How to 3D Print ABS Filament Like a Pro – Ultimate Guide & FAQ

ABS filament is known to be fairly tricky to 3D print successfully mainly due to the material not sticking so well to the build plate. I decided to put together an article that will show people how to 3D print ABS filament like a pro, so you can create some high quality 3D models.

To 3D print ABS, you should use a printing temperature between 210-270°C and a bed temperature between 80-120°C depending on the brand for the best results. ABS should be printed with your cooling fan off, with a print speed of around 40mm/s. Using an enclosure is ideal to control heat, but not essential.

This article is going to be a simple, yet in-depth guide on how to 3D print ABS filament just like the pros do, so stick around to see how it’s done and get your questions answered.

What is ABS Filament for 3D Printing & What is it Made of?

ABS or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is a popular and durable thermoplastic material that can be used for 3D printing in the form of a 1.75mm spool of filament. It has great mechanical and impact-resistant qualities, as well as great heat resistance. It used to be the most popular 3D printing material.

PLA has taken over ABS as the most popular 3D printed filament, though ABS definitely has properties that make it ideal such as being tougher and even lighter than PLA.

When looking at what ABS is actually made of, it is generally a combination of 50% styrene and the other 50% being butadiene and acrylonitrile, though it can still be made in different proportions. This combination of polymers is what gives ABS its properties and high levels of resistance.

What Printing & Bed Temperature Should You 3D Print ABS?

The best printing temperature you should use for ABS usually falls anywhere between 210-270°C. Filament brands will show you the temperature range for their specific spool of ABS. HATCHBOX ABS filament is 210-240°C, while OVERTURE filament is 245-265°C.

The best bed temperature for ABS falls anywhere between 80-120°C. You should use trial and error with different temperatures so you can figure out what works best for your brand of ABS and your specific 3D printer.

A bed temperature of 100°C worked great for one user who bought HATCHBOX ABS filament, while another user got great results using 85°C with the same filament. It will depend on your surrounding environment and how your 3D printer bed heats up.

Let’s check the printing and bed temperature of some of the most popular brands of ABS filament.

HATCHBOX ABS

Printing Temperature: 210-240°C

Bed Temperature: 85-110°C

SUNLU ABS

Printing Temperature: 230-240°C

Bed Temperature: 85°C

OVERTURE ABS

Printing Temperature: 245-265°C

Bed Temperature: 80-100°C

JAYO ABS

Printing Temperature: 230-260°C

Bed Temperature: 80-110°C

NovaMaker ABS

Printing Temperature: 220-250°C

Bed Temperature: 80-120°C

When it comes to leveling your 3D printer bed, it’s a good idea to make sure the bed is heated to the operating temperature since the heat causes it to expand and change shape slightly, resulting in differences in heights across the bed.

What Printing Speed Should You Use for ABS Filament?

For ABS filament, the recommended printing speed falls between 40-60mm/s to get high quality 3D prints. Going above 70mm/s for ABS filament is likely to decrease your printing quality gradually, though you can still get successful prints at higher speeds.

ABS can’t be 3D printed as fast as a material like PLA since it doesn’t flow as well.

If you are wondering how fast you can 3D print ABS, you could reach speeds up t0 100mm/s and beyond with a 3D printer that is tuned for speed and stability. Delta 3D printers are built for speed

Does ABS Need a Fan? Can You Print ABS Without a Cooling Fan?

ABS filament doesn’t need a cooling fan to 3D print successfully. Using a low cooling fan setting can help with improving surface quality, but having it off usually leads to better strength. Enclosed 3D printers have a higher ambient temperature, so fans can be put on low settings and still work out great.

Sometimes, if sections of your ABS 3D prints have large overhangs, bridges, or short times per layer, turning on the fan for these layers can be very useful. This can be done by inserting scripts in your slicer to change fan settings on specific layers.

A minimum layer time of around 20-25 seconds should work well for ABS if you do have smaller layers that print a little too quickly, like the horn on a unicorn for example.

Shrinkage or warping is one of the key factors that people think about when it comes to using the cooling fans for ABS, but it is usually the surrounding temperature that has the biggest effect on warping or having the material shrink.

Many 3D printers that are optimized for 3D printing ABS do have cooling fans, like the Zortrax M200.

ABS Retraction Settings for 3D Printing

The best ABS retraction settings for 3D printing usually falls between a Retraction Distance of 3-7mm and a Retraction Speed of 30-45mm/s depending on whether you have a Bowden or Direct Drive setup. The default of 5mm distance and 45mm/s speed should work well enough, but you can test retraction for optimal results.

The video below shows you how you can dial in your retraction settings in Cura by using a Retraction Tower and seeing how the resulting prints come out. You test one setting at a time to see what works best for your specific printer and setup.

What Are Advantages of 3D Printing ABS?

