An all-in-one guide to PLA filament used in 3D printing

Know about the varied aspects related to the use of PLA filament in 3D printing. Get to know its properties, benefits, limitations, and more.

PLA Filament Complete Guide
3D printing filament, by westonhighschool librarySource is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via flickr

Why is Polylactic Acid Filament considered a suitable material for 3D printing?

Polylactic Acid, popularly known as PLA filament, is the top choice for the businesses involved in 3D printing. The thermoplastic polymer is a ubiquitous choice for making prototypes, toys, household items, etc. But there is much more capacity hidden in the calibre of PLA filament. This versatile material has earned its place due to its feature of adaptability. A guide to the nook and cranny of PLA filament will better explain its popularity. Many of you may have questions about how it facilitates 3D printing so successfully. After all, it is the first choice for many merchants who look for efficient 3D print material.

How is PLA filament constructed?

PLA is made from organic sources by naturally fermented plant starch from maize, corn, cassava, sugar beet pulp, or sugarcane.

When it takes the filament form, the mechanical process becomes different. It starts with granulated, raw resin that has no color. The resin is then moved into a blender-type machine, mixing it with additives or pigment to produce mechanical properties and color. After this stage, the material dries at a temperature of 60-80°C. This process is essential as it prevents the filament clog or popping from the 3D printer’s nozzle. The dried material is then sent into a screw extruder, where it is heated and mixed. In the final stage, it is extruded in the solid form and then taken to a warm water tank to let it cool down and take a round shape. At this stage, the filament is ready but to strengthen it; the filament goes into a water tank, after which it is curled onto a spool.

Properties of Polylactic acid PLA

Renowned as the biodegradable aliphatic polyester, PLA filament is used ubiquitously for its properties. These properties have been discovered after extensive research. Varied industries exploit the properties to create various futuristic products because they are friendly to the planet. The properties of PLA as a filament make it an excellent choice for constructing countless products.

Melt temperature190-230°C
Glass transition temperature60-65°C
Tensile strength60N/mm2
Flexural Strength80MPa
Shrink rate0.37-0.41%0.0037-0.0041 in/in

Types of PLA filament

Due to the organic source of PLA filament, it is pretty rich in features and can blend with different things creating varied types of filaments.

The metal filament is the form in which PLA is mixed with metals, for example – bronze, iron, copper, brass, and steel. It is done to make the printed parts of a product glossy and more robust.

The wood filament is the type of PLA that blends with varied kinds of wood such as coconut wood, pine, cedar, cork, bamboo, walnut, or pine. This form gives a natural appearance to printed furniture.

Other filaments are also available depending on the material which PLA is blended with. The other substances and materials can be conductive carbon, carbon fiber, coffee, or beer. These types of filaments add fragrance to the final product.

Uses of PLA filament?

PLA filament is a practical solution for multiple purposes, and you may be amazed by its versatility because the material is multipurpose and eco-friendly. The serious concerns on environment-friendly practices bring polylactic acid forward as a significant and futuristic material for constructing various things. Let us know how many 3D printing products it can produce through its rich qualities.

Food containers or plasticware – Have you ever used biodegradable plastic cups or fork sets during a road trip or weekend getaway? If yes, it is possible that it was made from the PLA filament. Restaurants, hotels, and airlines also use it for packing food; it is why the hospitality industry uses the material worldwide.

Medical equipment – The value of life is always more than anything else in our world, and PLA filament is just like a savior used to make so many medical products. This health-conscious sector seems quite impressed and uses polylactic acid in many ways. Oral airways, ventilator hacks, injections, heart valves, face shield rims, hand gloves, and masks are some famous examples from PLA. The most miraculous thing about this filament is that it can be implanted inside the body because it dissolves slowly with time once a wound or disease heals.

 Prototypes of all types – PLA filament is a perfect choice for various prototype products. It helps businesses test the performance of a product, which gives an insight into the customer experience. Prototypes created quickly by using PLA help the business owners get accurate end-user feedback. It helps take a product to the final engineering after the scrutiny of the user experience.

Strengths and limitations of PLA filament that the 3D printing sector can’t ignore

Every creation of nature have some strengths and weaknesses. Polylactic acid is majorly used for 3D printing to create numerous things. Naturally, businesses will notice its advantages and disadvantages. Business owners keep both in mind to know how far they can use this material to make their products.

PLA is biodegradable, as it releases fewer greenhouse gases and is non-toxic. It is compostable and takes only a few months or years. Other materials may take thousands of years.The low melting point makes it unsuitable for high-temperature products. Also, the produced products are prone to weather conditions if the temperature in the summer season goes high. The product may get deformed.          
The low printing temperature is another unique feature of PLA, which starts from 180°C. While, for ABS, the temperature requirement is 250°C.High permeability is a significant disadvantage that one cannot ignore. It allows oxygen and moisture to pass through it quickly. It is not recommended for long-term food storage.
Endless color and blending options make it a favorite for many businesses. It can be mixed with carbon, wood, and even metal. The produced pigments create glittery or luminescent filaments.PLA is expensive as compared to other petrochemical plastics. This limitation takes it out of reach for small businesses and start-ups. Also, it leaves the merchants with less eco-friendly options.
Convenient post-processing is possible with PLA, as it can be polished, sanded, and painted for a smoother, shiny surface. You can easily glue, mill, and drill the PLA parts.  Slow in biodegradability for industrial composters. It does not improve soil quality, makes it more acidic, and alters the pH level of the soil.
Strengths and Limitations of PLA filament

Tips for 3D printing with PLA?

As polylactic acid is a widely accepted printing material, businesses keep looking for its safe and successful use and take the most out of it. Commercial use of any raw material always needs some dos and don’ts. Here is the list a merchant may want to consider if he has anything to do with PLA 3D printing.

Speed is essential, and printing at a low rate is advisable. However, it may go up to 90mm/sec, but the best advice is to keep the pace slow.

Storage should always happen in airtight containers because PLA is hygroscopic and easily attracts moisture and oxygen bubbles.

The temperature of the printer’s extruder entirely relies on the diameter of the filament. The two diameter measures are 1.75 mm and 2.85 mm, and the temperature should be 180°C to 230°C.

The cooling process should be proper, and a part cooling fan should always be there during the complete printing process. However, the fan should remain off during the initial procedure. It is because cooling can affect the layer adhesion during the first few layers.


PLA filament has so much more to explore as one of the best choices for 3D printing. More scientific research is going on, and hopefully, innovative ways to use the filament should appear. It is not an exaggeration to mention that PLA filament is a futuristic option. The options are available, but we should explore PLA more because of its eco-friendly nature. There are many more things we can create with PLA in the future. By that time, we should look to enhance the existing ways of PLA filament production, which is positive and possible. Isn’t it? 

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