MakerBot Plastics: ABS and PLA
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is the same thermoplastic that Legos
are made of. It starts to soften around 105° C. It's the “classic” plastic. If you
look around your house, you'll find lots of products made from ABS, including
kids' toys, sports equipment, and even things like Big Wheels. Most of the
interior of cars is made from ABS these days, too. ABS is a wonderful material
and when it's in its goo-like state it flows easily through the extruder's nozzle,
which makes it perfect for injection molding and 3D printing.
PLA stands for polylactic acid and is made from plant starches, usually corn
in the USA and potatoes in Europe. Because it's made from biological mate-
rials rather than petroleum, it can decompose in a suitable compost bin or
facility, which makes it a more environmentally friendly plastic. It also smells
like waffles when you make things with it. PLA melts at a slightly higher tem-
perature than ABS, around 150° C.
The MakerBot Replicator 2 is designed to print in PLA only, but older models
(the original Replicator, Thing-O-Matic, and Cupcake CNC) can handle ABS
What Can a MakerBot Make?
With a MakerBot, you can make anything. While there is a limitation on the
size of things that you can make, if you want to make something bigger than
the build volume, you can make it in multiple parts and glue them together.
I find there to be a number of parallels between using a MakerBot desk-
top 3D printer and one of my other hobbies, origami. A few years ago,
Robert Lang, an engineer and modern origami designer, presented a
complete algorithm that solves for an origami base that can have any
number of desired flaps of any length, that could be then folded into
anything from a single square of paper. In essence, Mr. Lang's research
has demonstrated that a sophisticated origami folder could fold abso-
lutely anything from just one single sufficiently large square of paper.
A MakerBot provides an operator with an extra dimension beyond a
simple two-dimensional sheet of paper, while removing the skill require-
ment from the equation. You can make a complicated plastic structure
with a MakerBot just as quickly and easily as you can a solid cube—using
the same volume of plastic.
It stands to reason that if anything is possible in a single sheet of square
paper, at least that much is possible with a machine that can build things
in three dimensions.