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ABS and PLA are the most common thermoplastic polymers that are used in 3D printers like the Ultimaker. For 3D printing, it is usually supplied in rolls of round filament of 3 mm or 1.75 mm diameter.
PLA, or polylactide is a wonderful material to print with, made from corn starch or sugar and it is biodegradable. It is the most environmentally friendly material available for this type of 3D printing (source).
PLA comes in two variants, rigid and flexible. The rigid version is more rigid than ABS. The flexible variant is much more flexible and rubbery.
You can buy a wide variety of ABS and PLA filament from the consumables section of the Ultimaker shop. These plastics have been tested to work in the Ultimaker.
Differences with ABS
- PLA will usually flow more easily than ABS when printed at the same temperatures
- PLA is usually more glossy (except for the flexible PLA)
- PLA has a Glass Transition temperature at about 58 Celcius, meaning it will become soft and may loose it's shape above this temperature. The Glass Transition temperature for ABS is about 100 Celcius.
General information about PLA
- PLA info on RepRap.org (about 3D printing with PLA)
- PLA on Wikipedia
- This is an excellent technical paper about PLA, how it's made, its properties and its biodegradability.
- Did you know that PLA, because it is biocompatible, is used in surgeries for sutures and as implants? (source (PDF))
Biodegradable or not?
Note that even though PLA may officially called biodegradable in some countries, in others it is not. It will not dissolve in normal water for a very long time. It can however be dissolved after a long time under ideal circumstances, this means temperatures that allow it to go through a "composting" process.