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Polylactic acid (PLA) is a bio-degradable polymer that can be produced from lactic acid, which can be fermented from crops such as maize. This makes it an ideal candidate for use in certain energy rich, cash poor areas of the world. It is one of the two most common filaments, along with ABS, purchased for use in 3D printers in many western countries.

PLA is harder than ABS, melts at a lower temperature (around 180°C to 220°C), and has a glass transition temperature between 60-65 °C, so is potentially a very useful material. It does exhibit higher friction than ABS however which can make it difficult to extrude and more susceptible to extruder jams.

For more details, see the Wikipedia entry on Polylactic acid


Polylactic acid is a cheap, biodegradable polymer, that is produced from lactic acid, which can be obtained from the maceration of starch and sugars in biotanks. Typically it is produced from Genetically Modified Corn, grown in the United States, then processed as noted.

PLA Mechanical Properties

Detailed coverage of the mechanical properties of 3-D printed PLA here:

For Chemists

A note from wikipedia:

The name "polylactic acid" is to be used with caution, not complying to standard nomenclatures (such as IUPAC) and potentially leading to ambiguity (PLA is not a polyacid (polyelectrolyte), but rather a polyester)

Much has been made of it's decay in a concentrated Sodium Hydroxide Ultrasound Bath complete with ultrasound. Search for vinland, youtube video makergear.


PLA is the ideal material for a Mendel RepRap. It is dimensionally stable, so there is no need for a heated bed. It is relatively inexpensive, and is not hard to source in filament form.

You can get slightly higher quality surface finish with ABS over PLA, but on the whole PLA works better in the machine, requiring lower temperatures and giving stronger, more hard-wearing products. It does have a slightly higher coefficient of friction in the drive and transport than ABS, but this is more than compensated for by its lower viscosity when molten. This means lower pressure in the melt chamber and hence a lower driving force.

PLA filament can break when stored under stress:

Heater Settings

There are different formulations of PLA available. Always check the producers notes on your pack of PLA! Depending on which formulation your filament is made from, you should adjust your heat accordingly.

Below are some suggested heater settings for specific PLA formulations from Natureworks LLC:

Extrusion width

There has been some evidence that pigment may affect extrusion width. If you are switching plastics a lot, it is a good idea to measure the extrusion before going through the toolpath process.

Limits on Extrusion Speeds

The post suggests that for PLA at a given nozzle, temperature, there are limits to the feed rate, with the more dramatic underextrusion as the feedrate approaches the limit.

Build Surface

PLA bonds very very firmly to Acrylic, and it is not recommended to print directly on an Acrylic build surface.

It does stick well and is removed easily from various forms of Tape. More detailed information here: Bed_material#Experiments_with_PLA_on_various_bed_materials

Heated Bed

It can also be printed on Polyimide(Kapton) that is pre-heated, but will be hard to remove until both the part and the surface are cooled.

It can also be printed directly on heated glass:


PLA prints nicely directly to a very lightly oiled sheet of polycarbonate/Lexan. Some tips for printing on Polycarbonate:

  • If you have trouble getting it to stick, try raising your extrusion temp a few degrees. At 185C I have no trouble, but at 180C it is almost impossible to get a good first layer. On large prints, bumping the print temp by 5 degrees or so can improve first layer bonding.
  • another method that helps PLA stick to the printing surface that can be used with or without heatbed, is wiping the surface with a bit of lemon juice. the sugars (and?) the acid in lemon juice help PLA stick very well to print surface even with big prints.
  • Use a VERY small amount of oil. Too much and it will not stick, too little and it will stick too well. I wipe a small amount of cooking oil on a a paper towel and wipe that on the surface. it should feel just slightly oily. It takes practice to get it right, but it is not hard.
  • Start your print a bit higher than you would expect. I do about .45-.6mm for .35mm layer height, and the prints just pop off when done.
  • Keep a chisel on hand just in case. If you surface isn't oily enough or you start too low, it will bond pretty tightly. You will need a chisel to remove it and scrape off the remnants. With practice you will rarely need it, but keep it on hand just in case.
  • No Heated build platform is necessary, and I have not tested it with one.
  • If you are in the US, Home Depot sells an 8x10x0.093" piece of Polycarbonate for under $4. It attaches perfectly to the existing bed of your Prusa with double sided tape. It will need to be replaced as it gets scratched up, but it will be usable for many prints, and is far less hassle than blue tape.
  • Home Depot also sells acrylic and clear styrene sheets for less money. They may work fine, but I have not tested. I know acrylic is not recommended without oil, but I am not sure if anyone has ever tested it with oil.
  • This is tested with PLA only, I have not tried it with ABS.

