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What is ABS Filament? A Beginner's Guide to Using ABS for 3D Printing

Jul 31,2023 | 3D4Create

I. An Introduction to ABS Plastic

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) filament is one of the most common materials used in 3D printing today. It is made from three key ingredients:

  • Acrylonitrile - Provides chemical and thermal stability to resist damage.
  • Butadiene - A rubber compound giving ABS toughness, strength, and flexibility.
  • Styrene - Gives rigidity and hardness for sturdy 3D printed objects.

ABS was initially developed in the 1940s as an alternative to metal parts for automobile manufacturing. It started being used for 3D printing in the late 1980s when Stratasys introduced ABS plastic filament in its FDM 3D printers. 

Since then, ABS has become a fixture in the 3D printing world, known for its good strength-to-weight ratio, affordability, and ability to be easily post-processed. Its balance of properties makes it a versatile material for everything from prototypes to end-use consumer products.

eSUN ABS+ Filament for 3D Printer 1.75mm 1KG

eSUN ABS+ Filament for 3D Printer 1.75mm 1KG


II. ABS Filament Properties Explained for Beginners

For those new to 3D printing, here are the key characteristics and properties of ABS filament:

1. Mechanical Strengths: Impact Resistance, Tensile Strength and Stiffness

ABS has excellent mechanical properties thanks to its blend of materials. Parts printed from ABS exhibit:

  • High impact strength and shatter resistance - ABS has good toughness and does not crack easily when dropped.
  • Good tensile strength - ABS can withstand pulling and stretching forces better than materials like PLA.
  • Rigidity and stiffness - The styrene gives ABS the ability to hold its shape under load without excessive bending.

Together these properties make ABS a good choice for functional parts and prototypes.

2. Thermal Properties: Glass Transition Temp, Printing Temp Range, and Warping 

Some important thermal properties of ABS include:

  • Glass transition temperature of around 105°C - This allows it to hold up in warm environments.
  • Typical printing temperature range of 220-250°C - Most desktop printers can print ABS without a specialty hotend. 
  • Low warping - ABS experiences less shrinkage when cooled compared to PLA, reducing warping and detachment issues during printing.

3. Aesthetic Qualities: Smooth Finish, Color Varieties, and Post-Processing

ABS lends itself well to post-processing and can achieve visually appealing prints:

  • The extruded plastic can be sanded, machined, and polished to a smooth, glossy finish.
  • Paints and coatings also adhere very well to ABS parts compared to other plastics. 
  • A broad spectrum of ABS colors and effects are available, from basic colors to metallic, pearl, translucent, and neon.
  • Support material can be cleanly removed from the surface of printed ABS parts.


III. A Comparison of ABS and Other Common 3D Printing Materials 

How does ABS stack up against some of the other popular 3D printing filaments? Here are some key comparisons:

1. ABS vs. PLA: Temperature Sensitivity and Structural Strength

ABS has higher maximum working temperature and better mechanical strength than PLA, but requires higher printing temperatures and can produce more fumes.

2. ABS vs. PETG: Chemical Resistance and Ease of Printing  

PETG filament surpasses ABS in chemical resistance, but ABS is easier to print, smoother, and less prone to stringing or oozing.

3. ABS vs. Flexible Filament: Rigidity and Toughness

Flexible filaments like TPU have much higher elasticity than ABS, but ABS has greater rigidity and impact resistance.

What is ABS Filament? A Beginner's Guide to Using ABS for 3D Printing



IV. Step-by-Step Guide to Printing Successfully With ABS Filament

Printing with ABS has a slight learning curve. Here are some tips for getting great results:

1. Recommended Printer Settings and Bed Adhesion Tips

Print with a heated bed around 90-110°C and nozzle at 220-250°C. An enclosure helps maintain steady temperatures. Use painters tape, ABS slurry, glue, or PEI to improve first layer adhesion.

2. How to Prevent Warping and Shrinkage When Printing 

Slow down outer edge printing speed and minimize drafts around the printer to reduce uneven cooling and warping. An enclosure also helps prevent excessive shrinkage and layer separation.

3. Finishing Techniques: Smoothing, Painting, and Sanding ABS Parts

Acetone vapor baths smooth ABS prints nicely. Any filler primer, spray paint or coating will adhere well for painting. Start with coarse grit sandpaper and work up to fine grits for sanding. 

High-quality ABS filament 50M/100M 


V. Great Uses and Applications for ABS 3D Printed Parts

The well-balanced material properties of ABS make it a versatile choice for:

  • Functional prototyping that requires good mechanical properties and accuracy.
  • Durable end-use parts like cases, covers, educational models, and toys.
  • Smooth parts that accept paints/coatings or need fine details replicated.
  • Indoor applications or outdoor uses with low UV exposure.

What is ABS Filament? A Beginner's Guide to Using ABS for 3D Printing


VI. Conclusion

In summary, ABS filament is one of the most versatile and widely-used materials in 3D printing. It strikes a balance between strength, ease of printing, appearance, and affordability that makes it highly suitable for both beginner and advanced users. Smooth, durable, and highly functional ABS parts can be produced with proper printer settings and finishing techniques. As 3D printing continues permeating the mainstream consumer market, ABS will likely remain a staple material across a range of applications.

The key strengths of ABS include:

  • High strength and excellent aesthetics
  • Easy and economical to print
  • Suitable for a wide range of uses
  • Works for rapid prototyping and end-use parts



Here are answers to some common questions about ABS from entry-level users:

Q1: Does ABS come in different grades or formulas?

A1: Yes, ABS blends exist that modify properties like temperature resistance, flexibility, and strength.

Q2: Can I print ABS without a heated bed?

A2: It's challenging but possible with a heated chamber, ABS slurry, and good bed adhesion.

Q3: Is ABS safe to use around food?

A3: No, ABS is not food-safe and can harbor bacteria. Choose a non-porous food-safe filament instead.

Q4: Which is stronger, ABS or PLA?

A4: ABS has higher tensile and impact strength compared to standard PLA plastic.

Q5: What fumes does ABS produce when printing?

A5: Mainly styrene gas, which should be ventilated properly during printing.