What is ABS filament?
ABS, or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Systrene (ABS) is one of the most common plastics you can find. Not just in 3D printing but everyday life. The most famous use for this plastic might, perhaps, be Lego. (Can you print your own Lego? I’ll get into that later).
How long does ABS last?
ABS is incredibly long-lasting, opposed to some other filament types (such as PLA), that’s part of the reason it’s so popular. It does have its downsides though, because it takes so long to break down it can have long-lasting effects on the environment. ABS is actually so strong and so resistant that it can essentially last forever.
Is ABS a sustainable material?
No. not at all. But that doesn’t mean it’s not recyclable. ABS plastics can be melted down and reused. This takes up a lot of energy to be able to give new life to old ABS. You won’t be able to recycle it yourself however, so don’t worry.
Is ABS Toxic?
Yes! Unlike some other filaments, ABS is extremely toxic when above 400 degrees. Under no circumstances should you ever inhale ABS. It contains huge amounts of carcinogenic (cancer causing) chemicals. Always treat hot ABS with great respect or your health will pay the price.
What are the pros of using ABS filament:
ABS is so common for a reason, it’s made up of a thermoplastic polymer. Which means that it maintains its shape and structure really well in both heat and cold. It’s a very strong material, I joked about Lego but that’s why Lego chose it. Sturdy, cheap and reliable.
Perfect for mechanical needs:
ABS is perfect for mechanical needs. If you plan to use your 3D printer to create spare parts or new tools it’s the filament for you. As mentioned above, it has such a strong nature that it can withhold high stresses and high temperatures much better than say, PLA, which would break or warp.
Easy to use after you’ve learnt:
ABS is one of the easier plastics to use after a bit of a steep learning curve to print, but that’s not all. This filament, unlike some others, is easily paintable with acrylic paints and can be processed with acetone for a nice finish. It will also hold up to sanding or filing without jeopardizing its structural integrity.
Cheaper than many filaments:
ABS can end up cheaper than many other filament types as its much more common and readily available. If you’re going to be printing a lot it might be a good choice for you, to help keep costs down. Though, it can end up expensive as I’ll explain later on.
What are some cons of using an ABS filament:
Sometimes issues can crop up when 3D printing this filament. The temperature must be heavily controlled throughout the whole process, even after the printing is over. When cooling your print you must make sure to cool slowly, with no drastic drops in temperature, or your print is likely to snap.
That’s the cost of having a very strong material once cooled correctly, if you can manage the cool down period by printing into an enclosure you increase your odds dramatically. That may end up being more costly, if you don’t already own an enclosure. Just something to think about.
Too large a surface can lead to warping:
One of the biggest gripes people have with ABS filaments is that they can potentially warp and distort if the print you’re making is too large in surface area. Smaller prints are more successful.
Sunlight kills ABS:
Like vampires, ABS does not like the sun. It doesn’t hold up well in direct sunlight for long periods of time. If you plan to print something that’ll be outside and in the suns direct rays you’re better off printing that part in another filament type.
Printing ABS stinks:
Yep, that’s right. ABS stinks. During the printing process, It’s very toxic too. As mentioned above. Printing ABS can create some really foul odors, which is fine if you’re not going to be in the room to smell them. If you plan to print a lot and be around while it happens, you may wish to purchase some nose plugs or pick a different filament.
How to store ABS:
ABS, like all filaments, need to be stored in a cool dry place. Ideally in a closed container with the rest of your filaments. Abs absolutely should not be stored out in the open or it will become unusable. ABS, like all other filaments, can become damaged when exposed to the air as it draws the moisture out of the air and becomes useless through water damage. Better safe than sorry, keep your filament locked up.
How to print ABS:
Printing ABS is similar to many other filaments but there are still some important things to keep in mind.
Make sure you always start printing at room temperature:
Before you even click print, you need to think about your surroundings. Specifically the temperate. When printing ABS, the room temperature should be very mild. Too hot or too cold and the filament may not print and set properly.
Although the room temperature should be mild, the bed you print with shouldn’t be. The bed should be between 105-115 Celsius in order for the filament to set a correctly.
Learn the best nozzle temperature for your printer. Pick a nice temperature, such as 220 degrees Celsius and then increase or decrease the temperature if your print comes out and doesn’t stick or becomes too stringy, respectively.
What cool stuff can I make out of ABS?
You can try to make Lego. So long as you don’t print the Lego trademark on them it’s not technically illegal, but it is likely impossible. Lego aren’t printed they’re injected into molds. Your 3D printer likely won’t be capable of being accurate enough. But you can still try, for fun.
Because ABS is so strong it’s perfect for making solid sculptures, experiment with it and see what wacky and wonderful things you can dream up. Just don’t store them outside.
What you should absolutely not use ABS filament for:
ABS can be used to make a ton of great stuff, but there are somethings it should absolutely not be used for. I’ve already mentioned that it can be damaged by sunlight, however I’m talking about what could make it outright dangerous if used.
ABS contains toxins that are released when heated. Just because your print has cooled down doesn’t mean those toxins have up and left. Even though you can touch it, ABS filament should never be printed into something to be used with food. If your prints come into contact with food, which is then eaten, you could end up making others or even yourself very ill.
If you do want to print something to be used with food consumption, like a cooking utensil or a bowl for example. You’re better off using PLA. PLA is believed to be completely safe, though they aren’t 100% sure so you could still be at risk.
Where can I buy ABS filament?
ABS is so common that you should be able to get some anyplace that sells 3D printing equipment. If that’s not convenient enough for you, amazon sells spools in varying color and quality for you to have delivered whenever you need.
How much does ABS filament cost?
ABS varies in quality and color and that naturally affects price. You can expect to pay between $20 – $60 per spool. The more you pay the better the quality will obviously be, but you should pick a price that suits your need. If you’re just messing around and not printing something that needs to be very structurally sound. Say, like part of a tool. You can get away with the lower cost filament.
Is ABS worth the cost then?
It can be. Because ABS is available so readily and cheaply it makes each print more cost effective. But there is a counter argument to this, depending on what your printing setup is like and the which printer you actually have.
Because ABS can be so temperamental to print, having the correct setup is needed to make sure you get the right print every time. Your best bet is to have a nice 3D printer that prints into a decent sized enclosure.
You also need to keep in mind the room you’ll be printing in. Is it climate controlled? Are you outside in a shed or inside the house? Where you are printing must be closely temperature controlled or you may end up wasting the spool on a print that doesn’t set.
Regardless of whether ABS is the right choice for you comes down to what you plan to use it for. It’s a good quality, good value for money filament but it does have some limitations, such as not being suitable for use outside in the sun. Additionally, if you’re new to 3D printing or your printer doesn’t have an enclosure to print into this may not be best starting place. An easier Filament might be the way to go.