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Fabricate, Processes & Materials

PLA 3D Printing Material

PLA is a great 3D printing material for early stage prototyping on simple geometry parts, made out of biodegradable corn starch. Because this material is relatively cheap, you can cost effectively 3D print multiple iterations of an early stage part design.

Fabrication Technology

PLA is one of two common materials fabricated using Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printing technology--the other material is ABS.

The main difference between ABS and PLA is that PLA uses a rigid support system, while ABS uses a soluble support system. So while PLA is a cheaper material, it requires significantly more post-process cleaning to remove rigid support material by hand.

PLA Design Guidelines

Because PLA support material is removed by hand, it can often lead to fractures if the part walls are too thin. You can learn more about specific design guidelines for prototyping with PLA in this blog post

Material Finish

PLA has a glossy finish with solid hard edges, and comes in a variety of colors including transparent, fluorescent and even metallic.

We don't recommend using PLA for prototypes that need very accurate geometries or aesthetic appeal due to the low material resolution (see below) and visible step lines.

PLA step lines
Visible stepping between layers on a PLA print from a 5th generation Replicator machine

Check out this article to learn more about how you can finish PLA using sanding and paint to improve its appearance.

Material Properties

PLA is a very strong and brittle material. Using FDM technology, the infill of a given part is easy to set, which allows for increased strength and rigidity.

The melting temperature on PLA is around 130 degrees Fahrenheit, so its use in hot environments, or for mechanical functionality, is limited.

For more information on PLA material properties, including tensile strength and elongation at break, download our Material Properties Spec Sheet.

Material Resolution

PLA prints with a resolution of 0.3mm - 0.1mm (0.012" - 0.004").

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