What is PLA?
Polylactic Acid, better known as PLA, is a thermoplastic and is one of the most commonly used filaments in the FDM 3D printers. When you buy an FDM printer, this will likely be the filament the printer comes with.
This eco-friendly and biodegradable plastic is made of compounds comprised of starch, corn, and sugar cane.
PLA is given to first-time printer buyers because it’s an easy material to use.
The temperature needed to print PLA is lower compared to other filaments.
You can even bend it without heat. With the low temperature and printing ease, it makes it safer to use.
Some reasons not to use PLA are the reasons it makes it so safe.
Since it has a low melting point, products printed with PLA can start to get soft or deform on hot summer days. It’s also more brittle than some of its competition too.
What is PLA+?
PLA Plus is simply an improved version of the standard PLA filament. It eliminates some of the issues of PLA, such as brittleness, durability, and strength.
PLA Plus is a blend of normal PLA, with extra modifiers and additives. That means it has all the benefits of PLA that everyone likes but is just enhanced to make it better.
Unfortunately, it’s unknown what all is added into the formulas to make PLA+. Different manufactures use various components to make their PLA+ better than others.
For that reason, we can really get a complete grasp of what all is in this filament. Although we don’t know exactly in PLA+, it’s a stronger filament than PLA. It’s still eco-friendly and non-toxic too.
Now that we know a little more about PLA and PLA+, let’s go in-depth about their differences and what makes the filaments unique.
Differences Between PLA and PLA+
The most important thing to think about when planning a project is how the product will perform.
Every creator has to think about the quality, strength, and flexibility of the material they’re going to use. When debating whether to go with PLA or PLA+, let’s see what will perform best for you.
Deciding between PLA and PLA+ comes down to the quality of the two products. After designing something you’ve been planning for so long, you want to make sure it’s the best.
The finish of typical PLA might not be as smooth and fine as you’d like it to be. Since PLA+ is a better version of PLA, you can get to that smooth and fine finish. To get high-quality prints, you might have to play around with the print setting to find the perfect finish for your project.
If you need strong, functional parts, you’ll need to print with PLA+. Since PLA can become brittle under certain conditions, it doesn’t hold up in the strength department. Let’s say you want to make a monitor mount; PLA would cripple under its weight. PLA Plus was made to give that necessary extra boost to the typical PLA formula.
That’s not to say PLA isn’t a strong filament. It can get the job done in a lot of different circumstances. It just doesn’t hold up under certain conditions. This makes PLA unreliable compared to PLA+.
One of PLA’s biggest faults is rigidity. Under high pressure, PLA will quickly snap. So, if you’re building anything with it, it won’t hold up if there’s any weight. This can cause huge problems with certain products.
Where PLA can’t hold up, PLA+ picks up the slack.
It shows better results in stiffness and toughness. In projects where PLA snaps, PLA+ flexes better to withstand the pressure for a longer amount of time. That’s an additive that’s well worth it.
A big difference between PLA and PLA+ is how well they do with temperature.
It’s well known that PLA uses low temperatures to print, but it also has low-temperature resistance.
This makes printing quick, safe, and easy compared to other filaments. For resisting heat, though, PLA can’t hold up. Literally.
If you put PLA outside or by a heat source, it will deteriorate.
Hopefully, if this happens, you won’t have anything too major or expensive on top of it.
You’re also not going to be able to use PLA products outside, since the sun will make it lose its strength.
On the other hand, PLA+ can be used outside and withstand a much higher degree of heat. When comparing the two ease of printing, PLA+ is easy to work with and prints at low temperatures as well.
Not only does PLA+ withstand outside heat, but it also doesn’t take away from how simple it is to print initially.
Again, this makes it great a great thermoplastic for beginners to start with and for hobbyists to use whenever they think is best.
When it comes to a variety of colors, PLA definitely has more to choose from.
Of course, it all depends on the manufacturers and what they have, but typically, PLA has more choices.
Since PLA+ is more specialized, the basic colors are the only ones usually available.
Depending on what you want to make and how colorful it should be will help you determine whether or not you should use PLA or PLA+.
There is still some color choice for PLA+, so if you’re set on using it, don’t be discouraged. You can still use it, just not with the range of colors you might have hoped for.
Unless you’re able to use all of your filament for one project, storing your thermoplastics is a big issue.
PLA is difficult to store since it wears quickly from absorbing moisture.
It has to be stored in a low humidity and normal temperature environment, so it doesn’t get ruined.
If you live in an area where humidity and heat are an issue, the PLA will not hold up.
To combat PLA from becoming brittle with storage, most companies package the filament in vacuum seals. This helps with moisture control, but not with the temperature.
PLA Plus is resistant to most external conditions when it comes to storage. The same humidity and heat that can wear down PLA won’t do the same for PLA+.
This makes PLA+ better for storing purposes. You’ll be able to count on PLA+ to hold up for your next project and not have to worry about it deteriorating.
PLA and PLA Plus are both affordable filaments for everyone to use.
When compared to other thermoplastics, PLA is right around the cost of others.
On average, the price of PLA is around $15 to $20 per kilogram. If you buy in bulk, the price stays on the lower end of that range. For individual spools, you’re looking at the $20 area.
Like all things, with better material comes higher prices.
PLA Plus runs around $5 to $15 higher than PLA. It’s all up to the manufacturers with how much the materials will cost. Depending on the project and what you need, the small difference in price is worth it.
Does It Make a Difference?
It goes without saying, PLA and PLA+ are both great materials to use.
