How to Tell the Difference & Recognize PLA, ABS, PETG


If you’ve ever wondered how to either distinguish or tell the difference between PLA, ABS & PETG, then this article can help you with that. Some people have had a filament mix up, or unlabeled spools of material.

The main way to tell the difference between PLA, ABS, and PETG is to identify the smell. ABS produces a harsh smell when exposed to heat. Printing temperatures for PLA are much lower than ABS and PETG, being at around 200°C. PLA is also more brittle and would snap fairly quickly if bent.

Keep on reading for more details on how to tell the difference & recognize PLA, ABS & PETG filament.

How Do You Know if You Have PLA, ABS, or PETG?

One of the ways to distinguish what kind of filament you have comes from the smell. Some people have noted that PLA has a specific smell that is described as either a sweet smell or one of popcorn, while ABS is a much harsher burning type of smell.

To my knowledge, PETG doesn’t have much of a smell at all.

Another great way to determine what filament you have is to run a test for ABS. A well known fact with ABS is how it dissolves in acetone, which is how a product called “ABS Slurry” is made, an adhesive substance.

If you cut off a piece of filament, and put it in some acetone, does the filament dissolve? If it dissolves pretty quickly, then you know it’s ABS, though PLA has been known to slightly dissolve depending on how it was manufactured, but not as fast as ABS.

In terms of printing temperatures, you’ll find that PLA prints at a much lower temperature compared to ABS and PETG, so that is one of the key tests you can do.

If you find that you can 3D print the material at around 200°C, then you are likely to have a spool of PLA, but if you can only successfully 3D print the material at 240C, then we are looking between ABS and PETG.

ABS is known to print from 230-260°C, PETG at 230-250°C, and PLA at 190-220°C so keep that in mind.

Just going off the most popular filament, you are most likely to have you some PLA from the massive volume we have of it, but that of course isn’t the best way to determine things.

Because of all these same features and working, they look the same when seen at the first time but here are some identifications that can help you recognize PLA, ABS, or PETG.

Recognizing the Difference Between PLA vs ABS

PLA has a much lower melting point as compared to ABS. Apply heat to the filament at the temperature required for ABS and see how it reacts. If filament melt quickly, it is PLA.

PLA is much stiffer than ABS which means that bending the PLA will break a lot quicker. ABS doesn’t break immediately but if you bend it, it usually turns into a pale color like white where it is stretched and usually won’t break easily.

If you keep on bending the filament back and forth a few times and then smell it, sometimes you can identify a chemical odor or smell similar to burning rubber. Some people have chosen to use a lighter, but that isn’t the safest option in terms of harmful fumes.

ABS tends to have a matte, dull or flat look without a lot of shine, while PLA has a smoother and shiner surface. PLA usually has more vibrant, intensive and contrast colors while ABS sticks to the basics.

Try touching the surface of the filament and see whether the filament is dry or smooth, with PLA usually being the smooth filament.

ABS has a harsh smell while being heated or printed but PLA emits either little to no smell, or a kind of pleasant sweet smell or like popcorn being heated.

You can also tell by putting some acetone on the paper towel and then wiping the filament, if it smears or the color comes off on the paper towel, the material is ABS filament.

Recognizing the Difference Between PLA vs PETG

The printing temperature test for PLA vs PETG makes the most sense since we can’t tell by smell or feel as much since PETG has an odorless printing experience for the most part.

I would set up a 3D printer to be at a temperature of around 200°C and try to print the material.

If you find that the extrusion isn’t coming through so great through the nozzle, you’ll most likely have PETG on your hands, since PLA would have a smooth extrusion.

Recognizing the Difference Between ABS vs PETG

While burning the filament, if the material emits fewer fumes, it will be considered as the PETG because ABS emits much more fumes as compared to PETG and many other filaments.

ABS emits a strong smell much more like chemicals or burning rubber and if there is no smell while burning or printing the material, it is probably the PETG because it offers odorless printing.

Put some material in the acetone as it will give clear results. If your material dissolves in the acetone, it is ABS and if the material remains undissolved, it is PETG.

What is Better For 3D Printing? PLA, ABS, or PETG?

There isn’t any single winner that can be classified as the best filament for 3D printing. All these three 3D printing materials have their own properties and suitability for different applications.

Is PLA Better for 3D Printing?

If you are just stepping into the 3D printing world, PLA is usually the best option compared to the others due to its ease of printing and wide range of applications.

It requires a lower printing temperature, comes in so many more colors and types, as well as being very functional and durable for projects or just aesthetic pieces. PLA prints with amazing quality and gets the job done every time.

When it comes to price, PLA, ABS, and PETG are all very similar but it used to be the case where PLA was the cheapest.

A quick search of these different filaments on Amazon will show a pretty comparable price range, where you can get a good 1Kg spool of filament for $20-$25 easily.

PLA usually sticks down to the bed surface nicely and doesn’t have as many troubleshooting issues such as warping or stringing with these other materials.

In terms of the smell and fumes, you have the safest material when using PLA since it doesn’t emit those harsh chemicals while heated.

Get yourself a spool of SUNLU PLA Filament from Amazon today. It has over 5,000 ratings, most of which are very positive experiences from users just like you!

Is ABS Better for 3D Printing?

When you have a little more experience in the 3D printing field, and you are looking for models that have slightly more attributes, ABS is a great choice.

ABS has higher heat and chemical resistance, strength, durability, flexibility, and can withstand more wear and tear overall.

If you have some kind of functional 3D printed project which needs resistance to heat or has some load-bearing, ABS is a good choice. For outdoor use, a similar material to ABS, called ASA has UV protection, and is widely used for those projects.

You can get some HATCHBOX ABS 1.75mm Filament from Amazon.

Is PETG Better for 3D Printing?

Since PETG gained popularity in the 3D printing industry, it has been appreciated due to its higher level of strength compared to PLA, but easier printing experience compared to ABS.

It’s really a filament which takes the ideal qualities from both PLA and ABS, and merged it into one very practical filament.

On top of that, it has great weather resistance, UV resistance, high strength, great layer adhesion, and also prints odorless. If you ever need to print 3D models that will be used in outdoor applications, PETG filament should be your first priority.

These qualities do make it an ideal choice for being one of the best 3D printing materials out there.

The main complaint you’ll hear from PETG is how it is more prone to stringing, but with some fine-tuning of your retraction settings, you can really keep it at bay.

One of the best you can get is the ERYONE PETG Filament 1.75mm Spool from Amazon, which comes in many colors and has a good tolerance of ±0.03mm.

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