We can all agree that 3D printing terminology can be pretty complex at times, with many words and abbreviations that don’t really give much of a hint as to what they really mean.
On the other hand, we also cannot deny that knowing the terminology is a significant portion of 3D printing, as each of these terms carries a substantial amount of importance for the health of the process.
Today, our topic is one of the words you will hear very frequently in the 3D printing world due to its high popularity as an essential part of the printing process in many cases; PLA.
So, what does PLA stand for in 3D printing?
PLA, also known as polylactic acid or polylactide, is a renewable and biodegradable thermoplastic polyester.
In the case of 3D printing, PLA is known for being the most commonly used material in the production of the filament that 3D printers use to create 3D printed objects.
Next up, we will look at what PLA is in the context of 3D printing in greater detail, discuss why PLA is a popular choice in 3D printing, and explore the areas where the usage of PLA is advantageous.
What Does PLA Stand For in 3D Printing?
Whenever 3D printing is the topic, there is a good chance you will hear the word PLA sooner than later, especially if you are planning on getting into 3D printing as a hobby for the first time.
PLA stands for polylactic acid (also known as polylactide), which actually is not a 3D printing-specific term, even though the chance of hearing it in a non-3D printing context is pretty low.
In a nutshell, we can describe PLA as a thermoplastic, a type of plastic that becomes harder when it comes into contact with heat and softer when it comes into contact with cold, which is what we essentially require for the printing process.
A fascinating piece of information about PLA is that, as opposed to most other plastics that require fossil fuels and petroleum for production, PLA is a biodegradable and renewable type of plastic (bioplastic) produced from organic materials such as corn, sugarcane, and sugar beet pulp.
As the second most commonly produced bioplastic at the time of writing, PLA is a significant part of the 3D printing world for many reasons, which we will dive into in the next section.
Why Is PLA a Popular Choice in 3D Printing?
The popularity of PLA in 3D printing is indisputable as the most commonly used filament, with some strong reasons to back this popularity up and pull ahead of its competitors.
Below, we have listed the reasons behind PLA being the most popular material for 3D printer filament production:
- Easy to print – You’re very unlikely to face issues such as poor bed adhesion and warping with PLA, which makes the process of configuring the print setting pretty undemanding and a lot more forgiving compared to other types of filament.
- Doesn’t need expensive equipment – As PLA doesn’t require a heated bed, an enclosure, or a high nozzle temperature, you can print it with an entry-level 3D printer, making it a specifically fantastic option for beginners.
- Cheaper than alternatives – While the difference isn’t too big, it’s often possible to find spools of PLA for slightly more budget-friendly prices due to the high amount of PLA production that takes place, with its popularity being a vital factor here.
- Environmentally friendly – As PLA is made of organic materials and is biodegradable and renewable as a result – it’s the most environmentally friendly type of filament.
- Easy to post-process – Applying processes such as sanding and painting is pretty straightforward with PLA, which is a significant part of 3D printing for models with cosmetic purposes.
- Wide variety in colors – Due to the simplicity of pigmenting PLA, it’s possible to find PLA filament in almost every color, which makes it easier to print colorful models.
When Should You Use PLA in 3D Printing?
Even though PLA is the most popular filament type in 3D printing, it’s not a material that suits every usage area, making knowing when to use it a vital part of the 3D printing process.
Here are some of the cases where the usage of PLA filament would be suitable for your 3D printed models:
- Figurines – Figurines are a fantastic way to use PLA filament, considering that they are purely aesthetic objects where you will be utilizing the advantages of PLA without being affected by the drawbacks.
- Decorative objects – Similar to figurines, decorative objects that you can use to beautify your house, as long as they remain indoor, are a great way to utilize PLA filament.
- Props – With PLA filament, it’s possible to print props that you can use in areas such as cosplaying and filmmaking, which would also save you a considerable amount of money.
- Prototypes – Since prototypes are purely aesthetic, PLA is a suitable choice to create prototypes as quickly and effortlessly as possible.
- Molds & Containers – While PLA is a type of filament we consider to be low-strength, it’s possible to print molds and containers that won’t carry too much weight with it.
In a nutshell, PLA is most suitable for applications where you won’t expose the object to physical stress, impact, heat, water, or chemicals, as these factors can easily damage PLA and cause the print to degrade.
What Are the Usage Areas of PLA?
3D printing isn’t the only usage area of PLA, as there are many other types of applications where the qualities that PLA brings to the table are pretty beneficial.
It’s possible to find objects made with PLA almost anywhere, with plastic cutlery, disposable cups, tea bags, awnings, housings for electronics, to name a few that we commonly come across in our daily life.
Aside from the consumer goods market, it’s also possible to observe the usage of PLA in agricultural and medical applications, in products such as ropes in the case of agriculture, and implements in the case of medical use.
With the many advantages it brings, it seems that PLA and 3D printing will be synonymous for the foreseeable future, making it a term that every 3D printing enthusiast should know.
To quickly recap, PLA is the short form for polylactic acid (or polylactide), which is a type of thermoplastic mainly known for being produced from renewable resources, as opposed to most other plastic types that require the usage of petroleum.
In 3D printing, PLA is the most common type of filament due to the many advantages it brings in areas such as ease of printing, flexibility, and pricing.