  • Very durable and impact resistant, so it can hold up well in load-bearing situations – great for functional objects.
  • It doesn’t degrade as much as other filaments, so old prints keep their quality really well
  • ABS has amazing heat-resistance, meaning you can use it in high temperature situations like outdoors or in a car.
  • ABS has relatively good flexibility, definitely more so than PLA 3D prints.
  • You can easily smooth ABS 3D prints using acetone, as well as weld parts together
  • Has a good natural surface quality
  • Great chemical resistance and mechanical properties
  • ABS is good for functional objects that require strength and some level of flexibility or tensile strength.

What Are Disadvantages of 3D Printing ABS?

  • ABS can be difficult to 3D print, especially for beginners due to warping issues
  • Can release harmful gasses (ultrafine particles) when printed at high temperatures – known to be smelly
  • Requires a heatbed unlike PLA filament
  • Known to have trouble sticking to build platforms – Blue Painter’s Tape works well as a surface or glue stick

Best Things to 3D Print with ABS

ABS can print many things since it is quite a versatile material with great mechanical properties. The heat resistance and strength are the best aspects of ABS, so if those are the characteristics you are looking for, then you can print it with ABS.

Here are some popular items made from ABS:

  • Lego toys
  • Luggage cases
  • Helmets
  • Chairs
  • Computer keyboards
  • Wall sockets
  • Containers
  • Automotive parts
  • Handles & holders

How Do You Smooth ABS 3D Prints?

Smoothing ABS 3D prints is done through a method called acetone smoothing, which is when you use acetone fumes to dissolve the outer surfaces of ABS, leaving a smooth behind. You simply pour acetone into an airtight container with the 3D print inside but separated from the liquid for 10-20 minutes.

Check out the video below by Josef Prusa to see how it is done, and the final results on your prints.

How to Paint 3D Printed ABS

The usual way to paint 3D printed ABS is to apply a primer to help the paint properly adhere to the object, sand and smooth the object by sanding, buffing, and polishing. Then paint it either with spray paint, an airbrush, or a paint brush. It’s a good idea to use multiple  undercoats to make it more even.

You can get the best results by polishing your 3D prints between each coat of paint to really bring out the gloss. I’d recommend using some fine sandpaper at a grit of around 500 to get some great results.

Make sure you are using the correct equipment such as a NIOSH-approved respirator, safety goggles, nitrile gloves, all in a well-ventilated area.

Formlabs created these really helpful videos to illustrate how to prime and paint your 3D printed objects successfully.

The first video is for priming.

The second video is for painting.

The materials you’ll need are as follows:

  • Primer
  • Spray paint
  • Clear coat spray
  • Masking tape
  • Flush cutters
  • Sandpaper
  • Needle files
  • Polishing sticks
  • A toothbrush/cloth
  • Water
  • Gloves
  • Respirator
  • Safety googles

The first thing you need to do is clean up the model after it comes off the print bed with your flush cutters.

You want to use low-grit sandpaper (50-100) to sand down any obvious support marks or imperfections, then use a higher grit sandpaper (200-350) to smooth out the surfaces. Wet sanding usually provides the best results for smoothing surfaces.

Use the cloth or a toothbrush to remove dust from the model, as dust can remain even after wet sanding.

Once your model is cleaned up, we want to prime the model, making sure to shake the primer well before spraying. It’s a good idea to add a few layers of primer and sand in between that to really clean up and get the model smooth.

After priming, some people will add 2-3 layers of an undercoat spray to cover up the color of the primer, usually in black or white depending on whether you want darker or lighter tones. You’ll get the best results by polishing and buffing between each layer of paint.

We can now start to apply the final layers of spray paint to the model, after applying masking tape to the areas that you want to be a different color. You want to apply the top coat in layers, ensuring that you wait a few minutes after each coat to see if the color is to your liking.

When you have your colors properly done, it’s a good idea to add 1-2 thin layers of clear coat spray to give your model that extra gloss and shine. Make sure you let your models rest for 5-7 days, so the paint can properly harden.

How to Fix ABS Prints Not Sticking to Bed

Making sure to level your bed is the first step to fix your ABS print is not sticking to the bed. Ensure your bed temperature is high enough in line with the recommendations. Use blue painter’s tape as a surface which your ABS prints can successfully adhere to. Using a raft can help greatly.

Some people have had great results by using a substance called ABS slurry, which is a combination of acetone and small bit of ABS filament, which dissolves in the acetone, creating a kind of thick mixture.

Rubbing this mixture on the print bed before an ABS 3D print is a great way of getting ABS prints to stick to the bed. I would definitely try experimenting with a few of these options, and I’m sure you’ll get your ABS prints to finally adhere to the build plate.

Using an enclosure around your 3D printer is a great way to regulate the temperature, which can positively affect your first layer and subsequent layers.

If your ABS prints aren’t sticking to the bed, you may also be using a printing temperature too low for the ABS to soften enough.

