Best answer: Polylactic acid (PLA) is the best all-round filament for making models, especially if you want to finish them off. It’s forgiving, easy to use, and can look amazing while you paint.
MatterHackers: Build Series PLA ($ 20)
It’s the easiest filament to use
Polylactic acid (PLA) is probably the most famous 3D printing filament, and for good reason. The composition of the plastic means it can be printed at relatively low temperatures of 190 to 215 degrees Celsius (or 374 to 419 Fahrenheit) and doesn’t require a heated build plate. Thanks to these low temperatures, almost all 3D printers can print PLA. It’s also very forgiving when it comes to making mistakes.
The low temperatures also ensure that PLA can be manipulated after printing. This way you can flatten objects and then rotate them into my interesting shapes. I took advantage of this property when I made Wonder Woman gauntlets for a friend. I printed them flat, then warmed them up with a hairdryer and shaped them to fit her forearms.
There are other materials that are stronger like PETG or more flexible like Ninjaflex, but both are extremely picky and can take a long time to get right. PLA, on the other hand, is much easier to use and takes little time to get up and running and produce great prints.
It’s easy to paint or finish
PLA is used around the world for prototyping, cosplay, and fun little prints that don’t really matter to you. It can be very easily sanded – start with a low grit, around 120, and work up to 4,000 wet sand for the best finish – and once primed, it can be painted almost any color imaginable. I use spray paint on most of my models, but the groot pictured above was painted with acrylic and varnish.
Since PLA is sensitive to UV light and heat, it’s important to paint it or add protection if you want to leave it outside in the elements. Some people say it won’t last outside at all, but I’ve seen 5 year old PLA printed models that still look great because they were painted first. You can even glow a model in the oven if you take care to further strengthen its structure and extend its lifespan.
It’s recyclable and biodegradable
A little known fact about PLA is that it is biodegradable. Since it’s made from biological proteins – it’s pretty much just corn – it will rot under the right circumstances. If you chop it up nicely and put it in a mature compost heap, it can only take six months to fully biodegrade. That said, if people complain to you about all of your failed prints, you can tell them that you are actually very environmentally friendly!
While PLA is technically recyclable, you can’t put it in your roadside trash can. However, you can contact your local waste company and ask them where you can take them for recycling. If you have the money and time, you can buy a device that will melt your old PLA and then extrude it to use in your 3D printer again.
Build Series PLA
An affordable yet versatile filament
The PLA Build series is perfect for achieving great print quality that comes to an end very easily. It has fantastic dimensional accuracy and MatterHackers makes sure it is affordable too.
I love MatterHackers’ Build Series PLA. It sands just a little better than regular PLA and has an almost matte finish that really makes sanding and finishing a print easier. It always makes some excellent finished models.
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