The differences between the two may seem small, but the extra additives in PLA+ make it stand out.
Yes, there is a price difference, but it adds up when you see the finished project.
PLA Plus will be able to withstand heat and weight better than PLA.
It’s a stronger material with the ease of printing that regular PLA is known for. If you can get past the limited color choices, you’ll have a strong printed piece.
Although PLA+ is the stronger and better material, PLA is still a great thermoplastic to use. It’s great for beginners and hobbyists alike!
Don’t throw it out just because PLA+ is stronger. There are plenty of projects that PLA will be perfect for use.
Compared to Other Materials
Maybe PLA and PLA+ aren’t the materials you need for your project. If you’re not sure whether or not these two are the best option for you, let’s see how they stack up with two other filaments.
If you’re looking for a filament that is known for its strength and ductility, you might be in the market for polyethylene terephthalate glycol-modified, or PETG.
This material needs higher printing temperatures and is a little trickier to use, but it’s great for strong parts. Although it’s not too dissimilar from PLA and PLA+, the strength factor really comes into play when comparing what type of filament, you need.
PETG is great for projects that need stiff pieces. For the projects that don’t need to be quite as strong as PETG, but not as flexible as PLA, choose PLA+.
This product has a ton of strength, and its price is a strong contender.
It’s the lowest price range of all the filaments talked about on this list. PETG ranges from $16 to $19 per kilogram. The price all depends on the manufacturer and how much of the product you buy.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, or ABS, is a thermoplastic best used for prototyping applications.
ABS is weaker and less rigid than PLA, but it’s also tougher and lighter.
This really helps developers create their models and perfect them.
One big thing to keep in mind while using ABS is it is not eco-friendly, like PLA and PLA+. That might be a big determining factor in what you choose to use. ABS is also more expensive.
Just as it is not eco-friendly, ABS is also toxic.
When this filament is heating up, it produces a toxic chemical.
These fumes can give you:
- A headache
- Feelings of fatigue
Although ABS is a great choice while making prototypes, it is not a great option if it makes you sick.
PLA or PLA+ will yield similar end-results without health hazards.
The price isn’t too different from PLA in that the average price is also $15 to $20 for a kilogram. You’ll most likely find ABS for $20.
PLA Plus is more expensive than ABS, so you’ll have to decide what product you need for your project before spending the extra money.
Maybe you’re looking for something stronger than PLA and more durable than ABS that’s still easy to print.
Nylon is a great option that can be used with your 3D printer too. It can be used as functional parts for your projects and can also be used for everyday items.
One thing about nylon is your printer has to be really hot to actually get it to print.
It needs to reach temperatures of at least 250°C.
Not every printer can reach those levels independently, and you’d have to modify your printer, which is an added cost.
Another thing with Nylon is it has to be dried before printing. If you don’t dry the nylon first, the filament will explode.
When properly used, though, nylon will have a beautiful smooth and glossy finish.
Nylon is harder to print because of the high temperatures required that most printers can’t even reach without some type of modification.
That’s not the only high cost when working with nylon.
This is the most expensive filament that we’re talking about here.
Nylon will run you about $50 to $73 per kilogram. That makes it about two and a half times more expensive than PLA, PLA+, PETG, and ABS.
As with any of the filaments mentioned, depending on what you’re trying to make and how long it needs to last, nylon’s price might be appropriate for you and your project.
ASA, or acrylonitrile styrene acrylate, is a filament with mechanical strength and is water and UV resistant. Just by reading that, we can already tell that ASA is much better for outdoor use than PLA.
ASA is more stable, which means where PLA fails to hold up strength, ASA will hold up.
Mostly, ASA is used for:
- Automotive exterior parts
- Outdoor projects
- Sporting goods
- Exterior signage
Some of those things you wouldn’t be able to use PLA for, but PLA+ could tackle a few of them.
ABS is most similar to ASA in how it holds up, but ASA won’t deteriorate as quickly.
It might not be the most expensive option here, but the $30 to $50 price range is more expensive than PLA+.
Depending on what you need, the price of ASA can be justified.
Remember, while deciding which filament is best for you, the materials and their durability is also dependent on the manufacturer.
The additives and formulas companies use to make their products aren’t universal.
When experimenting with filaments, try different types and brands to see what works best for you. It’s a trial and error process.
The best thing you can do is keep trying. This will also help you recognize what material is the best to use for whatever project you’re working on.
The Main Differences Between PLA and PLA+
The added plus sign at the end of PLA+ really defines the differences between PLA and PLA+.
PLA, although easy to work with, is a weaker material that is not heat resistant.
Don’t plan on using PLA if you need some flex in your parts because PLA will snap under pressure.
It’s great for simple projects and for beginners who are working to figure out how to print.
When working with PLA, you’ll never get a headache or have smelly fumes because it is non-toxic and biodegradable. It is also less expensive with a huge choice of colors to pick from. It might be weak, but it’ll get a lot of jobs done to a high quality.
PLA Plus has most of the positives that PLA has, but with an even better-finished product.
The biggest drawbacks of PLA are its weakness and kryptonite to heat.
With everything that’s added to PLA+, it can withstand the heat. Projects with PLA+ can be outside; the sun won’t make it brittle.
Not only can it take the heat, but PLA Plus’s finish is also smoother and less rigid than PLA too.
This might be a personal preference, but the smoother finish makes any project look professional.
No matter what you decide is best for your next printing project, PLA and PLA+ will both get the job done right.