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A quick guide to PLA for 3D printing

PLA is a polyester that has a wide variety of uses. In recent years, its properties such as heat resistance and workability have seen it widely used as an innovative material in 3D printing. It’s known by a host of other names, including:

  • Polylactic Acid
  • Polylactide
  • PLA Plastic
  • PLA filament

Material properties

PLA has high mechanical strength, alongside a low glass transition and melting temperature. It also has excellent permeability performance against transfer of gases, water vapour and aroma molecules. Amongst its biggest benefits are the fact that it’s a relatively low-cost material with a long shelf life.

PLA for 3D printing

The material is one of the most popular materials to use in 3D printing, alongside alternatives such as ABS (Polyacrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene). While ABS is more flexible, PLA is generally considered easier to work with, as the post-processing is less complex, due to its lower melting temperature. PLA’s melting temperature is around 180ºC, whereas ABS’s is between 200ºC and 260ºC, which makes it easier to print with and is therefore better suited for parts with fine details.  

Generally speaking, unless the object you’re printing is highly complex or mechanical, it’s likely that PLA will be the better option, especially if the aesthetics are important!

Sustainability credentials

Another reason for its popularity for 3D printing is its environmentally friendly status. Members of our technical team are frequently asked ‘is PLA recyclable?’, ‘Is PLA environmentally friendly?’ or ‘Is PLA biodegradable?’ The answer to all is yes! But it’s important to check how to recycle such materials in your region, as guidelines differ around the world. It is also only compostable under certain conditions, which is important to understand.

A big part of its attraction to those looking to reduce their carbon footprint is that it’s not only derived from natural sources, such as corn starch or sugar cane, but also requires less heat to mould.

To learn more about Goodfellow’s PLA, click here.