The two most common filament types used in FDM printing are PLA and ABS. Both materials are thermoplastics, becoming malleable when exposed to high temperatures. PLA, however, has an enhanced version, called PLA+, which is touted as having superior features compared to regular PLA.
In some circles, PLA+ is defined as PLA with additives, but this only adds to the vagueness when trying to distinguish it from regular PLA. It’s true that the two have many similarities, and you have to be keen if you want to separate a PLA+ print from a PLA print.
In this article, we compare these filaments and try to shed some light on the ambiguity of PLA vs PLA+.
Polylactic acid (PLA) is a thermoplastic polymer made from renewable resources (specifically corn starch or sugar cane). This makes it more environmentally-friendly than other filaments that are created through non-renewable means.
To create PLA, clear, raw, granulated resin is put into a blender-like machine and mixed with additives and pigments. These give it specific mechanical properties and color. The final mixture is dried at 60–80 °C. The granulated material then goes into an extruder, where it is heated, mixed, and extruded into solid filament. The extruded filament is cooled into a round shape and coiled onto a spool.
PLA flows smoothly and rarely causes printing problems like nozzle clogging or warping. It can be used to print more detailed objects and will usually produce sharp corners with ease. Compared to other materials, standard PLA has a relatively low print temperature, making it convenient and versatile for printing.
PLA prints tend to have a glossy surface, and the amount of gloss will typically depend on the vendor, print temperature, and color. The filament is widely available is considered the “standard” material for home and office 3D printing.
Confusingly, many “next gen” filaments are threatening to take the place of standard PLA. One of them is PLA+, hence the PLA vs PLA+ conundrum.
There are no significant differences between PLA and PLA+. Even though the print settings, like printing speed and temperature, are practically the same, PLA+ tends to have slightly better surface quality, color, or mechanical properties.
Depending on the vendor, PLA+ is usually a mixture of other plastics, additives, or pigments that help in improving on the weaknesses of standard PLA, such as moisture absorption and brittleness.
The PLA vs PLA+ mystery is made more complicated by the fact that there is no standard formulation for distinguishing between PLA and PLA+. Manufacturers will typically add their modifiers and additives and remain tight-lipped about their formulas. They then simply market their product as having more benefits over standard PLA.
eSUN’s PLA+ is a perfect example. The manufacturer claims it is extracted and purified from corn grain and it boasts high rigidity, transparency, and glossiness. This filament is twice as tough as standard PLA and has no cracking problem, according to eSUN.
Other examples of PLA+:
Most of these filaments are advertised as being stronger, less brittle, more durable, and better for layer adhesion. In many cases, they are described as being the “missing link” between PLA and ABS.
Here is a list of aspects typically associated with PLA+:
License: The text of "PLA vs PLA+/Plus Filament: The Differences" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.