Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS, is a very popular synthetic polymer used in 3D printing. It is praised for its high performing physical properties combined with a relatively easy printability. Here you can find all the ABS suppliers listed in the directory, optimal print settings based on manafacturer and user data as well as everything you need to know about ABS, including how it is made, how to print with ABS and how it can be post-processed.
ABS was discovered during the last years of World War II in an effort to produce bulletproof plastic sheets. The basis of ABS, styrene-butadiene (SB)17 was already being used as an alternative to rubber although it had limited fatigue resistance. Styrene-acrylonitrile (SAN) 15 polymers had also been in use since the 1940s and were much tougher than styrene however they had low impact strength and low thermal capability. The limitations of SB and SAN led to the production of ABS in 1948 4. ABS was first introduced to commercial markets by the Borg-Warner Corporation in 1954 3.
ABS is a graft branched polymer 8 meaning it consists of a long linear backbone (styrene-acrylonitrile) with branches of polybutadiene growing from it. Acrylonitrile, butadiene and styrene are all synthetic monomers made independently of each other.
ABS was originally made in the 1950s using an emulsion process of long polybutadiene chains mixed with short polystyrene-co-acrylonitrile chains. The emulsion process is more variable than other methods and is still used to make high impact ABS.
Nowadays a Continuous Mass 22 process is used. It is preferred to the emulsion process as it produces far fewer emissions and is much simpler. Polybutadiene is dissolved in liquid acrylonitrile and styrene monomers which are polymerized by free-radical initiators such as peroxide. The continuous mass process is single-step and allows the raw materials to be continuously fed into a production loop. This process requires less energy and produces less waste. In particular, the continuous mass process does not require the use of water. Wastewater produced from the emulsion process is very toxic and requires the removal of acrylonitrile dimers and mononuclear aromatics to treat 20.
Butadiene gives ABS its impact strength, acrylonitrile gives heat resistance and styrene gives rigidity. The proportions of the 3 different monomers in ABS can be varied by the manufacturer to give the final filament different properties that can be used for many different applications. The strong chemical bonds between the polystyrene-co-acrylonitrile polymers and the rubber toughening properties of polybutadiene are what gives ABS its characteristic strength and stability.
|Chemical Formula||(C8H8 · C4H6 · C3H3N)n|
|CAS Number||9003-56-9 5|
|SPI Resin Identification Code 11||ABS or 9|
|Melting Temperature||No strict melting point as it is amorphous. Commonly given as 230°C|
|Other Solvents||Esters, ketones, acetone and ethylene dichloride. A more complete list can be found here 16|
|Example Technical Data Sheet||Innofil3D 10|
|Example Safety Data Sheet||Innofil3D 9|
*ASTM D638 Test Method Further technical data for ABS can be found here 14.
ABS is a high performing plastic that is has a relatively low printing temperature making it easier and cheaper to print with than other comparable plastics. It is relatively cheap and can easily undergo post-processing. ABS tends to print with less 'stringing' than filaments like PLA, giving a smoother finish.
As you can see in the above table, ABS is a very high performing plastic considering its low cost and printing temperature. ABS is tough and resistant to impact and chemical corrosion. Importantly, ABS is far more heat resistant than filaments like PLA so is often preferred for products that will be exposed to moderate heat. ABS has an attractive high gloss finish due to its styrene component however you should take into consideration that this can be scratched. It is the overall toughness and resistance of ABS that makes it such a popular filament to print with.
ABS can be easily recycled however not every recycling company has the equipment to properly sort ABS yet so check with your local authority. If your local recycling company has single-stream recycling then you can put your waste ABS in with everything else. If your local recycling company takes ABS but requires sorting you would usually dispose of it in the "other" bin. As it is a thermoplastic ABS is easily recycled through reheating. If it is melted repeatedly then ABS may start to become brittle as the butadiene starts to cross-link and degrade. To prevent this, recycled ABS is often combined in small quantities with virgin ABS to produce chips that will become everything from Lego bricks to more filament! You can read more about ABS recycling by following these links 1 2.
Printing with ABS produces hot plastic fumes that may be dangerous if inhaled. Printing at low temperatures with ABS can produce ultrafine particles that can be hazardous if inhaled. Always consult the Safety Data Sheet 21 before printing. ABS is also subject to heavy warping whilst printing. Check out our "Printing with ABS" section below for more about this!
Under high temperature ABS is flammable and produces large amounts of smoke containing aldehydes and carbon oxides. ABS can start to degrade above 280°C and release its constituents which are hazardous. At 400°C ABS will start to release carcinogenic fumes. Burning ABS can be extinguished using foam, carbon dioxide or dry chemical media however a full water spray should be avoided. Consult the ABS Safety Data Sheet 21 for more information.
ABS does not weather well and if exposed to Ultraviolet (UV) rays for a long period of time it will undergo microcracking. Formation of microcracks leads to deterioration in physical appearance as well as deterioration in mechanical and chemical properties. Microcracking also occurs when ABS is exposed to certain solvents like ketones and esters
Whilst ABS production has significantly improved in terms of its waste and pollutant production, ABS is still an oil based product so is considered a non-renewable material.
Whilst ABS is stable under normal environmental conditions it is generally considered not to be food safe due to the toxicity of its constituent monomers.
ABS is hygroscopic, meaning that it will absorb water from the air. This results in increased brittleness, filament breaking, bubbling when printing or filament degradation. In some cases, this can lead to filament jamming in your printer’s hot end, it may even require replacing the hot end if the jam is severe. This can be avoided by storing your filaments in vacuum bags with silicagel “dry packs”. You should also avoid storing filament for a long period of time. To read more about protecting your 3D printing filaments from humidity you can read our blog post.
