Pla material properties for 3d printing

PLA vs ABS vs Nylon

Learn Blog

PLA, ABS, and nylon are three of the most popular 3D printing materials. All can be extruded on basic desktop 3D printers and, at around $20 per spool, they are among the most affordable filaments available today. Most people focus on the PLA vs ABS debate, but Nylon is a valuable third entrant with different material properties.

PLA and ABS are both thermoplastics. PLA is stronger and stiffer than ABS, but poor heat-resistance properties means PLA is mostly a hobbyist material. ABS is weaker and less rigid, but also tougher and lighter, making it a better plastic for prototyping applications.

Enter nylon, a flexible plastic that injects a new set of filament properties into the mix, featuring greater chemical resistance and toughness compared to PLA and ABS, but also reduced strength.

This post compares PLA vs ABS and now nylon, and then details how one of these thermoplastics has been augmented to serve a wider range of manufacturing applications. Plus, a bonus exploration of Onyx filament.

U.S. Army Case Study

Read our newest customer success story about a major training base for the U.S. Army.


PLA is a user-friendly thermoplastic with a higher strength and stiffness than both ABS and nylon. With a low melting temperature and minimal warping, PLA is one of the easiest materials to 3D print successfully. Unfortunately, its low melting point also causes it to lose virtually all stiffness and strength at temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius. In addition, PLA is brittle, leading to parts with poor durability and impact resistance.

Although PLA is the strongest of these three plastics, its poor chemical and heat resistance force it into almost exclusively hobbyist applications.


ABS, while weaker and less rigid than PLA, is a tougher, lighter filament more suitable for some applications beyond purely hobbyist. ABS is a bit more durable, is about 25% lighter, and has four times higher impact resistance. ABS does require more effort to print than PLA because it’s more heat resistant and prone to warping. This calls for a heated bed and an extruder that is 40-50 degrees Celsius hotter. ABS, while by no means a heat resistant plastic, has superior heat deflection temperature compared to PLA and nylon.

The improved durability over PLA lends ABS to some more practical applications, such as prototyping and low-stress end-use parts.

Check out our Composites Design Guide


Nylon is a flexible, durable plastic with less strength and stiffness than both PLA and ABS. Its malleability lends it much more toughness than the other two, however, with an impact resistance ten times that of ABS. Nylon also boasts a good chemical resistance, which opens the possibility to more industrial applications. As with ABS, nylon requires extra care to print; it needs to be extruded at high temperatures and, due to its tendency to soak up moisture from the air, must be kept in a dry box.

Nylon is tougher and more resistant to chemicals than ABS and PLA, but its low strength and stiffness keep it from being widely used in the manufacturing industry. As a result, advancements in 3D printing materials has introduced nylon-fiber mixtures, opening the door to accessible industrial 3D printing.

Filled Nylon and Onyx

Filled nylon is a mixture of nylon with small particles of a stronger material such as fiberglass or carbon fiber. These mixtures preserve the favorable properties of nylon while adding considerable strength and stiffness. Markforged’s Onyx filament is an example of one of these mixtures, combining nylon with chopped carbon fiber in order to improve key properties of the material. Onyx is 1.4 times stronger and stiffer than ABS and can be reinforced with any continuous fiber. The development of 3D printed continuous fibers has enabled a new category of stronger 3D printed parts.

With high strength and stiffness, excellent durability, and good chemical resistance, filled nylons such as Onyx are some of the few 3D printed thermoplastics tough enough for the factory floor. Nylon mixtures are suitable for fixtures, jigs, functional prototypes, and even end use parts.

PLA vs ABS vs Nylon: Making a Decision

PLA, ABS, and nylon are great beginner thermoplastics due to their low price point and general ease of printing. If you are looking to begin 3D printing for industrial use cases, however, filled nylons offer the superior material properties needed to withstand manufacturing environments.

To learn more about Markforged's continuous fibers, check out our blog post where we compare fiberglass with carbon fiber!

