3D printing with ABS plastic (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

What is ABS Plastic?

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is part of the thermoplastic polymers family. As its name implies, ABS is created from Acrylonitrile, Butadiene and Styrene polymers. It is a material commonly used in personal or household 3D printing, which is done using primarily FDM or FFF 3D printers. It is popular in large part because it has great plastic properties. It is lightweight, has good impact strength, it is abrasion resistant and affordable. Moreover, ABS polymers withstand a lot of chemical formulas. The melting temperature of ABS plastic is 200°C (392°F), making it ideal for use in relatively safe machines that are easy to operate (the safety of household machines is important).

ABS layer by layer on 3D FDM printer platform
An ABS extruder in the process of laying ABS layer-by-layer on the platform of a 3D FDM printer.

Uses and benefits of 3D printing with ABS

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is used by 3D FDM or FFF printers and comes in the form of a long filament wound around a spool. Operating the 3D printer is fairly simple: the ABS strand is guided into an extrusion head or extruder that heats the ABS plastic to its melting point in order to liquefy it. Once liquefied, the material is deposited layer by layer on a printing platform (which may or may not be heated).

This advantage of this kind of additive manufacturing is its affordability. Thanks to the lapse of certain patents related to FDM technology in 2009, the cost of 3D printing in ABS has significantly decreased. Entry-level printers cost between a few hundred to several thousand euros.Plastic materials are also affordable, like ABS filament, which is priced at less than €50 per kg.

For this reason, ABS plastic and 3D FDM/FFF printers are a very popular combination for many applications. This is an ideal material to manufacture low cost prototypes and architectural models for engineers or research departments, as well as to create low cost medical prostheses or material handling equipment. The physical properties of this type of plastic, like its tensile strength and stiffness, and its heat deflection temperature, are real advantages. It can also be used for mechanical purpose, or for its electrical properties.

In addition to its chemical resistance and mechanical properties, an ABS material has a good surface quality and is flame retardant. The raw material color is white, but the oxidation of the polymers can lead to a yellowing color.

Biocompatibility, concerns and alternative solutions to ABS plastic 3D printing

One of 3D ABS printing’s main competitors is printing with Polylactic acid (PLA). Unlike ABS, PLA is a plastic derived from cornstarch, that melts at a lower temperature. It is therefore biodegradable whereas an ABS plastic sheet is only biocompatible. However, like many other materials in the plastic industry, ABS is recyclable.

While the majority of parts printed are done in 3D FDM or FFF, ABS and PLA are not the only materials that can be printed by these machines. Printer manufacturer 3D Stratasys, original holder of the patent on this technology, markets machines especially designed to 3D print high performance plastics like PC-ABS or ULTEM. These engineering plastics have a great heat resistance and impact resistance.

There have been recent concerns about the toxicity of the ABS material used in printing when it is brought to its melting point. In fact some studies indicate that ABS emits fumes when it exits the extrusion head at its melting temperature.

Instead of using injection molding, there are alternatives to these materials, in particular when using Selective LaserSintering (SLS) technology.

We have created a wealth of information to help you choose between the various materials. Why not take a look at:

If your choice is certain, simply take a look at the list of available materials on the Sculpteo website or upload a 3D file .

Synonyms: Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene