PLA vs TPU: What’s the Difference?
Are you uncertain about 3D printing materials? Between PLA and TPU, which one comes out on top? You are not alone if you are undecided when choosing 3D printing materials. Many people are not sure whether to use PLA or TPU.
Today, 3D printing has become more available. More and more people are using 3D printers. Nevertheless, the materials used have become very refined. However, the two common materials used are PLA and TPU.
This article looks at the two common 3D printing materials, PLA and TPU. Discuss their pros and cons, when is the best time to print with PLA or TPU, and also help you decide which one to use for 3D printing and why.
PLA or Polylactic Acid is a common material for 3D printing. It is the common and the most used 3D material. It is cheaper and easy to print than other materials. Additionally, thermoplastic is prepared from organic materials like sugarcane and corn.
PLA is popular and frequently used because it is environmentally friendly. It is the ideal material for printing things like protective phone cases. Moreover, it is stress-free to work with and available in many blends and colors.
Unlike other 3D printing materials, PLA does not need a heated print bed. Besides, it is very forgiving where anyone can use it. Thus, it is good material for starters.
Nevertheless, the material can become fragile. In addition, your 3D printer has to meet specific requirements for you to print with PLA material.
For example, you need a glue stick, glass plate, PEI, build surface, and a bed with a temperature of 45 °C to 60 °C.
*It is the easiest material for 3D printing
*PLA is environmentally friendly since it is entirely organic.
*It is a perfect choice for starters.
*Available in different colors and blends
*It is prone to oozing when heated
*Cannot be used to make flexible designs
*It does not stretch
*Has print gaps making it easier for bacteria to prosper
What is TPU?
TPU or Thermoplastic Polyurethane is another popular material for 3D printing. It is commonly used to print elastic and stand up against oil and abrasion.
Even though TPU is more expensive than PLA, it can stretch and bend. In addition, designs made with TPU can easily be cleaned using soap and water.
One major shortcoming of TPU is that it is difficult to use. Beginners using the material will have a hard time using it. This is because it is elastic and very flexible.
Nevertheless, it provides unique possibilities that cannot be achieved when using other printing materials such as PLA. For instance, it can combine the properties of plastic and rubber.
Some industries that use TPU for 3D printing are automotive, aerospace, footwear, and sporting goods.
*TPU can be used for food printing
*The material can withstand tensile forces and is higher compressive
*It is chemical resistant
*It is low warpage and contraction
*TPU is prone to stringing
*Hard to use
*Must be printed at a low temperature
What’s the difference?
PLA and TPU are the two common materials for 3D printing. But the two materials behave differently, have different properties, and have several advantages and disadvantages.
Here are the differences between PLA and TPU:
Ease of printing
PLA is one of the easiest 3D printing materials you can use. It is an ideal choice for beginners and is available in various colors and blends. Oppositely, TPU is a bit hard to use. It is challenging to post-process and likely to clog.
Clogging and jamming
Smell and health issue while printing
On the other hand, TPU emits an odor when printing. Even though the odor is not hostile, it is not as sweet as the PLA aroma. Also, the fumes are not so strong for someone to leave the printing room.
The use of TPU can cause a harmful allergy. The toxic substances released when printing can cause health problems such as eye irritation, difficulty breathing, or even organ damage.
Hygroscope and Post-processing
Also, TPU is hygroscopic. It is a material that can easily absorb moisture when exposed. You are therefore advised to keep the material in a dry box. Moreover, it is a challenge to post-process a TPU material. Performing any task on printed art is not easy.
However, since TPU is so flexible, it isn’t easy to print. It is elastic and flexible, making it unpopular to beginners.
Durability and strength
On the other hand, TPU is a bridge between plastic and rubber. The material is flexible, rubber-like, and smooth. In addition, it is solid and durable.
With TPU, it works best from 220 °C to 250 °C. Also, the material does not require a bed. But if your printer has a bed, the temperature should not be higher than 60 °C.
Cracking, warping, heated bed, and adhesion
PLA is a printing material that does not require a heated bed. But for the layers to be successfully printed, the first layer has to stick to the printer surface, also known as bed adhesion.
TPU does not have a significant cracking issue like PLA. Also, there are no warping issues experienced when using PLA and other 3D printing materials.
For quality 3D printing, heat beds are needed. However, TPU does not require a heated bed to print. Also, TPU is resistant to low temperatures. Moreover, it has interlayer adhesion.
When to print with PLA?
The best time to use PLA is when learning 3D printing. This is because It is easy to print, inexpensive, and the most economically friendly 3D printing material you can get. It is obtained from crops such as sugarcane and corn.
3D print tips with PLA
Before you start printing with PLA, it is essential to learn how to get the material’s best. Below are 3D print tips with PLA.
*Try to keep the PLA filament dry – the PLA material should be kept in a cool and dark place. This will preserve PLA quality and ensure you receive the best printing results.
*Lower viscosity level – some filaments may have a lower viscosity level than other PLA materials. To avoid leaking at lower temperatures, you need to change the retraction distance by some millimeters.
*Layers may fail to adhere if the temperature is too cold – when the temperature is too cold, the filament may fail to stick to the previous layer. If this happens, you need to increase the printhead temperature.
*Regulate the temperature – when using PLA material, it is essential to ensure the temperature is right. You can increase and reduce the temperature by 5-degree to make sure you get the right quality.
*Check out for stinging – strings may appear when the temperature is too high. If it happens, you need to decrease the temperature. Decreasing the temperature will ensure the extruder does not leak too much material.
When to print with TPU?
The best time to print with TPU is producing consumer goods such as footwear and phone cases, flexible electronics, and automotive. Happily, the material is soft and elastic, chemical resistant, and available in a wide range of colors.
3D print tips with TPU
TPU is a great 3D printing material that offers unique properties and many possible applications. However, printing with 3D is very tricky. Hence, it is vital to understand some tips for successful printing with TPU.
*Make sure you have the correct printer settings – to achieve better results, you need to use the correct settings on your 3D printer.
*Optimize the feed rate – it is essential to use a regular feed rate that is a bit slow when 3D printing with flexible filaments like TPU. This is because the material is elastic and uncontrollable if there are sudden changes in the printing speed.
*Optimize the retraction sets – since TPU material is elastic and flexible, it is very sensitive to fast actions such as retractions. Therefore, you need to optimize retraction settings to limit the movements and to have a successful 3D print.
Is PLA better than TPU?
Moreover, PLA is compostable and more environmentally friendly than TPU. But if you would like to add flexibility to the prints, then the material to use is TPU.
Generally, PLA is easier to print, inexpensive, more environmentally friendly, and the best 3D material for beginners. However, it is impossible to make flexible designs with PLA. Also, it is prone to oozing when heated.
On the other hand, TPU is flexible, chemical resistant, and withstands higher compressive strength. But it is prone to clogging, must be printed at a low temperature, and is difficult to post-process.
Is flexible PLA the same as TPU?
On the other hand, flexible PLA is food-safe. The material can be used to print food containers and utensils. But TPU is not food safe.
But Flexible PLA is more flexible than TPU. So, when planning to print something to wear, the best material to consider is flexible PLA. But TPU is more rigid than flexible PLA. Thus, it is resistant to abrasion.
Can you mix PLA and TPU?
But the two materials are different. PLA is one of the easiest to print 3D materials. On the other hand, TPU is a flexible material. By mixing the two materials, you open new possibilities.
But keep in mind that PLA and TPU are two materials that cannot bond well with each other. However, many people had succeeded in combining the two materials. It is also an excellent strategy to add a unique feel to your 3D prints.
But if you want to print flexible designs, the recommended one is TPU. It is flexible and the only material that can bend. Moreover, TPU can withstand temperatures of 80 °C and above, which is very durable.
Now you know the best 3D material to consider if you plan to create various designs. Keep in mind that it is possible to mix both PLA and TPU.