Read our 3D Printer Buyer's Guide

All of the blogs and the information contained within those blogs are copyright by Markforged, Inc. and may not be copied, modified, or adopted in any way without our written permission. Our blogs may contain our service marks or trademarks, as well as of those our affiliates. Your use of our blogs does not constitute any right or license for you to use our service marks or trademarks without our prior permission. Markforged Information provided in our blogs should not be considered professional advice. We are under no obligation to update or revise blogs based on new information, subsequent events, or otherwise.

Never miss an article

Subscribe to get new Markforged content in your inbox

required required required



3D printing with PLA vs. ABS: What's the difference?

PLA and ABS are two essential materials for 3D printing with FDM. They are also two of the most popular materials on our platform. This comparison will help you choose which material to use for your 3D-printed custom parts.

PLA and ABS are the two most common materials for prototyping (desktop) FDM 3D printing (aside from, perhaps, PETG). As thermoplastics, both filaments enter a soft and moldable state when heated, returning to a solid-state when cooled. FDM printers melt and extrude PLA and ABS filament through a nozzle to build up parts layer by layer.

While both materials are used for FDM, they have key differences that make each more optimal for different applications. In this article, we’ll cover the main differences between these commonly used materials.

We also have this handy Youtube explainer video that covers the differences between PLA and ABS filaments.

Want to compare pricing for PLA and ABS?

Upload your CAD file to the quote builder

What are PLA and ABS filaments?

PLA (Polylactic Acid) is a thermoplastic derived from renewable sources such as cornstarch or sugarcane. Biodegradable under the right conditions, PLA is one of the most popular bioplastics and is perfect for a variety of applications ranging from plastic cups to medical implants. It’s easy to print with and has a higher stiffness than ABS and materials like nylon. While PLA is stronger than ABS and nylon, it’s not very heat or chemical resistant. 

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is another common thermoplastic, also popular in the injection molding industry. ABS has superior mechanical properties to PLA, as well as being more durable and lighter, though it’s harder to print with. This material is better able to deflect heat than PLA and nylon, but it’s absolutely not completely heat resistant. Prevalent applications of ABS include LEGO bricks, electronic housings and automotive bumper parts.

What’s the difference between PLA and ABS? 

PLA and ABS differ in several ways, including their unique tensile strength, density and ideal applications. The table below compares the key material properties of PLA and ABS filaments.

Properties* ABS PLA
Tensile Strength** 27 MPa 37 MPa
Elongation 3.5 - 50% 6%
Flexural Modulus 2.1 - 7.6 GPa 4 GPa
Density 1.0 - 1.4 g/cm3 1.3 g/cm3
Melting Point 200 ℃ 173 ℃
Biodegradable No Yes, under the correct conditions
Glass Transition Temperature 105 ℃ 60 ℃
Spool Price*** (1kg, 1. 75mm, black) $USD 21.99 $USD 22.99
Common Products LEGO, electronic housings Cups, plastic bags, cutlery

What is the part accuracy of PLA and ABS?

In general, the tolerances and accuracy of FDM printed components depend on printer calibration and model complexity. However, you can use PLA and ABS to create dimensionally accurate parts with printing details of 0.8 mm and minimum features of 1.2 mm. For connecting or interlocking parts, we recommend a tolerance of 0.5 mm and a minimum wall thickness of 1-2 mm. This will ensure that your part has adequate strength across all wall elements. 

Thanks to its lower printing temperature, PLA is easier to print with and less likely to warp (when properly cooled). You can use PLA to print sharper corners and finer features than with ABS.

Want to improve your 3D printing design skills?

Download our free 3D printing design rules poster

How strong are PLA and ABS parts?

PLA and ABS have similar tensile strengths, making them solid options for many prototyping applications. Designers and engineers often prefer ABS due to its improved ductility over PLA. ABS has higher flexural strength and better elongation before breaking than PLA, which means that ABS can also be used for end-use applications. PLA, on the other hand, is more popular for rapid prototyping when the form is more critical than the function.

Overall, PLA is a good option for your custom parts if you don’t plan on putting them under a lot of physical stress (or UV radiation and high temperatures). ABS is more fitting for industrial applications and can weather physical strain better than PLA.

How fast can you print with PLA and ABS?