PLA on glass

PLA prints perfectly on glass coated with dilute pva.

  • coat 2mm glass with pva and use it on a heated bed at 50C. The print comes of when the glass is cold

Moisture Issues

PLA can absorb moisture from the air. When it is heated this moisture can turn to steam bubbles which with certain hot end (extruder head) designs can interfere with printing. The symptom is that when the extruder motor stops the PLA kept coming out. When the stepper starts again there is a significant delay. Occasionally the tip may blow a bubble with a tiny puff of what looked like steam.

Small amounts of PLA filament (Natureworks PLA4043D has been tried) can have some moisture removed by putting it on a piece of aluminum foil in an oven heated to 170F for an hour. The filament in the oven is floppy, but sticks to itself only slightly. Flexing the coils after cooling unsticks them from each other. Heating a whole spool this way has not been tried, and may result in the spool becoming unusable, so caution is advised. Be advised that an electric resistance oven is desirable for drying since natural gas fired ovens produce water vapor as a byproduct (Methane is the primary constituent of natural gas, Methane => CO2 + 2 H2O). Similar issues for propane fired ovens.

Interestingly, a weight change can be seen after baking. One coil went from 120.5 grams to 120.0 grams (almost 1/2%).

Microwaving the whole PLA filament 1 minute had been tried also , but the temperature only raised slightly and start to produce some unusual smell , the reason that microwaving fails to remove moisture might be water molecule bonding in PLA has low absorptivity to microwave, or the percentage of water is too low to sufficiently raise the temperature due to the heat capacity of PLA.

Color influence

It was observed that the color of the PLA (maybe the 4042D from ultimachine) seems to alter some of its properties (from multicolour prints)

  • Black is lovely and glossy about 75% opaque
  • Yellow is clean and precise when extruding at 196°C, it layer bonds very well and the printed parts feel very similar to ABS, being strong but with a little give
  • Black and Yellow don't snap when you bend it, unlikely for blue/green
  • The blue is particularly odd giving micro-bubbles inside the extruded filament if I run it at 196°C, but these are minimized at 187°C.
  • The blue/green is more brittle in its filament form, but produces a very hard part when extruded.
  • Green filament fall between Yellow and Blue, looks really nice when printed, it seems to give the best definition of the printed object.
  • The Red is more 'sticky' and is a little prone to very fine strings, maybe a change in temperature will resolve this


See --> Printing Material Suppliers.

Engineering Data


MSDS (4043D)


A crude form of PLA can be produced by simply heating powdered lactic acid with powdered stannous chloride - commonly used in pottery glazes - in a test tube. Extracting it from the test tube afterwards is left as an exercise for the diligent student.

See papers in footnote for further details.

A project to develop open source polylactic acid is under development on the Open Source Ecology Wiki.

Papers etc

  • [[File:PLA-kim-23-2-6-98033.pdf: Synthesis, Characterization and in Vitro Degradation of Poly(DL-Lactide)/Poly(DL-Lactide-co-Glycolide) Films.|thumb]]
  • [[File:PLA-v30 327 334.pdf: Synthesis and Characterization of Poly(L-lactide-co-ε-caprolactone) Copolymers: Effects of Stannous Octoate Initiator and Diethylene Glycol Coinitiator Concentrations|thumb]]
  • Stereoselective Ring-Opening Polymerization of meso-Lactide: Synthesis of Syndiotactic Poly(lactic acid) [[
    Page 1
    , Page 2, Addendum|thumb]]

Further reading