TPU vs PLA: Which One Should You Use for 3D Printing?

Imagine stepping into the exciting world of 3D printing! You’ve got your design ready, your printer primed, but a crucial question arises: What filament should I use?

There are different types of materials that you can use for 3D printing. Among the common materials are TPU and PLA. What is the difference between them and which one should you use for 3D printing? Read our TPU vs PLA guide below to find out.

Overview of TPU and PLA

TPU and PLA stand as the rockstars of the 3D printing filament stage. TPU, with its inherent flexibility and durability, brings life to stretchable prints. On the other hand, PLA is the eco-friendly darling. This material is biodegradable and easy to use.

Here’s an overview of the two options:

  • TPU: Think bendy! Think stretchy! Think phone cases, flexible seals, and even comfy shoe parts. TPU, or Thermoplastic Polyurethane, is all about flexibility and durability.
  • PLA: Picture smooth, rigid prints! Imagine vases, figurines, and even custom tool handles. PLA, or Polylactic Acid, shines in creating strong, detailed objects.

Choosing the Right Filament

Just like picking the right tool for the job, choosing the right filament makes all the difference. The right choice can make your project a breeze. On the flipside, using the wrong filament could lead to warping, failed prints, and frustration.

When comparing PLA and TPU, there are three important things to consider:

  • Flexibility: Does your project need to bend, stretch, or absorb impact? TPU is your friend. Need rigidity and crisp details? PLA takes the stage.
  • Strength and Durability: Both materials are tough, but PLA generally excels in rigidity and heat resistance, while TPU shines in flexibility and resilience.
  • Printing ease: PLA is known for its beginner-friendly nature, printing cleanly with minimal warping. TPU can be trickier, requiring some printing know-how.

Both PLA and TPU are common materials used for 3D printing. However, the materials have different properties, behave differently when in a 3D printer and have various pros and con to consider.

TPU vs. PLA: Material Properties

Now that we’ve met PLA and TPU, let’s delve into their unique characteristics:

TPU: The Flexible Champion

Imagine bending without breaking, absorbing impact with ease, and stretching to fit your needs. That’s the magic of TPU.

TPU is an acronym for Thermoplastic Polyurethane. This filament is mostly used for prints that have to be elastic as well as resistant to abrasion, oil and grease.

Here is one of the best TPU filaments on the market:

TPU vs PLA: Which One Should You Use for 3D Printing? 1

AVAILABLE ON ERYONE3D

In 3D printing, the standard filaments recommended are PLA and ABS. However, these two materials are not flexible. Therefore, they are not suitable for bending prototypes.

On the other hand, TPU is flexible in nature. The material can bend without any effect on the durability, strength or design or the print.

After printing a model with TPU filament, you can use a mild soap to clean it.

TPU vs PLA: Which One Should You Use for 3D Printing? 2

Here are the main characteristics of TPU:

  • Flexible: Unlike its rigid counterpart, TPU thrives on flexibility. Whether you’re crafting shock-absorbing phone cases, custom gaskets, or even flexible wearables, this material bends and stretches with grace.
  • Resilient: From withstanding bumps and drops to enduring everyday wear and tear, TPU boasts impressive durability. Think long-lasting phone cases, protective sports gear, and functional prototypes built to last.

Applications of TPU

Unleash your creativity with TPU in a range of applications, including:

  • Flexible phone cases: Protect your precious device with a bendable, impact-absorbing case.
  • Seals and gaskets: Ensure watertight connections with reliable, long-lasting seals.
  • Wearables and sports gear: Design comfortable, durable fitness trackers or protective gear.
  • Prototyping and functional parts: Create flexible, resilient prototypes for testing and functionality.

PLA: Rigid and Eco-friendly

PLA is an acronym for Polylactic Acid. This is the easiest material to 3D print and, therefore, is the most common. One of the differences between PLA and most thermoplastics is that the former is made from organic materials such as sugarcane and corn starch.

READ: What is PLA  Filament Made Of?

PLA is a bio-degradable plastic that is categorized as a ‘bioplastic’. Since polylactic acid is biodegradable, you may feel a little better when 3D printing using PLA since you won’t be harming the environment.

TPU vs PLA: Which One Should You Use for 3D Printing? 3

PLA is also food-safe. However, when printing foods, issues can arise due to the gaps between the layers, which can make it easy for bacteria to thrive.

If you are just getting started with 3D printing, you should use PLA filament. This material is more forgiving when printing and works excellently for rapid prototyping.

Here is one PLA filament that we recommend:

ERYONE PLA

BUY ON ERYONE

PLA is all about strength, precision, and a touch of environmental consciousness. It’s notable characteristics include:

  1. Natural Ingredients: Derived from renewable resources like corn starch, PLA boasts biodegradability, making it an eco-friendly choice.
  2. Rigid: Unlike its bendy rival, PLA excels in rigidity. Picture crisp details, smooth surfaces, and strong, dimensionally accurate prints like figurines, decorative items, and functional tools.

Check our guide of the best PLA filaments here.

Applications of PLA

PLA is a perfect choice when you want to print the following:

  • Decorative items and figurines: Capture intricate details and vibrant colors for stunning home decor.
  • Functional tools and prototypes: Create rigid, dimensionally accurate prototypes and tools.
  • Educational toys and models: Design sturdy, safe toys that spark imaginations.

PLA vs. TPU: Printability

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for! Let’s explore the printability of PLA and TPU, guiding you towards smooth, successful prints that bring your creations to life.

