In the last decade, 3D printing technology has exploded onto the market.
Where before it was thousands of dollars to access, now you can create and print from the comfort of your own home, for the price of the latest iPhone.
Working with PLA or Polylactic Acid, a natural and biodegradable polymer, you can make durable, environmentally friendly designs that are also recyclable.
Though it sounds like a dream creative process, learning the art of 3D printing can be tricky, especially when it comes to knowing which conditions will lead to an optimal result.
Cold? Hot? Fast? Slow?
The most accurate answer will be dictated by what sort of 3D printing setup you have, as well as the specific type of PLA you’re utilizing - most spools will have their optimum settings printed on.
Generally speaking, you want your nozzle to be at 410 degrees Fahrenheit (220 degrees Celsius), the heated bed around 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) and to be printed at approximately 60 millimeters per second.
Now we know those basic estimations, let’s investigate further and check out other top tips for perfect printing, as well as optimal conditions for specific setups.
Keep reading to totally revolutionize and reorganize your 3D print process!
Temperature and Speed - Are they Connected?
Though they are two distinct condition categories, you might be wondering if the temperature and speed of printing are related. And you’d be right!
Imagine you’re some PLA being extruded from the nozzle - it’s important you’re at the right temperature to be pliable enough for shaping, but then you need to cool down quickly to be stable enough for the next layer.
When you’re printing too quickly, then the internal fans won’t be able to reduce the temperature of the initial PLA layers, which means when the next layer begins, the whole project is at risk of collapse.
Too slow, however, and the cooling fans will work a little too efficiently, reducing the PLA temperature before it has been completely extracted. This leads to a clogged nozzle, wasted material, and an interrupted print.
As you can see, establishing the correct speed and temperature for your printer is about trial and error, compromise and balance. You can’t just hit “print” and expect miracles - it’s an art form!
Optimum Printing Speeds - What are the Differences?
When you first dipped your toe into the world of 3D printing, you were probably advised that slow and steady wins the race.
Essentially, if you rush a print, the quality of it will be directly affected. Working too fast for the sake of convenience is a surefire way to end up with goods you just can’t use thanks to clear visible imperfections.
When we talk about speed, what we’re referring to here is just how quickly the printer’s motors are moving - both the extruder motor and those controlling your printer’s X and Y axis.
One method for determining your ideal setting is to use a print speed test model - kind souls on the internet design these to help you figure out what speed is right for you.
By following the instructions to correctly set up the print above, you should see that these kinds of projects are designed to print the same thing repeatedly.
Slowly increasing print speed as they go, such a design allows you to observe and then visually identify which is the best for your machine.
You could also use a Print Speed Calculator like this, which may not be as accurate, but can certainly offer you a decent configuration suggestion to start from.
Ideal Printing Temperature - Why Does It Change?
First things first, it’s important to notice that your printer’s surroundings, or the Ambient Temperature, can also impact the ideal settings. Humidity, building temperature, and airflow are all affecting factors - don’t forget to include them in your planning!
Unlike speed, achieving the optimum temperature won’t determine whether your print succeeds or not, but failing to do so can create a number of common issues.
From ghosting and blobbing to warping and stringing, too hot or too cold and there’s bound to be some imperfections in the final product.
One piece of advice is to start printing at approximately 356 degrees Fahrenheit/180 degrees Celcius and pay attention to how well the print is going. Are the layers adhering properly? Is everything being shaped as it should?
If you spot a problem, you should gently adjust the temperature in increments of a couple of degrees at a time, either up or down, and note the changes. As we said above, it’s very much a trial and error process!
If you can see that “stringing” has occurred, as the print head moves across the bed to other areas of the project, it’s likely the temperature is too high and the PLA has become too pliable, leaking out of the nozzle unnecessarily.
However, where the problem seems to be that PLA is having difficulty sticking to previous layers or the surface of your project, or there are spots/gaps of missing material, then the temperature is likely too low.
One key factor is the quality of your PLA - better (and therefore, more expensive) products will successfully print at a lower temperature, as the resin used is a lot purer and free of contamination, so do bear that in mind.
If you’re finding that you just can’t get your printer to hit the temperature you need, don’t despair. It’s possible to buy additional heat cartridges or other 3D printing accessories to increase its abilities. All is not lost!
Picking the Best PLA - What Should You Look For
Those experienced in 3D printing already will know that there are several kinds of PLA around, from a variety of brands and manufacturers.
