The most popular 3D printing filament by far is PLA. It is versatile and it is the easiest filament to work with, while providing excellent results within a wide range of variables. Its properties make it forgiving to print with, and the end product features a quality finish. But what exactly is PLA?
PLA, which stands for Poly-Lactic Acid, is a thermoplastic polymer that’s derived from natural sources like corn and sugarcane. It’s a bioplastic, which means it’s environmentally friendly unlike other thermoplastics which are made of non-renewable materials, such as petroleum. This means that PLA breaks down into its constituent parts in a matter of months, which when compared to other thermoplastics is a relatively short time.
So because PLA extrusion is so versatile, it’s great for all types of 3D printing. However, because it’s so popular and common, you might come across some poor quality PLA filament. Some people will try printing with a poor PLA filament, will likely get disappointed and get another material to print with. That being said, always look for quality PLA filament to perform PLA extrusion with. Simply put, use PLA until you have a reason to experiment with other materials.
In order to get the most out of PLA filament, you need to be aware of the three important factors that can impact the success of printing with it – material storage, temperature and adhesion. In any 3D printing job, one of the most important things is getting the temperature run, and PLA printing is no exception. Higher quality PLA can print a lower temperature, due to the lack of contaminants and purity of the resin. The recommended printing temperature is about 180°C.
PLA also easily adheres to the surface, which is key for a successful print. You can print PLA even without a heated bed, even though a heated bed (40°C-50°C) is recommended for adhering at least the first surface. Otherwise, PLA adheres to a wide range of surfaces with minimum issue.
Lastly, PLA is hygroscopic, meaning it naturally absorbs water over time from the surrounding air. When water builds up PLA breaks down or alters the molecular chains that hold it together. This results in snapping and brittle, and it becomes harder to bind layers together, and layers that do bind together are usually distorted. In order to prevent this, you should properly store your PLA when you aren’t printing. You can do that by using sealable bags and desiccants.