3D printing with ABS plastic (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

What is ABS plastic?

First, you are might be wondering what is meant by ABS material? ABS means Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) 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. This common thermoplastic material is popular because it is easy to use with a desktop 3D printer, but also because it has some great material properties.

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.

What are ABS plastic's properties?

ABS is lightweight and has good impact strength; it is abrasion resistant and affordable. Moreover, ABS polymers withstand a lot of chemical formulas. The glass transition temperature of ABS plastic is 105°C (221°F), making it ideal for use in relatively safe machines that are easy to operate (the safety of household machines is important).

ABS material has a low melting point, which makes it a material that is not really adapted to high heat situations. However, this low melting point makes ABS easy to machine with desktop 3D printers, or during an injection molding process.

What are the benefits of ABS material?

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). By using such a simple manufacturing process, creating plastic products becomes quite easy.

This advantage of this kind of additive manufacturing technique 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. The use of this material could help you lower your production costs. 

For this reason, ABS plastic and 3D FDM/FFF printers are a very popular combination for many applications.The physical properties of this type of plastic, like its impact resistance, tensile strength and stiffness, and its heat deflection temperature, are real advantages. It can also be used for mechanical purposes, or for its electrical properties.

In addition to its chemical resistance and mechanical properties, 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. Moreover, it is easy to glue and paint plastic products printed with ABS material, offering possibilities of customization.

ABS material has a low melting point, which makes it a material that is not really adapted to high heat situations. However, this low melting point makes ABS easy to machine with desktop 3D printers, or during an injection molding process.

What are the applications of ABS material?

Indeed, what things are made of ABS plastic? There are several application possibilities for plastic manufacturing with ABS. This plastic material is for example used to create toys, such as Lego or Kre-O bricks. But it can also be used to print enclosures for electrical or electronic assemblies, sports equipment, parts for the automotive industry, or the medical sectors. Indeed, 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 cost medical prostheses or material handling equipment. Many plastic end-products can be manufactured using ABS material. 

Biocompatibility concerns and altertive 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, the original holder of the patent on this technology, markets machines specially designed to 3D print high-performance plastics like PC-ABS or ULTEM. These engineering plastics have 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 3D printing and more specifically the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) technology.

We have created a wealth of information to help you choose between the various 3D printing materials. Check out our material comparison guide, and choose the right 3D printing plastic material for your project

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

Synonyms, and other names for ABS material: Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene