3D Printing: PLA vs. ABS vs. Nylon

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3D printing has exploded in popularity in recent years as the technology has become more accessible and affordable. There are now dozens of materials available for use in 3D printers, but three of the most common and popular options are PLA, ABS, and nylon.

These three materials each have their own unique properties, advantages, and disadvantages that make them suitable for different applications. When selecting a material for a 3D printing project, it’s important to consider factors like temperature resistance, strength, flexibility, ease of printing, and more.

This in-depth comparison guide examines the key differences between PLA, ABS, and nylon filaments. Read on to learn which material is right for your next 3D printing project.

PLA Filament

PLA (polylactic acid) is one of the most commonly used filaments for 3D printing. Here are some of the key features and characteristics of PLA:


  • Made from renewable resources like corn starch or sugarcane
  • Biodegradable
  • Low toxicity
  • Easy to print with and great for beginners
  • Good surface finish
  • Low melting point of 190-220°C
  • Available in a wide variety of colors


  • High rigidity and strength
  • Precision printing with sharp corners and fine detail
  • Minimal warping
  • Low tendency to shrink after printing


  • Low heat resistance – softens at temperatures above 60°C
  • Brittle with low impact strength
  • More prone to cracking under stress than ABS
  • Low UV resistance unless specially treated

Ideal Uses

  • Concept models, prototypes
  • Hobbyist and educational printing
  • Decorative or architectural prints
  • General low-temperature applications

Overall, PLA is a great general-use filament that is easy to print. It works very well for models, prototypes, and decorative prints that don’t require high heat resistance or durability. The low melting point allows it to be printed on most desktop 3D printers.

ABS Filament

ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is another very common 3D printing filament, known for its strength and durability. Here are the main properties of ABS:


  • Made from petroleum-based plastics
  • High strength and durability
  • Moderate print temperature of 210-250°C
  • Available in range of colors but limited compared to PLA


  • Great mechanical strength and impact resistance
  • High heat and chemical resistance
  • More flexible than PLA
  • Sands and machines well for post-processing


  • Prone to warping due to higher print temps
  • Toxic fumes when printed
  • More difficult to print, may require heated bed
  • Susceptible to cracking under stress

Ideal Uses

  • Functional prototypes
  • End-use parts and products
  • Automotive, aerospace, and engineering applications
  • Toys, tools, cases, or anything needing high strength

ABS is best for prints that require good heat and impact resistance. The high durability makes it suitable for end-use products, but it can be trickier to print without warping. Proper printer tuning and setup is important when using ABS.

Nylon Filament

Nylon filament offers excellent strength, flexibility, durability, and heat resistance. Here are some of nylon’s major characteristics:


  • Made from synthetic polymers
  • Exceptional layer adhesion and ruggedness
  • High impact strength and flexibility
  • Naturally moisture-absorbent
  • Print temp 235-280°C


  • Greatest tensile strength of the three
  • Withstands solvents and fuels
  • Very high heat resistance – melts ~250°C
  • Flexible when printed with more walls
  • Low friction and wear – good for gears


  • Absorbs moisture easily
  • Prone to warping from shrinkage
  • Harder to print successfully
  • Sometimes requires an enclosure

Ideal Uses

  • Functional parts needing durability
  • Automotive, aerospace, and engineering uses
  • Food processing equipment
  • High heat applications like motors

Nylon’s key advantages are its superior layer bonding, heat resistance, and flexibility compared to PLA and ABS. It’s an excellent choice for durable components and parts exposed to heat or fuels. The tendency to absorb moisture must be accounted for.

Direct Comparison

Here is a head-to-head overview comparing PLA, ABS, and nylon 3D printing filaments:

Heat resistanceLow, 60°C maxMedium, 90-100°CVery high, 250°C+
Impact resistanceLowMedium-highHigh
UV resistanceLowMediumMedium-high
Print difficultyEasyModerateHard
Fumes when printingMinimalModerateMinimal
Moisture absorptionLowLowHigh

As the comparison shows, PLA is easy to print but has poor thermal properties. ABS offers much higher strength and heat resistance. Nylon is the strongest of the three with the best durability.

Factors like use case, environment, post-processing needs, printer capabilities, and personal preference can all play a role in selecting between these popular 3D printing filaments.

How to Choose Between PLA, ABS, and Nylon

When deciding which material to use, consider these factors:

  • Use case – Will the print be decorative, functional, or for a final product? What properties like strength, heat resistance, etc. are most important?
  • Environment – What temperature, chemicals, UV exposure will the print encounter?
  • Post-processing – Will you need to sand, smooth, paint, or dye the finished print?
  • Printer capabilities – Do you have a heated bed and enclosed chamber if needed?
  • Ease of printing – Have you printed this material successfully before? Is ease of use a priority?
  • Safety – PLA is non-toxic while ABS emits fumes. Proper ventilation is required.
  • Cost – How much material will be needed? PLA is generally the most affordable.

For quick prints that don’t require strength or heat resistance, PLA is usually the best option. If advanced properties are needed, ABS or nylon may be preferred. Consider your specific needs and printer capabilities when deciding on a material.

Tips for Printing with PLA, ABS, and Nylon

To achieve optimal results, follow these best practices when printing with each filament:


  • Print bed temperature: 60°C
  • Nozzle temperature: 190-220°C
  • Cooling fan: On
  • Heated bed: Recommended
  • Enclosed chamber: Not required
  • Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape, glue stick, or PEI sheet


  • Print bed temperature: 90-110°C
  • Nozzle temperature: 220-250°C
  • Cooling fan: Off for better layer bonding
  • Heated bed: Highly recommended
  • Enclosed chamber: Optional but reduces warping
  • Bed adhesion: Blue painter’s tape, ABS slurry, or PEI sheet


  • Print bed temperature: 60-80°C
  • Nozzle temperature: 235-280°C
  • Cooling fan: On
  • Heated bed: Required
  • Enclosed chamber: Strongly recommended
  • Bed adhesion: Glue stick, hairspray, PEI sheet, or garolite

Dial in temperatures, adhesion, retraction, and cooling for each material. Dry nylon filament before use. Follow manufacturer guidelines for optimal print settings.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is PLA food-safe?

A: Yes, PLA is generally considered food-safe and is a common material for food containers. Always check the specific PLA filament to confirm.

Q: Can ABS be used outdoors?

A: ABS does not hold up well to extended UV exposure. PLA or PETG are better choices for outdoor use.

Q: Does nylon need to be dried before printing?

A: Yes, drying nylon filament for 4-8 hours before printing is recommended to prevent oozing and cracking from absorbed moisture.

Q: Which prints smoother, PLA or ABS?

A: ABS generally prints smoother with a glossier look and feel vs. PLA. Acetone smoothing can be used on ABS prints.

Q: What causes warping with ABS prints?

A: The higher printing temps needed for ABS combined with rapid cooling can create internal stresses, leading to warping and detachment from the print bed. Proper adhesion and an enclosed chamber helps minimize this.

Q: Can I use support material with nylon filament?

A: Yes, PVA and HIPS dissolve well for use as support material with nylon printing. Breakaway support structures also work effectively.


PLA, ABS, and nylon are the three most common materials for desktop FDM 3D printing. PLA is the easiest to use while ABS offers greater strength and heat resistance. Nylon provides the best overall properties in terms of temperature resistance, durability, and layer bonding.

Consider the needs of your specific application and your experience level when selecting between these three standard materials. Each has their advantages and drawbacks. With the right filament choice and proper printer settings dialed in, you can achieve great results with PLA, ABS or nylon on the majority of 3D printer models.