TPU

TPU’s flexibility brings unique printing challenges, but fear not! With some know-how, you can master this material.

Challenges and Considerations

Printing with TPU introduces its own set of challenges due to its flexible nature. One common hurdle is managing the filament’s elasticity, which can lead to issues like stringing and oozing. Additionally, TPU might require slower print speeds to avoid deformities. It’s essential to be mindful of these challenges to ensure smooth TPU printing experiences.

Here’s a summary:

  • Stringing and oozing: Due to its flexibility, TPU can ooze from the nozzle, causing stringing between printed parts.
  • Printing temperature: Finding the optimal temperature balance is crucial for successful prints.
  • Slower printing speeds: To avoid layer shifting and ensure proper adhesion, slower speeds are often necessary.

Adjusting your printer settings is the key to overcoming TPU challenges. Begin with a lower print speed – around 30mm/s – to accommodate the material’s flexibility. Utilize a direct drive extruder for better control, and consider experimenting with nozzle temperatures between 220-230°C. Bed adhesion is crucial, so a heated bed set to 40-60°C and coated with adhesive material can enhance TPU print success.

Some more tips:

  • Nozzle and bed temperatures: Refer to your specific filament brand and printer for optimal settings.
  • Retraction settings: Fine-tuning retraction can significantly reduce stringing.
  • Printing speeds: Start slow and gradually increase based on your results.

TPU Printing Tips

  • Use a direct drive extruder for more control over filament flow, reducing stringing.
  • Increase cooling to solidify layers and minimizes oozing.
  • Calibrate your printer meticulously to ensure smooth filament flow and adhesion.
  • Opt for a flexible build plate or apply adhesion aids like hairspray or glue to the bed.
  • Ensure proper filament path to prevent tangling or binding during printing.
  • Experiment with retraction settings to minimize stringing.
  • Regularly check and clean the extruder nozzle to avoid clogs.

PLA

PLA, the friendly neighbor of the 3D printing world, is renowned for its user-friendliness. It’s an excellent choice for beginners due to its low printing temperature, typically around 180-220°C. PLA seldom warps, making it easy to print without the need for a heated bed. The material’s reliability and ease of use contribute to a hassle-free printing experience for those just stepping into the 3D printing arena.

PLA’s popularity stems partly from its user-friendly printing nature. Let’s dive into its printability and address common hurdles.

1. Beginner-Friendly Brilliance:

  • Minimal warping and curling: PLA generally warps less than other filaments, making it ideal for beginners.
  • Wide range of compatible printers: Most printers handle PLA with ease.
  • Easy to find and affordable: PLA is readily available and budget-friendly.

Common Printing Issues and Solutions

While PLA is forgiving, it’s not without its challenges. Common issues include layer adhesion problems and occasional brittleness. To address these, ensure your printer’s cooling fan is functioning properly, and experiment with adjusting layer temperatures. If brittleness persists, consider incorporating infill patterns to enhance structural integrity.

For other issues, refer to the following:

  • Stringing: Adjust retraction settings and printing temperature.
  • Clogging: Ensure proper nozzle cleaning and use high-quality filament.
  • Layer adhesion: Calibrate your bed and use appropriate bed adhesion methods.

PLA Printing Tips

  • Printing temperature: 190-220°C, depending on your printer and PLA brand.
  • Bed temperature: Not always required but 50-60°C can improve adhesion.
  • Print speed: PLA works well at speeds ranging from 40-80mm/s.
  • Cooling fan: Maintain a cooling fan speed to enhance layer cooling.
  • Retraction settings: Generally, minimal retraction is needed for PLA.

PLA vs. TPU: Which Should You Choose?

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for! PLA and TPU stand before you, each with its unique strengths and quirks. But which one reigns supreme for your project? Fear not, aspiring maker! This head-to-head comparison will equip you to make an informed decision:

Properties PLA TPU
Flexibility Limited flexibility High flexibility and elasticity
Strength Rigid, good layer adhesion Flexible, impact-resistant
Printing Ease Beginner-friendly, minimal warping Requires careful settings, slower speeds
Cost Generally more affordable Slightly higher cost due to specialized properties
Environmental Impact Biodegradable, eco-friendly Biodegradable but may require specific conditions for decomposition

Let’s summarize how these two materials fare against each other:

1. Flexibility and Strength

  • PLA: Ideal for rigid structures with good layer adhesion.
  • TPU: Offers high flexibility, making it suitable for applications requiring elasticity and impact resistance.

2. Printing Ease

  • PLA: Beginner-friendly, minimal warping.
  • TPU: Requires careful settings and slower speeds to overcome challenges associated with flexibility.

3. Cost Factors

  • PLA: Generally more affordable due to its widespread use.
  • TPU: Slightly higher cost reflects its specialized properties, but the investment is justified for certain applications.

4. Environmental Impact

  • PLA: Biodegradable and eco-friendly, contributing to sustainability.
  • TPU: Biodegradable, but decomposition may require specific conditions.

Summary

In the PLA vs. TPU showdown, the right choice depends on your specific project requirements. If you’re a beginner or working on projects that benefit from rigidity and cost-effectiveness, PLA is a solid choice. On the other hand, if flexibility, impact resistance, and specialized applications are your priorities, TPU is the go-to filament.

Consider the balance between cost, ease of use, and the specific properties your project demands. Ultimately, both PLA and TPU have their unique strengths, offering a versatile range for 3D printing enthusiasts. Happy printing, and may your creations come to life with the perfect filament in hand!

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