As mentioned above, ABS releases hot plastic fumes during printing. These fumes smell very bad and can be hazardous when inhaled, PLA is a good alternative filament to ABS if you need to avoid fumes when printing. Printing with any plastic can be a source of ultrafine particles 18 which should not be inhaled. Ultrafine Particles are considered a hazard regardless of source however in this case the hazard is further exacerbated by the carcinogenic and toxic nature of the components of ABS. Ensure that you are printing in a very well-ventilated area.
Using a good base layer material is imperative to ensure that the first print layer adheres properly and does not unstick during printing. To find out more about the importance of adhesion and the base layer you can read our blog post.
The first print layer is essential to get right to prevent unsticking during printing. This is particularly important for 3D printing with ABS as it is subject to heavy warping as it cools. If the first layer cools to quickly it will warp and come unstuck from the print bed during printing. Z-axis adhesion can sometimes be difficult when printing with ABS, particularly adhering to the base layer. You can improve this by:
To help select the correct settings for your ABS print you can consult our Go-To print settings tool which has been created by analysing all the successful print settings that the Filaments.directory community have uploaded.
ABS filament printing temperature can range anywhere between 198 - 236°C however most ABS filaments will print at the higher end of this spectrum. Print temperature will be affected by any superpowers the filament may have, such as glow-in-the-dark. Always check the Technical Data Sheet of your filament for the recommended print temperature. You can also consult out Go-To print settings tool which has been created by analysing all the successful print settings that the Filaments.directory community have uploaded. The optimal printing temperature will also be affected by your printing environment so it is a good idea to do some test prints and vary the temperature by 5°C increments until it runs smoothly. ABS has relatively low glass transition and printing temperatures so tends to adhere quite well.
ABS 3D printing is commonly done at speeds of 30mm/second to 90mm/second however this may vary depending on the filament and the printer. Higher quality prints will generally benefit from speeds at the lower end of this spectrum. Much like printing temperature you may find that it is best to start with a speed and increase or decrease it incrementally until you find an optimum. Faster printing will also tend to require a higher printing temperature as it requires a lower viscosity which can be achieved at higher printing temperatures.
The most common problem when printing with ABS is the heavy warping it experiences during printing if it cools too quickly. In addition to the solutions given in the "First Layer and Warping" section you can use our Go-To print settings tool to see what settings have worked for other users when printing with ABS. Problems with Z-axis adhesion can be mitigated by using a closed chamber to maintain a consistent high temperature when printing. As it is also important to use a very well-ventilated area when 3D printing with ABS filament, you may want to consider using a closed chamber printer to avoid rapid cooling.
If you have a dual nozzle printer you can print your supporting structures in a low density, water or chemical soluble 3D printing filament which can simply be soaked in the relevant solvent to remove. HIPS is a printing material that is commonly used as a support structure for dual nozzle ABS 3D printing. If you have printed using only ABS your structural supports should be thin enough to simply remove with some needle nose pliers. Alternatively, you can wet-sand the product with some high-grit sandpaper.
You may find that your print has little burrs or lips that need to be removed as they can often feel quite sharp and prevent pieces from fitting together properly. A Dremel 7 is commonly used to grind down 3D printing products, alternatively you can file down any excess by hand.
One of the most useful properties of ABS when post-processing, cold welding allows joining together of multiple parts when a product is too big to 3D print as one. By lightly brushing the two ABS surfaces that will be joined together with acetone and firmly holding or clamping them together until the acetone has evaporated, the two parts will be chemically bonded to one another. This is an easy way to create strong joins between separate parts. Be careful not to use too much acetone though as it can aggressively dissolve the ABS.
ABS can be easily polished by hand to give an excellent surface finish. Simply sand the print up to 2000-grit, wipe away any dust and clean the print in warm water. Once dry, use a plastic polishing compound like Blue Rouge and a microfibre cloth to buff your print, much like polishing a shoe. This is a great way to polish your print as it does not require the use of any solvents.
Epoxy can be used to fill gaps in the print and give the product a clear, smooth outer shell. It is worth noting that the 3D printing layer lines will still be visible under the epoxy coat.
Your ABS 3D print can be primed with any aerosol primer (use in a well-ventilated area and wear a mask if appropriate). 2 light priming layers are recommended from approximately 20cm away to prevent pooling of paint. After priming you can paint and seal your print. An interesting alternative to painting your 3D printed ABS product is copper electroforming 23, the process of coating your print in metal using an electrolytic bath. You can watch a guide on how to copper electroform your 3D print 19. Once electroformed you could even use your copper covered print as a base for electroplating with gold or silver! If you are interested in what you can do with electroforming and 3D printing, have a look at the Home Electroforming 24 twitter hashtag.
ABS is one of the most widely used plastics due to its strength, lightness and the ease with which it can be injection moulded. It can be found in a huge range of everyday items such as your computer keyboard, automotive components and the protective casing for power tools. ABS is also often used to make protective housings for chips and cables due to its good electrical insulation properties.
ABS is widely used in many areas of industry and everyday life and this shows no signs of changing. Plenty of research is being conducted into improving the usage of ABS for 3D printing. ABS has been mixed with PLA 13 to increase the stiffness and toughness of PLA. ABS has also been successfully blended with thermoplastic starches 12 to create a 1.75mm filament that can be used in 3D printing with better mechanical and thermal properties than standard ABS.
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