ABS, short for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, was among the earliest of materials used in FDM 3D printing. It’s one of the most common plastics today, used in processes like injection molding to create anything from airplane seats to LEGO bricks.
Also referred to as “copolyesters”, the various blends of PETG are described as striking the perfect balance between ABS’s strength and PLA’s ease of use.
So, how does good-old ABS stack up against this new range of materials? Let’s find out.
ABS is infamous for being tricky to print with. That’s why PLA was able to overtake it, and it’s what makes PETG such a good contender. Here’s how they compare.
Warping, Adhesion and Cracking
One of the biggest problems with ABS is that it doesn’t like to stick—both to itself and to print surfaces. Heated beds—running at upwards of 100°C—are a must. So are heated build chambers, which can make or break prints. Poorly heated prints will warp dramatically, deforming and peeling off the build plate, and even cracking between layers.
PETG is far more forgiving in these respects. Warping is dramatically reduced and the filament only requires bed temperatures of around 50 to 80 °C. In fact, bed adhesion is often too good, sometimes tearing chunks out of the build surface. This is easily remedied by coating the build plate with a release agent like gluestick or hairspray, guaranteeing successful prints. Parts only crack when fan speeds are too high, which is easily compensated for. No heated build chamber is required.
When you sum it all up, it is far easier to succeed with PETG because it avoids a lot of temperature-related print defects.
As alluded to earlier, ABS has much more demanding temperature requirements than PETG. Aside from being related to print failures, these temperature requirements may also be demanding on your 3D printer.
Not all printers can manage the extreme bed temperatures demanded by ABS, reaching well over 100°C. Even fewer printers have heated build chambers.
ABS also prints at much higher nozzle temperatures, which PEEK-based and PTFE-lined hotends cannot handle. An all-metal hotend, like the E3D V6, is required for printing ABS. There is no such requirement for PETG.
Odor and Particle Emission
PETG is much more pleasant from a health perspective. It has minimal odor while printing, with low VOC and particle emission.
ABS, however, can have anywhere from slight to strong printing odors with heavy particle emission, a serious health issue. You definitely shouldn’t be in the same room as a printer chugging out ABS parts.
ABS shines in its flexibility in post-processing. Both PETG and ABS can be worked with typical metalworking tools like deburring tools and taps, but ABS offers some additional advantages.
Namely, you can easily paint and glue ABS, which is nearly impossible with PETG. This is especially important for large parts that you intend to rework cosmetically, as PETG will quickly become a pain to work with. For post-processing, ABS definitely has the upper hand.
Hygroscopicity and Storage
ABS is much easier to store. PETG is noticeably more hygroscopic, easily absorbing moisture from the air. This moisture deteriorates the material itself and can ruin an otherwise fine spool of filament.
As such, ABS is much more tolerant of being left out on a shelf.
Traditionally, ABS has been the go-to material for high-strength applications, but PETG challenges that. Here’s how they stack up in terms of strength and durability.
As it turns out, many users have found that ABS is actually much weaker than PETG. This is especially true when loads go in the same direction as the layer lines, as ABS tends to have poorer layer adhesion.
With the appearance of newer materials, ABS’s strength in 3D printing applications has really grown into a mere myth. There is no reason to choose it over PETG. If you don’t take our word for it, take a look at the results of Thomas Sanladerer’s vigorous Filaween filament tests.
In the long run, PETG will fare much better under the sun. It is affected minimally by UV radiation, especially compared to ABS, which can weaken significantly.
If you need a material for outdoor use, PETG will last you much longer.
ABS gets a slight edge in temperature resistance. While most PETGs can withstand temperatures of up to around 80°C, ABS can go until 100°C. The margin is small enough that PETG will last in most electronics applications, but only ABS will survive boiling water. This is especially useful if you need to sterilize your print.
When it comes to temperature resistance, ABS definitely has a slight upper hand.
While ABS used to be more common, it has been increasingly replaced by PETG. The materials also offer slightly different options in terms of color and blends. Here are some differences that you might encounter:
PETG is unique in that it is available in transparent colors, which are useful for builds like lampshades and vases. This is something that is not offered with ABS.
With PETG, you can also find many blends from manufacturers. These have different names, like CPE from Ultimaker and nGen from Colorfabb, but all use the basic PETG base material.
However, the price of PETG can range anywhere from daily-use to premium, especially when they are blended for more strength or print quality.
ABS’s advantage comes with price. Per kilogram, it is usually cheaper than PETG. ABS is also lighter, so each spool will actually last you longer.
Aside from that, however, ABS does not have much to offer in terms of variety.
For most people, there really isn’t a reason to choose ABS over PETG. PETG is stronger, more durable and it prints better. It’s also available in transparent colors.
ABS is only necessary if you absolutely need the 100°C temperature resistance or its ability to be glued and painted. Otherwise, it’s difficult to justify the printing difficulties involved.
Hopefully, this guide helped you differentiate between the two filaments. For help using these materials, refer to our guides on succeeding with PETG and ABS. For more materials, check out our extensive filament guide.
License: The text of "PETG vs ABS – 3D Printing Filaments Compared" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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