Polylactic acid or PLA is the material most beginners start with. It is easy to print, melts at low temperature and is odorless.
Most new 3D printers come with a roll of PLA to get newcomers started.
PLA’s popularity makes it easy to find in an array of colors and styles. PLA is also the base material in many composite filaments like the wood and metal-filled filaments. Known as the most environmentally friendly, PLA is more biodegradable than other commonly used materials like ABS and Nylon.
The biggest downside to PLA is its brittleness. As it is more brittle than other types of filament, PLA is not ideally suited for printing things that might get dropped or bent like tools or phone cases. For more on this, check out our post “Why Does a 3D Print Become Brittle? How To Fix It!“
On a side note! If you’re looking for a reliable and high-quality 3D printer, we highly recommend the Official Creality Ender 3 V2 Upgraded 3D Printer (Amazon Link).
This printer is an upgraded version of the popular Ender 3 model, with a range of new features and improvements that make it even easier and more convenient to use.
Getting the most out of PLA, and indeed any raw material, is mainly about using the right settings. A high percentage of 3D prints fail either because of a problem with the material or using incorrect printer settings.
In this guide, we outline the main settings you need to know in order to improve the quality of your PLA prints. We also highlight a few best practices for handling PLA.
What Speed Should PLA Be Printed At?
PLA can be printed at about 60 millimeters per second. The value can be adjusted in line with how quickly or slowly the print should proceed. Selecting a lower value means the print will take longer, while a higher value means the print will proceed faster. It’s important to note that print speed can affect the quality of the print.
Print speed is how fast the print head moves as it extrudes filament. The faster the print head moves, the faster you print. While printing fast sounds like something you would want to do in every case, there are times when you should print slower. Source
This is especially the case with designs with fine details. Simple models without much detail can be printed at faster speeds without compromising the quality.
30 to 60 millimeters per second is a good place to start when printing. This is the default speed for most printers. You can then adjust the speed, observing and calibrating depending on the specifics of the model you are working on.
A handy trick is to print the visible outer shells at a slower speed if they have a lot of detail. You can then increase the speed when you start work on the inner shells and infill. Here you can afford to print faster since the inner shells and infills will not be visible and fine detailing is not required.
Printing at the right speed is also important for layer adhesion. If you print at a speed that is not optimal for the material, the filament might not adhere to the print bed. It can also create problems with under or over extrusion.
For more on this, check out our post “Does Slowing Down Print Speed Increase Quality? Influencing Factors!“
What Is A Good Printing Temperature For PLA?
Temperature is possibly the most important setting in 3D printing. If the temperature is too high or too low, the filament will most likely under or over extrude. Temperature is controlled at the print head and print bed. The print head temperature should be between 190 and 230 degrees Celsius while the print bed temperature is between 40 to 65 degrees Celsius.
The print head in a 3D printer is where plastic is extruded or squirted out. The print bed is the platform the plastic is extruded onto. Some 3D printers come with heated beds that allow you to control the temperature for better adhesion of your prints.
The best way to find the optimal extrusion and print bed temperatures is to start at the lower end then slowly increase by 5 degrees Celsius. An alternative is to start at the median (about 205 for the print head and 55 for the bed) then increase or decrease the temperature by 5 degrees Celsius until you get an optimal temperature.
We also highly recommend that you check out our post ” Can You 3D Print Without A Heated Bed? Tips & Tricks!“
A “perfect” temperature is the one you find through trial and error. There are several variables including nozzle temperature or the brand of the filament that will influence what the best temperature is. This is why it is better to experiment rather than rely on a single number.
Fortunately, PLA is not a demanding filament to print with. As long as you stay within the range, your prints will turn out fine. Source
Also, check out our detailed post on “What Happens If You Overheat Your 3D Print? Complete Temperatures Guide“
What Is A Bad Printing Temperature For PLA
How do you know if you are printing at the wrong temperature? Generally, these are some of the signs you should look out for.
Poor layer adhesion
If the temperature is too low, you are likely to see poor adhesion of the layers in your print. As a result you will get a print that has a rough, inconsistent surface or a print with layer separation. In either case the result is a bad print that does not look good and has poor strength.
On the other hand, if the temperature is too high, filament will drip and create strings across your print. This is not as much of a problem with simple models as it can be fixed in post-processing through sanding. With complex prints that have more detailing, it will not be as easy to fix with post-processing.
What Temperature Does PLA Distort At?
The glass transition temperature of filament is the temperature at which it goes from a hard to a soft, viscous material. It is a measure of how much heat a material can tolerate without distorting or warping. PLA has a low glass transition and starts to distort when exposed to temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees Celsius.
The glass transition of the filament you choose should be one of the things you consider when you start a new project. Depending on the application, you might not want to use PLA for prints that will be exposed to high temperatures since PLA has a low glass transition. Source
Certain materials like PETG have a higher glass transition and might be more suitable. PETG has a glass transition of 85 degrees Celsius.
For more on printing settings, check out our post How Accurate Is Cura Filament & Print Estimates? Settings Explained!
We also highly recommend that you check out our post Why Do 3D Printers Need A Skirt, Brim Or Raft? Which One To Use!