That’s why it’s so hard to offer an ideal temperature and speed - it totally depends!
Methods of producing PLA spools are different, altering the way in which they are affected by hot or cold temperatures and thus the way they print best.
As the molecular construction of PLA can be changed by the manufacturing process used, it’s possible they will require higher temperatures to extrude correctly.
For instance, PLA in darker colors often calls for a hotter temperature to be accurately excluded: this is a result of color additives used alongside the filament to achieve such a rich tone.
Before opting for a particular PLA brand, have a look at customer reviews and see what fellow printers are saying. This is an excellent way to find out if it is actually as high quality as the product description professes!
Creating the Right 3D Printing Environment
We’ve already mentioned that the room where your printing takes place is possibly going to affect the quality of your print, particularly if there’s a considerable breeze, it’s too hot or too cold.
Warping, cracking and poor adhesion can all be put down to the ambient temperature of your room - especially if you can’t seem to find the other root cause of these issues!
You’ll notice that the majority of 3d Printing setups come with enclosures or recommend you pick one up to protect it, and this is for the sake of regulating temperature and other conditions in the environment.
Not only will it ensure optimum temperature and humidity levels, as well as ensuring that any breezes won’t have an impact, it also keeps your printer safe from dirt, dust and debris, as well as hugely reducing the dramatically loud noise!
Likewise, it’s not entirely necessary to have a heated bed for 3D printing with PLA - it’s easy to do without one, in fact, as the material is naturally quite low-warp.
That being said, it can help you improve the quality of adhesion for those all-important first few layers if you’re struggling.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does PLA take to decompose?
Approximately 80 years in natural circumstances! Although the filament is marketed as biodegradable, it actually takes a really long time to totally decompose, which also means it cannot be put in your compost or organic waste.
As a result, it can often end up in landfills; PLA is recyclable, but there are no existing collections of PLA waste solely, which means it is often mixed up with PET and other polymers, contaminating the entire recycling process.
Therefore, in order to correctly recycle your PLA, you need to send it to a commercial processing plant. There they can control their environments to create the extreme circumstances required to reduce decomposition time drastically.
Can you hot glue gun PLA?
Yes, provided you avoid its melting temperature! Remember that once you hit 140 degrees Fahrenheit, your PLA is going to begin softening up, so the hot adhesive used must be used carefully in order to avoid any warping or melting.
That said, any adhesives used on top of PLA will be clearly visible, so if you’re looking for a seamless, flaw-free design, then hot glue is probably not the right sticking material for you!
How can you tell if PLA is bad?
Wondering how you know if your PLA is too old to work properly? There are some key signs you can keep an eye out for:
- Easy snapping - if left exposed to the air for too long, your spool of PLA will break apart like uncooked spaghetti
- Moisture absorption - again, exposure to air results in the absorption of moisture and once this PLA comes through your extruder, you might notice small to large bubbles of steam, sputtering, oozing and a poor final product (in worst case scenarios, the extruder will jam up altogether and then suddenly clear itself)
- Distortion or binding - if you notice the PLA is clinging to its spool for dear life, or appears to have changed in appearance over time, then it’s likely you’re not going to get very far with printing
Who makes the best PLA filament?
According to our research, the best PLA brands include Hatchbox, Prusament, Proto Pasta, Amolen, MatterHackers, Polymaker PolyMax, Fillamentum and Colorfabb, though there are of course hundreds of options out there to choose from.
As we’ve already spoken about, everyone’s experiences will change depending on the printer, temperature and speed settings they use, as well as the environment in which the printing is taking place.
What one printer finds to be an excellent PLA choice that works fantastically for them could prove a total failure for you. It’s all about trial, error and remembering that practice makes perfect. Keep at it and you’ll find your optimum printing setup.
Will PLA melt in a car?
On a warm day, yes! Being very pliable once warmed up, if you leave a spool of PLA out on your dashboard, the passenger seat, or even in the trunk, expect to return to a very sad and droopy spool! And no, leaving the window open a crack won’t help!
Temperatures can easily reach 122 degrees Fahrenheit/50 degrees Celcius in a car on a hot day. Even just being exposed to the sun through a window in your home could have damaging effects! Only store your PLA in a cool, dry place.
Ideally, you want to keep it in a sealed, airtight container until you’re ready to use it, as this will prevent the absorption of water or any drying. This way you can guarantee it will always be in printing condition, 24/7. Just grab it and go!