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There are many different materials that you can use with a 3D printer, but the two most common varieties are PETG and PLA. But when it comes to filaments, which is best? PLA? Or PETG? This same question pops up for everyone who decides to embark on the hobby and art of 3D printing, whether they’re new or a pro at 3D printing.
When you add in the fact that certain materials are better suited for specific projects, that can make the determination all the more challenging. Many considerations come into play when making this decision—we will outline all important details to help you come to a conclusion for yourself and your projects.
Table of Contents
What Is PLA?
As a standard product used in 3D printers, PLA (also known as polylactic acid) is derived from natural resources. The classic makeup of PLA includes organic cornstarch and sugar cane. You will also see some blends with a combination of cassava and the pulp of sugar beets.
People often use PLA for 3D printing due to its effortless molding properties and cost-efficient production techniques. In fact, it is often used to construct everyday items like plastic bottles and biodegradable medical equipment such as plates, screws, or the rods doctors surgically insert into a person’s body.
With the organic ingredients comprising PLA vs other types of filament, it is safe for food storage. However, this is only the case when not it’s not 3D printed due to the pores the process leaves in the material. For this reason, companies frequently use this filament for water bottles created outside of 3D printing. Additionally, the slow rate at which the material degrades makes PLA long-lasting and durable.
What Is PETG?
Another filament you routinely see used in 3D printers is PETG. PETG is a filament known as polyethylene terephthalate glycol. The glycol is added to the makeup during production to offer different chemical advantages.
Initially, the formulation of PETG began with just polyethylene terephthalate. This element underwent formulation from two different chemicals that did not serve much of a purpose on their own but were valuable when combined. When scientists took the initiative to bring them into one element, they created a filament with a high melting point that didn’t easily dissolve.
Later, the discovery of polyethylene terephthalate glycol occurred when scientists realized that adding more glycol reduced crystallization. With this chemical makeup, people could use the material to form items and products, such as through 3D printing.
What Material Does a 3D Printer Use?
When creating items with a 3D printer, you can use a wide variety of materials depending on what specific products you are making. A team of students from MIT recently used an ice cream maker and a 3D printer to create artistic and edible treats. Scientists in India are also working to roll out skin for humans with 3D technology.
Even though there is a wide array of materials you can use, those outside the most common ones are specifically available for specialized products. For those making items at home, there are six material styles that are most common for use in a 3D printer:
- ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)
- Carbon Fiber
In addition to the above, some new materials are being introduced into the industry and are becoming more standard in everyday projects. This variety is called bio-based resins. Manufacturers produce this filament style with natural ingredients like corn oil, paper, powder, and soybean oil.
PETG vs. PLA: Which Material Should You Choose?
There is no one correct answer here. When it comes down to choosing between PLA and PETG, selecting the appropriate 3D printing material depends on the type of project you are working on at the moment. There are specific situations in which one style will be more suitable than the other.
Additionally, the process of each project may warrant certain conditions that only one option or filament can provide. Below are some examples.
Best for Beginners
For those just starting in 3D printing, it is understandable to want to work with a filament that is easy to use and offers fewer opportunities for mistakes. While both PETG and PLA are suitable for beginners, we found PLA to be more favorable.
The fact that PLA has a lower melting temperature than other materials is helpful to those just starting. Additionally, the price point is less than some of the other common materials on the market. If you’re more of a pro at the activity, you can try experimenting with PETG or even ABS next.
Best for Outdoor Items
When printing items that primarily exist outdoors, you must ensure that the materials used in their creation can withstand various elements like added moisture in the air. Whether the item will be exposed to high heat, freezing cold, rain, or anything in between, it needs to have the chemical and material makeup to hold up during all intense conditions.
If you plan on using your 3D printer to create outdoor items, it’s good to choose PETG. PETG is more resistant to chemicals than PLA and can withstand UV rays, rain, or high heat.
Best for Painted Items
Printing the product is often just the first step in the process. Many people who utilize 3D printing technology will then go on to paint their creations and customize them to their favorite styles and colors. However, not all materials are conducive to painting. Therefore, you can’t use them if you have this next step in mind.
If you intend to continue with the creative process after printing, it is best to utilize PLA for your items. The PLA filament can be sanded and painted. It’s more flexible when it comes to other innovative design measures that won’t harm the filament itself.
Best for Jewelry
One of the best features of a 3D printer is creating custom jewelry, whether for yourself or others. The heat from the printer bed and the moldable material provide sufficient conditions to design and print rings, bracelets, necklaces, and more. However, you do need to pick the appropriate filament before embarking on this journey to printing a quality piece.
