What is PLA and what it is used for?
PLA the short form of Polylactic acid, a biopolymer generally made from corn starch. Plastics are derived from non-renewable petroleum products. Plastics that are derived from Bioproducts are called Bio Polymers.
PLA biopolymer has similar properties like Polypropylene (PP) and Polyethylene (PE). Due to the restriction of usage of general plastics in packaging because of non-degradable nature, bio-polymers are becoming more popular. PLA bends are used in various applications now. There is a vast array of applications for Polylactic Acid. Some of the most common uses include plastic films, bottles, and biodegradable medical devices (e.g. screws, pins, rods, and plates that are expected to biodegrade within 6-12 months). PLA constricts under heat and is thereby suitable for use as a shrink wrap material. Additionally, the ease with which Polylactic Acid melts allows for some interesting applications in 3D printing (namely “lost PLA casting”).
Is PLA Toxic?
In solid form, no. Polylactic Acid (PLA) is biodegradable. It is often used in food handling and medical implants that biodegrade within the body over time. Like most plastics, it has the potential to be toxic if inhaled and/or absorbed into the skin or eyes as a vapor or liquid (i.e. during manufacturing processes).
PLA and 3D Printing
PLA filament is by far the most popular material used in FDM 3D printing, and there’s a good reason for that. It comes in many shades and styles, making it ideal for a wide range of applications. Whether you’re looking for vibrant colors or unique blends, PLA filament is easy to use and aesthetically pleasing material.
For starters, PLA filament is known to be extremely easy to print with. The material will generally flow out of your 3D printer’s nozzle without any issues, such as warping or nozzle clogging. On top of that, the print temperature for standard PLA filament is relatively low compared to other materials, making it more versatile and convenient to print with.
Although materials like ABS and PETG offer certain mechanical advantages, PLA filament is nothing to scoff at. When it comes to forming over functionality, PLA is a great option for rapid prototyping. The low-temperature melting point enables better surface details and sharper features compared to other commonly used materials.
Drawbacks of PLA filament
Though PLA has numerous advantages, it has some disadvantages. PLA filament tends to deform or melt when the heat is applied, making it impractical for parts that require heat-resistance. It’s also less sturdy than ABS or PETG, making it better for aesthetic uses rather than mechanical. PLA filament also usually has a rougher texture than other materials, despite being much easier to print with. Additionally, PLA is quite brittle, making it more prone to breaking under stress.
When should you use PLA Filament?
PLA filament is a great material for numerous applications. Though it lacks the mechanical properties found in other filament types, PLA is easy to print and comes in many colors and blends. Therefore, most PLA filament types are great for visual prints, particularly in cases where the 3D printed part won’t encounter too much stress or strain. PLA filament is ideal for 3D printed objects that won’t be dependent on mechanical properties, durability, or de-gradability.
You’ll also probably want to avoid using PLA filament for 3D printed items that will be bent or twisted, such as tool handles or phone cases.
Some of the most popular uses for PLA include visual models, figures and characters, low-wear toys, non-functional prototype parts, and gift articles. PLA is very popular among 3D pen users because of the attractive colors and child-safe properties.
The diversity of blends, colors of PLA filament is seemingly endless. The following are the most popular blends available in the market and most used by the 3D printing enthusiasts.
- Wood Filament
- Colour Changing
- Glow in Dark
- Sparkling ( Glitter)
- High Temperature
- High Strength
- Silk Like ( Silk PLA)
- Transparent / Translucent
Printing Tips & Tricks
When it comes to printing with PLA material, it is important to understand its strengths and weaknesses, but you also have to know how to get the most from this material. It is important to take possible issues into account when deciding to start with PLA 3D printing, so you know what you can expect.
Control the Temperature:
When printing with PLA material the temperature must be right. Therefore, beginning with a starting temperature of 195 deg Celsius will ensure that you give yourself the best chance of success. The temperature can then be reduced or increased by 5-degree increments to obtain the right quality of print and strength so that they complement each other. Some high-quality PLA plastics will print at a lower temperature because it contains a higher level of pure resin with fewer contaminants. To improve the adhesion to the build plate, it must be heated to 60-65 degrees.
Control the Stringing (Temperature too high): If the temperature is too high then strings will appear between the separate parts while the extruder will leak PLA material when it moves between the different areas during printing. Should this occur, then you will be required to decrease the temperature in increments until the extruder stops leaking so much material.
Layer fail to adhere (Temperature too low): If the printing temperature is too low, the filament will fail to adhere to the previous layer, which will create a rough and weak print. If this should occur, the print head temperature should be increased by five-degree increments until the printing looks good and the line segments for each layer are right, this will then result in a stronger part once the job has finished.
Keep Filament Dry: PLA material to be stored in a container/ Sealed bag. Read my blog Humidity...The silent killer of PLA Printer filament
Post-processing PLA prints
There are numerous ways to post-process PLA filament, and these methods sometimes depend on which type of PLA you’re using.
One of the most popular methods is sanding, which works wonders by smoothing out the surface layer of your 3D print. Sanding is an essential step no matter what type of post-processing technique you want to use, particularly when it comes to painting your model.
After sanding your model, you could use a primer or filler to cover any other hols/ gaps that will impact the way your paint settles on the print. Acrylic paint is the best option for PLA filament, and is generally affordable and comes in many colors.