ABS layer separation also has very similar fixes in terms of controlling the temperature properly. If you find that you are getting layer separation in your ABS prints, try to optimize your printing and bed temperatures, as well as the ambient temperature by using an enclosure.

How to Print ABS Without Warping

To keep ABS prints from warping, you should enclosure your build area, increase the temperature of your build plate, decrease your printing temperature, make sure your build plate is flat, use extra adhesion methods such as hairspray, ABS slurry, or blue painter’s tape,  use a raft or brim. 

The main reason for ABS warping is through rapid cooling which causes the material to shrink and curl/warp around the outer model. It also occurs due to a poor adhesion to the surface, so if you can control those two factors, you should be able to print ABS without warping.

You can stop your ABS from shrinking by making sure there isn’t rapid cooling in the environment from things like drafts or your cooling fan.

Is 3D Printing With ABS Dangerous? Smell & Fumes

3D printing with ABS filament is known to emit toxic and smelly gasses such as styrene which is known to be a carcinogen or a possibly cancer-causing chemical. ABS is an oil-based material, so heating it to high temperatures can be dangerous to the respiratory system if you don’t have good ventilation or an enclosure.

For the many people who wonder how toxic ABS filament is, ABS is known to be significantly more toxic than other filaments like PLA and PETG, and it’s important to know that different filament manufacturers have differing standards when it comes to safety.

People have described the smell and fumes of ABS to be similar to that of burnt plastic. That arises from being a petroleum-based plastic.

I think in modern times, safety is being looked at more closely with there even being the introduction to non-smelly ABS filament.

3D printing in general is known to release nanoparticles or ultrafine particles (UFPs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the environment, so having good ventilation and not printing in occupied areas is recommended, especially for ABS.

UFPs are defined as particles with a diameter less than 100nm (nanometers) which can actually get into your lungs and bloodstream. They can cause respiratory issues and even cardiovascular conditions with constant exposure.

Styrene and formaldehyde are the main culprits for toxicity with ABS filament, both dangerous to people.

In terms of printing ABS indoors, it is safe if you have the proper ventilation channels with an enclosure to stop particles and emissions from spreading around. Using something like an inline carbon filter fan system with vents that lead outside.

How Strong is ABS Filament?

ABS filament is known to be a high strength filament with great durability. It also has a medium level of flexibility so it shouldn’t snap so easily like PLA filament. ABS can withstand a lot of impact and physical stresses. Legos are made of ABS plastic, as well as helmets and chairs.

ABS plastic won’t break easily due to its strong mechanical properties, as long as it is printed with a good amount of infill and wall thickness.

Does ABS Need to Be Dried?

ABS filament doesn’t need to be dried to 3D print successfully, but drying it thoroughly should improve the print quality and give you smoother surfaces. Many people have seen differences in quality after drying their filament at around 65°C for 3-4 hours. 

Does ABS Filament Absorb Moisture?

ABS filament does absorb moisture as well as all thermoplastics out there. Filaments absorb different levels of moisture depending on how they were manufactured and by how much humidity and moisture is in the surrounding environment. ABS is not as sensitive to moisture absorption compared to PLA or Nylon filament. 

You can purchase a professional filament dryer solution like the SUNLU Upgraded Filament Dryer from Amazon. You can efficiently remove excess moisture from your filament in a matter of hours, giving you more success and better quality 3D prints.

It’s very easy to set up since the filament dryer is fully assembled. You also have the added benefit of drying during 3D printing, for a moisture-free experience.

Can You 3D Print ABS Without a Heated Bed?

Some people wonder “does ABS need a heated bed” when it comes to getting a successful print.

ABS does usually need a heated bed to print properly, though some people have successfully printed it by using a strong adhesive on the bed. You can use blue painter’s tape and sand it with low grit sandpaper like 60 grit to improve the adhesion even without a heated bed.

The video below shows a user printing ABS without a heated bed. It looks like it can be a challenge, but definitely possible using the right methods.

Is ABS Easy or Hard to Print With?

ABS is known to be difficult to print with due to requiring a relatively high temperature and being prone to warping or shrinking. Beginners can have trouble with printing ABS successfully, but after dialing in your settings and having a good workstation, you can create some great ABS prints.

I would recommend beginners to start with PLA to understand how 3D printing works and how changing settings has an impact on the final print, then working up to printing with ABS.

Is ABS Filament UV Resistant?

ABS filament is not UV resistant and degrades under constant sun exposure. ABS 3D prints can still hold up well in the sun, but may become weaker and discolored after some time. It does have good heat resistance against the sun. I’d recommend getting ASA filament since it is a version of ABS that is UV resistant.

You can actually buy a UV-resistant varnish like the Krylon Clear Coatings Aerosol (11-Ounce) from Amazon. It not only dries in minutes, but is moisture-resistant and has a non-yellowing permanent coating.