For most people who are printing custom jewelry, PETG is often preferred over PLA. The overall strength of PETG makes it more favorable for long-lasting jewelry and can tolerate frequent use.
Best for Miniatures and Figurines
One of the most common 3D printed items around are miniatures and figurines, such as custom characters to replicas. In all these cases, PLA is the better filament. PLA is easier and cleaner to print with. PETG is also more prone to stringing (or blobbing of excess material), especially when printing at higher temperatures.
However, it’s important to note that PLA is more fragile when we compare it to PETG. If your miniature will be handled by people often, it is worth an upgrade, not to PETG, but to PLA+. This offers more durability for a small price increase.
Best for Toys
Toys come in all shapes and sizes. But one thing they have in common is the fact that they are all meant to be played with, making PETG the clear winner of the category. PETG is more durable and flexible than PLA. It is also more resistant to changes in the environment. Toys 3D printed with PETG are less likely to warp or degrade over time.
Best for Storage Items
When organizing your home, car, or office, you quickly see that the cost of the various containers and gadgets that you want are pretty expensive. Thankfully, there are many ways in which you can use your 3D printer to create everything you need and get your space in perfect shape.
If you’re printing items like phone stands, hooks, cable management systems, pencil holders, etc., the best style of material to use is PLA. When looking at PETG or PLA for this task, the flexibility that comes with PLA makes it more conducive for these particular needs.
Best for Cookie Cutters
One of the most fantastic perks of owning a 3D printer is having the ability to customize what cookie cutters you want. You can select any design or phrase and have it available for upcoming special occasions or for giving as a gift. Even though cookie cutters don’t contain much material, they require a specific type.
When making cookie cutters, it is best to use PETG during printing. If you want a cutter that will last more than a couple of times, PETG can provide extended durability. PLA is more brittle and can break easily, even likely after one or two times of use.
What Not To Make With PETG and PLA
As we previously mentioned, many other materials are available to create items in conjunction with your 3D printer. There are times when you want to avoid the argument of PLA vs PETG altogether and use a different filament completely. Below are such cases.
PLA is very fragile and will break easily but PETG can be used to print a lot of mechanical parts and protective components. However, it also tends to shrink more than PLA as it cools. This can cause minor inaccuracies for parts that need precise measurements, which you do not want to happen.
While PETG is safe for food storage in most circumstances, you want to be mindful of the chemical makeup to ensure that everything is food safe. You should avoid PLA altogether for creating food storage or water bottles if you plan to utilize a 3D printer.
If you are thinking about making items that will go on to be family heirlooms, it is best to avoid printing with both PETG and PLA. While PETG is more durable, it doesn’t have an acceptable rating for long-term use. Instead, you will want to choose a filament you can use for long durations.
There are many advantages that come with 3D printing. As you get more involved in the hobby, you can start to create items with a high level of detail. In getting to that point, you need to learn which materials are suitable for the various projects you are planning.
When it comes to choosing between PETG or PLA, there are distinct situations where one is preferable over the other. Ultimately, it comes down to the vision for the project and what purpose it will fulfill long-term. From there, identify which filaments will be good for the job.
Frequently Asked Questions
When it comes to choosing PETG or PLA, many questions come up. Below, we highlight some of the top inquiries that come with the topic. Additionally, we address the process of using these particular filaments for 3D printing.
While there isn’t a specific distinction that categorizes one as better than the other, the two are suitable for different printing needs. Therefore, you may determine that PLA is better for one project and PETG for another.
You can use both PLA and PETG together in a project. While there are some changes you will need to make in the printer settings, PETG can stick to the PLA when done with the correct temperature levels.
While there are some commonalities between the two, PETG and PLA are different in more ways than they are the same. PLA is more brittle. In comparison, PETG can withstand more intense conditions. The two also perform well in different temperature settings.
While the outcome of a project printed with PETG results in a highly durable product, the process that comes with getting it there isn’t as easy. As you are printing, you are using high levels of heat on your bed, and the PETG can’t handle those levels as easily as other materials. Therefore, it is more likely to crack at that stage of the print.
PETG and PLA can technically be printed at the same speed. However, we found that PETG needs more minutes in the machine compared to PLA. In fact, PETG is better printed slowly (between 60 and 100 mm/s). Anything faster than this can negatively affect the quality of your prints.
PETG is your go to when you need tough and durable prints. It is good for printing items that demand high strength, resilience, and changes in your environment. Some examples include protective casings and outdoor fixtures.