PLA (Polylactic acid) filament is the most popular filament due to its ease of use. It is produced from starch from the cultivation of corn, sugar cane or other starch-rich vegetables. Filaments made from NatureWorks specialised Ingeo PLA grades for 3D printing deliver properties and performance not found in other raw materials or PLAs.

A bar chart comparing the carbon footprint  of PLA INGEO Filaments.

ADVANATGES

  • Low melting temperature: This material extrudes at over 210ºC which makes it suitable for any type of 3D printer.
  • Excellent mechanical strength.
  • It can be crystallised, further improving its mechanical properties.
  • It does not shrink; therefore there is no warping.
  • No odour when printed.
  • No toxic fumes when printed.

DISADVANTAGES

  • Low flexibility: This material is very hard and rigid.
  • Post-processing: Crystallisation is necessary to obtain its full potential.
  • Hygroscopic: PLA is very sensitive to humidity, so it is recommended to store it in a dry environment.

PRINTING PARAMETERS

Extrusion Temperature

This filament has a wide temperature range for its correct printing, this temperature depends mainly on the nozzle and the extrusion system. The temperature values range between 190ºC and 230ºC depending on whether it is INGEO 850 or 870, the latter needs a higher temperature to extrude. For darker colours it is usually necessary to increase the temperature between 3ºC and 5ºC.These specific values are obtained by carrying out a temperature test and in this way each filament will be correctly parameterised for the 3D printer you have.

Printing Surface

The optimum temperature would be around 50ºC - 60ºC for INGEO 850 and around 60ºC - 70ºC for INGEO 870. We recommend the use of an adhesive for printing on glass or alternatively, printing on a specific surface for 3D printing, such as a strip with a smooth PEI film or a textured surface.

Layer Fan

In parts with a lot of detail it is very important to help with the correct deposition of the plastic as it solidifies more quickly. It is not recommended to turn this fan on in the first layers to improve the adhesion of the part to the surface.

Printing speed

This parameter is very relative since it is determined by the whole set of parts that make up the 3D printer that is available, but to have an approximate value, speeds between 35mm/s to 65mm/s would be optimal for the vast majority of cases.

Layer height

The layer height is determined by the nozzle's output diameter, with 50% being optimal but ranging from 75-80% and 25% respectively. A 0.4mm nozzle would have a layer height of 0.2mm and maximum values of 0.3mm and 0.1mm, for example.

Flow

The purpose of this parameter is to absorb the dimensional variations of the filaments, therefore a flow test must be conducted to determine the precise value for each material in the printer where it will be used. This parameter should not shift more than 5% in a normal print, meaning it must be between 95% and 15% in order to maintain consistency. If our extruder is badly calibrated after performing the flow test, we must calibrate it first in order to achieve the best results.

Extrusion width

Using laminators, you can usually set the percentage at which the material is laminated to 120% of the nozzle diameter, which is a decent value. The nozzle diameter, however, cannot be set below the nozzle diameter. You may increase the thickness of the walls in a single pass to produce stronger parts without increasing the printing time by adjusting this value.

Retraction

An optimal value must be determined through a retraction test when using this parameter, which depends on the hotend extruder assembly. The following retraction values are provided as a starting point:

  • Direct Extrusion (Prusa MK3S, Artillery X1 or similar): 1mm and 35mm/s
  • Short Bowden (Ender 3 or similar): 4mm and 40mm/s
  • <Long Bowden (CR10, Tevo tornado or similar): 5mm and 40mm/s

Avoiding Jams & Clogs with PLA

Leaving the filament loaded in the printer and leaving the hotend at printing temperature is the primary cause of jams with this material. This deteriorates the material and eliminates its plastic properties, resulting in residues inside the hotend that are deposited on the next printing job, which results in poor quality results or even nozzle blockage.

Type of hotend

When printing with PLA, the hotend with a PTFE tube along its entire barrel is the finest choice in order to avoid friction between the material and the metal walls of the hotend itself. If you have an all-metal hotend, you may also print with PLA, but you must keep the melting temperature low and make sure the heatsink has a decent thermal shock in order to prevent the molten plastic from rising along with the barrel.

Hotend cooling

It's imperative to have a cooling system when creating a thermal shock in order to prevent the molten material from rising up the barrel. Typically, a fan is used which is turned on at the same time as the 3D printer and should not be switched off. There are also some hotends that utilise liquid cooling for this purpose.

Retractions

The hotend will get clogged if the material cools down and adheres to the walls of the barrel if the retraction length is not well defined and excessively long. A shrinkage test should be performed as described above to prevent this.

Cleaning

It is important to clean the hotend if a material with a higher melting point than PLA has been used, so that the new material can flow without problems.

Storing the Filament

The filament must be kept in a dry location when it's not being used because it's hygroscopic (sensitive to moisture). Vacuum packing the spool with a silica gel bag is probably the best approach to store it, the same as you receive it at home. Although it would be costly, we send an airtight transparent bag with each spool so that the filament can be kept with its desiccant bag when it is not in use.

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