ABS and PLA are easily the two most used materials in 3D printing. While PLA (polylactic acid) is preferred for its ease of use, ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is favored for its improved strength.
ABS is slightly harder to print with compared to PLA due to its higher melting point. Temperature and airflow are important parameters in 3D printing. In this guide, we examine the importance of cooling fans when printing materials like ABS and why ventilation is necessary when working with 3D printers.
What Does The Cooling Fan Do In A 3D Printer?
Fans are an essential part of a 3D printer. Their most important function is preventing the printer itself from overheating. Thermal runaway in a 3D printer can create a minor fire hazard in a malfunctioning printer. Fans and thermostats help prevent this from happening. Aside from cooling the 3D printer, fans also cool down the 3D prints or items produced by the printer.
How Fans Cool A 3D Printer
Heat is used to melt filament in an FDM 3D printer. While heat is a necessary part of the 3D printing process, only certain parts of the printer should get hot. Heat is required at the print head (where plastic is squeezed out) and the print bed (where the print sits as it is created).
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ABS has a melting temperature of between 190 to 250°C with a print bed temperature of between 100 to 110°C. PLA is extruded at a lower temperature of between 180 to 230°C with a print bed temperature of between 60 to 65°C.
Having excess heat in places where it is not supposed to be can damage the printer or ruin the print. This is where a cooling fan comes in. Most 3D printers have a cooling fan to keep the motherboard and power supply cool.
Some printers also have fans in the cold end (heat sink) of a print head. The fan is there to prevent heat creep. This is when plastic melts before it reaches the hot end of the print head. Heat creep can cause over-extrusion which can lead to stringy prints.
Does ABS Need A Cooling Fan?
Print cooling is not always necessary when 3D printing. It largely depends on the material used. When printing ABS, for example, it is common practice to either run the fan at low power or disable it altogether. This is primarily to reduce the possibility of warping which ABS is especially prone to.
The purpose of a cooling fan is to cool the print as soon as the plastic is extruded. 3D printers create prints by depositing successive layers of material. The cooling fan is there to help with the adhesion of one layer to the layer deposited on it.
For most materials using a fan would improve your layer adhesion. However, with ABS, you might not want to use a cooling fan. ABS filament is particularly susceptible to warping. This is when the surface of a print peels off the print bed or loses shape due to rapid cooling.
Using a cooling fan with ABS only increases the likelihood that your print will warp which is why you want to avoid doing so. If you do decide to use a cooling fan, lower the speed to about 10 or 20%. Source
Can You Print PLA With No Fan?
Printing ABS with a cooling fan is likely to warp the print because of the increased cooling speed. PLA prints, on the other hand, benefit from using a cooling fan as rapid cooling improves the layer bonds. Generally, when printing PLA, the fan should be at maximum speed (100%) to get better adhesion.
PLA is far less prone to warping than ABS. PLA is, however, not as strong as ABS. This can become apparent when you are printing complex shapes like overhangs or arches. A cooling fan will quickly cool your overhangs and prevent them from sagging. Source
Cooling fans help the layer adhesion in your prints and stop your 3D printer from overheating. But fans can also be used for another important function in 3D printing, namely ventilation.
Can You Print ABS Without Ventilation?
ABS is a petroleum-based filament that emits carcinogenic compounds like Styrene when melted. These compounds are harmful when inhaled and carry a higher risk of cancer. It is for this reason that ABS should always be printed with ventilation.
Toxic fumes are a safety concern when printing with filament. Burning thermoplastics like ABS produces Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) that can cause short-term respiratory illnesses like bronchitis.
Resin printing also has the same danger although at a higher rate. Resin printing is said to produce up to six times more toxic fumes than FDM printing. Furthermore, skin contact with resin can cause dermatitis.
How Do I Ventilate A Room For ABS Printing?
Ventilating a room when printing with ABS reduces the concentration of toxic fumes. The simplest way to prevent overexposure to the volatile organic compounds in the toxic fumes produced from ABS printing is to print in a large room with open windows. It is also advisable to place the printer close to the window so the fumes naturally filter out of the room.
This is a simple low-cost measure that will drastically reduce your exposure to the fumes your printer will produce. The larger the room the more ventilation it will have.
Other measures you can take include:
- Using a print enclosure.
- Using an air monitoring system.
- Using an air purifier.
- Using a simple desktop fan to blow the fumes out through an open window.
Do You Need Ventilation When Printing With PLA?
All 3D printing materials produce toxic fumes. PLA is not an exception. PLA is made from organic materials and is more biodegradable than petroleum-based materials like ABS or nylon. It still however produces volatile organic compounds when melted. This is why, as with all other materials, ventilation is necessary for PLA.
All of the precautions you would take to print ABS like using an enclosure or purifier can be applied for printing with PLA. Although PLA produces fewer VOCs than ABS, you should take the same safety measures for printing PLA.