Understanding PLA Filament
The Wide World of PLA Filament – Properties, Types, and Usage Explained
As one of the most common materials used in 3D printing today, PLA plastic filament offers beginners and experienced makers alike a versatile, useful material for bringing creations to life. But between the various formulations, sizes, colors, and finishing options available, the world of PLA can seem vast.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll demystify PLA filament and all its variations so you can select the optimal type for your specific 3D printing needs. You’ll learn about PLA’s composition, understand how it’s manufactured, compare PLA filament types and their respective applications, and explore the diverse colors and finishing effects possible. Read on to unlock the full potential of this ubiquitous 3D printing material!
How is PLA Filament Manufactured?
PLA (polyactic acid) filament starts as a corn-derived polymer resin that is then extruded into thin filaments and wrapped onto spools. More specifically:
– Raw Materials: PLA originates from fermented plant starch sources like corn, sugar cane or sugar beets that undergo processing to extract the plant sugars.
– Polymerization: In this key chemical step, the plant sugars are converted into lactic acid monomers. Those monomers link together through a reaction called polymerization which forms the polylactide molecules that make up PLA plastic.
– Extrusion: The finished PLA resin is melted and extruded through specialized nozzles to form thin filaments of consistent width and optimal properties for 3D printing.
– Spooling: Finally, the filaments are wrapped neatly onto spools for clean feeding into 3D printers.
Understanding this manufacturing process helps explain why PLA is prized for its renewable origins and biodegradability compared to traditional plastics. Now let’s explore what sets it apart.
What Makes PLA Filament Unique?
PLA filament became a 3D printing staple thanks to key advantages:
– Renewable Resources: Made from plant materials like corn and sugarcane rather than oil
– Biodegradable: Far easier and faster to decompose naturally than traditional plastics
– Low Warping: Resists warping and shrinkage during printing better than many materials
– Limited Odors and Fumes: Emits minimal odors and irritating fumes when heated
– Food Safe: Generally FDA approved for food contact use
– Good Surface Finish: Capable of smooth, glossy printed parts off the bed
– Easy Bed Adhesion: Excellent sticking to print beds when properly heated
– Rigidity and Strength: Good strength-to-weight ratio and rigid printed parts
These desirable properties make PLA a versatile choice suitable for prototyping, hobby projects, engineering and functional parts, education and so much more.
Key PLA Filament Types
While standard PLA serves most uses, specialty variations exist that enhance certain properties:
– PLA+ / PLA Pro : Improved strength, heat resistance and flexibility versus standard PLA
– Flexible/Tough PLA: Contains additives for major boosts in bendability and durability
– Antimicrobial PLA: Contains embedded silver or copper nanoparticles to resist bacteria growth
– Conductive PLA: Enables printing of electrically conductive traces by incorporating materials like graphene
– Color-Changing PLA: Uses special additives to change from one color to another in response to heat
– Clear or Transparent PLA: Provides fully see-through printed objects, useful for lighting effects
Understanding these modified PLA varieties allows dialing in material behaviors for specialized applications where standard PLA falls short.
PLA Filament Sizes Matter
The vast majority of consumer desktop 3D printers utilize 1.75mm filament, but some accept 3mm. Always check your printer specs before purchase – the filament must match your extruder.
For multipurpose use, 1.75mm PLA filament suits most printers. But if you need 3mm filament, beware it comes in limited color selection. Trying to force the wrong diameter filament into your machine is a recipe for jams.
Exploring Vibrant PLA Color Options
Among PLA’s charms is the rainbow of color choices available thanks to compatible pigments and dyes used during manufacturing.
Standard colors from pink to blue to black cover basic needs. Unique options like translucent, pearl, metallic and glow-in-the-dark PLAs create eye-catching printed objects. Or go totally custom by dying plain filaments yourself with chemical kits.
Finish options like gloss, matte and silk PLA filaments provide visual intrigue beyond just color. With countless color combinations possible, PLA fuels creativity and customization.
From tiny hobby models to high-strength engineering prototypes, PLA’s safe, sustainable and easy-printing properties enable success across applications. This guide outlined PLA’s manufacturing process, features, types, diameters, colors and finishes to boost your 3D printing skills. Armed with this deeper knowledge, you can now select the perfect PLA filament to match any project needs and take your prints to the next level!