in the United States), tapioca roots, chips or starch (mostly in Asia), or sugarcane (in the rest of the world). Thank you Wikipedia.

The ABS has a different structure and is named from Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene. It might be trivial,  but Styrene would do quite a score in a Scrabble Game, especially with the y is put on a triple letter score.

It’s mainly used injection moulded to build pipe systems, musical instruments (recorders, plastic clarinets, and piano movements), golf club heads (because of its good shock absorbance), automotive trim components, automotive bumper bars, medical devices for blood access, enclosures for electrical and electronic assemblies, protective headgear, whitewater canoes, buffer edging for furniture and joinery panels, luggage and protective carrying cases, small kitchen appliances, and toys, including Lego and Kre-O bricks. Thanks again Wikipedia.

First tests with ABS plastics

In early 2015, 3 students came to me to ask if I could print them the light saber from  the first teaser of the VIIIème Star Wars episod.

I collected the files requested and I realised the printing time and the amount of material were quite high. We agreed to give me spools needed for the sabers.  They bought 3 spools with (red, black and grey) made of ABS plastic, as you might guessed. It was a good thing, I read somewhere it was more solid than PLA and wanted to see by myself. Then the nightmare began…

When they saw the printing duration and especially the problems I met, they were a bit disappointed. But now I finally understood how worked the materials and the Ultimaker 2. I’ll be able to finish the 2 light sabers left more quickly.

Besides the “use” (without talking about the chemical composition), another thing differentiates the 2 plastics : rigidity. It depends of the brand, but PLA plastic is not really flexible, unless you use flexible PLA, you Internet troll

Some brands might be more flexible than others (for example, slightly difference between the one from Ultimaker and from eSun). Do the test: try to bend a PLA filament and you’ll see he’ll broke straight away with no bending at all. On the opposite, the ABS material is more flexible and will be before breaking.

Choose your spool

II won’t be able to tell you which brand is the best. As wrote above, I didn’t get the time to do it. But anyway, that’s true for PLA or ABS : don’t pick a spool because it’s the cheapest. The money you spare might be time you lose due to clogging (yes again, but I’do a post about this later) or bad printing quality.

When it’s too cheap, sometimes, the filament can have a larger diameter than 3 mm. It sounds crazy, but it’s not. You can get a digital caliper as recommended here, so you’d be sure of the diameter of the filament. A digital one is not vital, it’s up you, I bought a classic one and it’s working perfectly.

Problems I met

The problems weren’t insurmontables or serious but sooooo annoying. And it was really frustrating not finding out where does the problems come from. Whatever I did, I met the same things : the nozzle get clogged, the material feeder might sand the filament down, but the most annoying was the stickiness: the plastic didn’t stick on the build-plate.

Unclogging the nozzle was easy (which will be a subject for another post). Due to the object shape, the materiel feeder was going back and forth and sand the filament down and I believe it’s one reason. I tried to print other objects and I didn’t have this problem.

Finally, I found out a solution for the  stickiness problem I’m explaining here.

Cura settings

You can stay with the default setting for Cura, but I think it’s better to personalised them. Ultimaker recommends to use this software which generate gcode so the printer understands it and can print.

You have <em>Quick print…</em> or <em>Full settings…</em> display on Cura. Quick print settings are ok for the PLA, won’t fit for ABS. At first, I was a bit scared using the full settings, and to do something wrong. But actually, it’s not that complicate.

I asked people to help me with this stickiness problems. Nick-s from Ultimaker forum advised me settings for Cura. You can have a look at the whole topic, but I’m summing up everything in this post, it’s up to you.

The important thing to do is to disable the options in the cooling part (Cool > unhook Enable cooling fan). This is one of the most important part.

After that, up to you to set up layers options. Just keep in mind changing the height of a layer influences the print duration & quality . Anyway, Cura recalculate the time of the print every time you change a setting.

Printer settings

Now, let’s go to your printer. As wrote at the beginning, if you don’t a heating bed, needless to try printing with ABS material, there are too much chances to have a disappointing results.

ABS has a hotter melting point and don’t need to be cooled as fast as PLA. So we set up higher values on temperatures. Default settings work but I noticed changes after modifications.

DSC_0008 (1)

The classical settings on the Ultimaker 2 for ABS is 260˚C for the nozzle, 90˚C for the build-plate and 50% speed for the fans. You can change this, at least for the speed fan.

The recommandation is between 220 & 250˚C for the nozzle temperature and between 95 & 110˚C for the build-plate. I personally use 250˚C and 110˚C following nick-s advice.

There’s also s.ki (Utlimaker forum again) made a huge tutorial about materials which I recommend (I’m talking about the tutorial, not materials I could recommend). He explains a lot of things, so it could be really a value for people who start 3D printing.

Conditions of the printer

If you remember (if you ordered one), there is a glue stick delivered with the Ultimaker 2. It’s recommend in the starting guide to put a thin layer of glue on the glass. Putting more glue won’t help you, au contraire. It will help the nozzle to get clogged, and won’t improve the stickiness of the plastic. It had to be a thin layer of glue.

Your glass had to be really clean: no dust or residue from previous prints. It’s simple: when I print with ABS, I clean it every time I print something.
Also, the material feeder might sand the filament down. Then you might have dust in the bowden tube (remember I’m talking about Ultimaker 2, I don’t know how it work for Makerbot or even Ultimaker Original).
The dust can land on the built-plate, but also residue of filament when you change it, etc. So times to times, I blow into the tube to remove the dust to clean it and limit the problems.

If you’re sweaty or if you’ve got greasy fingers (stop eating MacDonald’s!), it might arrive on the glass et you might have those stickiness problem.

Also, our printer use to be in a corridor for a little while, then students can see it in action. The idea wasn’t bad at all and the Ultimaker 2 has an amazing conception: with the LEDs, the object you’re printing pops and shines, producing a cool effect.

However ABS is capricious and is keen to temperatures. I saw  someone had the same problem, therefore I put the front of the printer opening on a wall. But anyway, it wasn’t a great idea to let it in the corridor: the build-pate was really vulnerable to draughts or air mouvement in a general way. Now the machine is in a specific room, and problem solved.

Other solutions exist. You can add doors to your machine. Some of printers are already equipped with a airlock system. But for Ultimaker or similar machines, you can print doors. Some of users push it to another level , like in this picture :

And here comes a post on enclosure to make the ABS printing process easier.

So here we are, I hope this little story and the thoughts coming from it will help beginners. I would quite love have all of this tips before going crazy with it. But shame on me, I should inform myself. I’m clearly not the first doing a post about printing with ABS, but I made it with my own experience. If some of you have other things to share and/or to add, please do it in the comment section!

Last piece of advice : don’t start 3D printing with this material, you’d be so much disappointed!

Thank you to the Ulitmaker community members how helped me and how took times to answer me : reibuehl, nick-s,  tsagos, mcgyvr.


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