Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and Polylactic acid or polylactide (PLA) is commonly used in Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) or Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) technologies. It is currently dominating most of the general 3D printing industry.
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)
ABS is a strong polymer plastic with slight flexibility. This characteristic allows interlocking parts and connections easier to work with. On top of its natural glossy finishing, it can also withstand a higher operating temperature as compare to PLA. Unlike PLA, ABS will bend if stress limits are exceeded. This material is ideal for structural application where heat and impact resistance is needed.
Polylactic acid or polylactide (PLA)
PLA is a biodegradable plastic produced organically from raw products like sugarcane, tapioca roots or corn starch. PLA can be easily printed to any height and volume with consistent fusing between layers. Equally strong, it is also rigid as opposed to ABS and will shear if stress limits are exceeded. Due to the nature of the material, it is capable of delivering great details and is the favorite choice by most designers and artists. PLA has a lower operating temperature as compared to ABS and it is not recommended if the final product is going to be exposed to high heat for a long duration. However, this shortfall can be countered during the post-production phase. PLA also has an extensive range of colors and exotic composite materials available. Wood, copper, iron, Ultra Violet(UV) reactive, Glow in dark, etc., to name a few examples.
Depending on your usage and application, the choice of material is also critical to the durability of your printed object. For example, if you want to 3D print something to use in your car, say a phone holder or a cute toy, ABS will be better suited to withstand our hot tropical climate. On the other hand, if you want finer details, PLA would be the better option.