Choosing The Right Material: PLA vs ABS vs PETG


PLA, ABS, and PETG are currently the most popular and commonly used 3D printing filaments.

However, this does not mean they are equally suited for all printing jobs.

For instance, PLA is the easiest to print with but is not the most durable.

When there is a need to enhance the durability of parts, ABS is often used, though it may produce an odor.

PETG is popular in applications requiring food safety due to its excellent material properties, but it can be prone to sticking during printing.

In this article, we will thoroughly analyze the performance and pros and cons of these three materials to help readers make informed decisions in this material selection battle.

Material Overview

PLA is the most popular among these three materials, being a plant-based plastic made from corn starch.

As a thermoplastic polymer made from renewable resources, many claim it is biodegradable, but a more accurate description would be industrially compostable.

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is an opaque thermoplastic and amorphous polymer commonly found in household and consumer goods.

Following PLA, it is one of the most popular filament types and is very accessible.

In addition to 3D printing, ABS is also highly suitable for injection molding and machining.

PETG combines many of the advantages of both PLA and ABS, possessing good physicochemical properties, easier to print than ABS, with excellent transparency and being environmentally friendly.

PETG requires higher printing temperatures but similar heated bed temperatures to PLA, making it a very popular filament choice.

Comparison Of Physical And Chemical Properties

Melting Point and Printing Temperature

PLA: Typically has a lower melting point around 175°C to 200°C, making it easier to print with on most 3D printers. Recommended printing temperatures usually fall within this range.

ABS: Requires a higher printing temperature, typically between 210°C and 250°C, to properly melt and adhere.

Its higher melting point contributes to its strength and durability but requires a heated print bed to prevent warping.

PETG: Has a printing temperature range that falls between PLA and ABS, often around 220°C to 250°C.

It combines ease of printing with the ability to form strong and durable prints, though it may require fine-tuning of printing settings to avoid stringing and adhesion issues.

Strength and Durability

In the PLA vs PETG comparison, PLA offers a commendable strength suitable for decorative items and prototypes.

However, it falls short in terms of brittleness and heat resistance, making it less ideal for parts subjected to stress or high temperatures.

ABS Known for its high strength, durability, and impact resistance, making it ideal for functional parts and items that will be subjected to stress.

PETG Provides a good balance of strength and flexibility, which makes it less brittle than PLA and more durable in some aspects than ABS.

It also exhibits better resistance to chemicals and higher temperatures than PLA, making it suitable for a wider range of functional applications.

Print Difficulty And Quality

In the 3D printing domain, PLA, ABS, and PETG each exhibit significant differences in printing difficulty and final print quality.

PLA is the easiest to print among these three materials.

It does not require a heated bed, and the temperature demands on the 3D printer are lower, making it a beginner-friendly choice.

Due to its lower tendency to warp, PLA is suitable for complex designs and prints rich in detail.

Moreover, the products printed with PLA usually have good surface smoothness and detail representation, but they may not be sturdy enough to withstand high loads or high-temperature environments.

ABS requires higher extrusion temperatures and a heated bed to prevent warping.

Additionally, ABS may release harmful gases during printing, necessitating good ventilation.

PETG is positioned between PLA and ABS in terms of printing difficulty.

While PETG requires higher printing temperatures, it has a smaller tendency to warp and usually does not need a special print bed surface.

In the comparison of PETG vs ABS, PETG produces less odor during printing, offering an advantage in environmental friendliness.

For those needing durable parts but concerned about the printing environment, PETG might be a better choice.

How to choose PLA, ABS and PETG

PLA is an eco-friendly material that is easy to print, suitable for complex designs and prints rich in detail, making it perfect for educational and artistic projects.

Its biodegradability makes it the first choice for environmentally conscious projects.

However, PLA’s heat resistance is relatively poor, making it unsuitable for high-temperature environments or applications that bear heavy loads.

For beginners, hobbyists, and those needing rapid prototypes and non-functional display models, PLA is an excellent choice.

The high strength, impact resistance, and heat resistance of ABS make it suitable for producing durable functional parts, such as mechanical components and automotive interiors.

However, ABS printing requires a heated bed and may release irritating odors, necessitating good ventilation conditions.

For professionals and enthusiasts who need high-strength, wear-resistant parts, ABS is the more appropriate choice.

Combining the ease of printing of PLA with the durability of ABS, PETG offers good strength, impact resistance, and a certain degree of flexibility.

It also has good chemical resistance and transparency, making it suitable for producing functional parts and transparent objects.

Although PETG is less challenging to print than ABS, compared to PLA, it may require more adjustments in printing settings to avoid adhesion and stringing issues.

For users pursuing high strength, durability, and aesthetics to a certain extent (such as transparency), PETG is an outstanding choice.

Similarly, for those concerned about environmental protection and reducing harmful emissions, PETG is an ideal material.