Both PLA and ABS print at nearly identical speeds. This means that you don’t have to change speed settings on your FDM machines when switching between materials. For PLA, printing at 60 mm/s is pretty standard, though some operators have printed at over 150 mm/s, so the standard speed is by no means a limit. You can also print ABS at the same speed, but between 40-60 mm/s is a bit more accurate for this material.

Surface finishes and post-processing for PLA and ABS

Whether you produce parts using PLA or ABS, FDM-printed components will always have visible layers. Using PLA often results in a glossier finish, while ABS typically prints in a matte finish. To smooth an ABS-printed part and give it a glossy finish, you can use acetone in post-processing. Sanding and additional machining are viable post-processing options for parts printed in ABS. You can also sand and machine PLA, though greater care is required. 

If aesthetic quality is critical, then we recommend using SLA 3D printing to produce your custom parts. 

Want to explore all the options for FDM post-processing?

Learn more

How heat resistant are PLA and ABS?

For applications requiring higher temperatures, ABS (glass transition temperature of 105°C) is preferable over PLA (glass transition temperature of 60°C). PLA can rapidly lose its structural integrity and can begin to droop and deform as it approaches 60°C, especially if it's supporting a heavier load.  

Are PLA and ABs biodegradable?

PLA is stable in general atmospheric conditions, though it will biodegrade within 50 days in industrial composters and 48 months in water. While ABS is not biodegradable, you can recycle it. This being the case, manufacturers tend to use PLA to produce items related to food service, though we absolutely recommend you get safety confirmation from filament manufacturers. 

Ready to transform your CAD file into a custom part? Upload your designs for a free, instant quote.

Get an instant quote

PLA ​​plastic for 3D printing

  • 1 Plastic composition
  • 2 PLA safety
  • 3 PLA Specifications
  • 4 Advantages of PLA in 3D printing
  • 5 Navigation

PLA-plastic (polylactide, PLA) - is a biodegradable, biocompatible, thermoplastic aliphatic polyester, the structural unit of which is lactic acid.

PLA is made from corn or sugar cane.

Potato and corn starch, soy protein, cassava tubers, cellulose are also used as raw materials.

Today, polylactide is actively used as a consumable for printing on 3D printers.

Natural raw materials in the composition of PLA-plastic allows using it for various purposes without a threat to human health.

The production of PLA plastic significantly reduces carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere compared to the production of "petroleum" polymers. The use of fossil resources is reduced by a third, the use of solvents is not required at all.

PLA is usually supplied as a thin filament that is wound on a spool.

Melting point 173-178°C
Softening point 50°C
Hardness (Rockwell) R70-R90
Elongation at break 3. 8%
Flexural strength 55.3 MPa
Tensile strength 57.8 MPa
Tensile modulus 3.3 GPa
Flexural modulus 2.3 GPa
Glass transition temperature 60-65°C
Density 1.23-1.25 g/cm³
Minimum wall thickness 1 mm
Print Precision ± 0.1%
Micron size 0.3 mm
Manufacturing shrinkage no
Moisture absorption 0.5-50%

  • non-toxic;
  • wide color palette;
  • when printing, no need for a heated platform;
  • dimensions are stable;
  • is ideal for moving parts and mechanical models;
  • excellent sliding of details;
  • savings in energy costs due to the low softening temperature of the yarn;
  • no need to use Kapton to lubricate the surface for building up the prototype;
  • smoothness of the surface of the printed product;
  • obtaining more detailed and completely ready-to-use objects.

PLA plastic is ideal for 3D printing objects with great detail

Work with PLA plastic on a 3D printer is carried out using FDM-Fused Deposition Modeling technology. The thread is melted, after which it is delivered through a special nozzle to the surface for work and is deposited. As a result of building a model with molten plastic, an object completely ready for use is created. Products made of PLA plastic are subjected to grinding and drilling, painted with acrylic. However, it is worth remembering that the item made of PLA must be handled with care due to its fragility. Another disadvantage of PLA plastic is its fragility: the material lasts from several months to several years.

PLA is an ideal material for 3D printing prototypes and products that are not expected to be used for a long time. These can be decorative objects, presentation items, and items that require meticulous detailing.

Go to the main page of Encyclopedia of 3D printing

PLA ​​and ABS for 3D printing: what's the difference?