If you play with — or step on — LEGO bricks, you know about Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). Since the 1950s, it has been a dominant material in the plastics space, now used in everything from plumbing pipes, musical instruments, canoes, and injection moulding to 3D printing. ABS filament offers significant advantages for a lot of 3D printing functions and projects, but also special challenges. Can you print ABS without an enclosure?
You can print ABS filament without an enclosure, but should not. As a 3D filament, ABS has advantages, but disadvantages too. Those disadvantages include toxicity and the need for careful temperature control and slow cooling, failing which parts can become warped and layers can split. An enclosure can minimize those disadvantages.
Enclosures can help to minimize the disadvantages of using ABS filament to allow you to leverage the clear advantages of the product. The right enclosure can make 3D printing with ABS filament safer, more comfortable, and more effective.
Can you print ABS filament without an enclosure?
3D printing with ABS requires careful temperature management. Failure to manage temperatures properly can result in the warping of materials following extrusion. Equipping your 3D printer with an enclosure will hold the temperature around your print bed at a consistent and proper temperature to avoid warping and distortions of your newly printed parts. Using an enclosure will also contain fumes that can be emitted during printing, and reduce exposure to potentially toxic particles.
Printing with ABS can expose users to fumes and particles that recommend combining an enclosure (for temperature management) with an extraction system (for fumes management). Those potentially toxic fumes are the chemical styrene produced from heating of ABS. Exposure can and should be managed by proper ventilation, but an enclosure system will provide additional protection. The best possible solution involves both an enclosure and fumes extraction system or, at least, proper ventilation in the working space.
What are the pros and cons of printing with ABS filament?
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is made from Acrylonitrile, 1,3-Butadiene and Styrene. Outside the 3D printing space, ABS is versatile enough for an enormous range of uses and can be machined in a wide variety of ways depending on use — turning, sawing, drilling, milling, die-cutting, and shearing.
In the 3D printing context, ABS is a useful product in filament form because its chemical properties remain consistent when melted and after cooling. Compared to other filament materials — PLA, PET, PETT, Nylon, PVA, etc. — ABS offers certain advantages and disadvantages as a 3D printing material.
|Pros and Cons of 3D Printing With ABS Filament|
|ABS is durable, strong and tough; it is resistant to scratches, heat, and common chemicals; ABS tolerates stress, pressure and heat well; ABS breaks much less easily than PLA filament, making it ideal for wearing parts||Printing with ABS requires careful temperature management, and a time and environment — including an enclosure — where the material can cool slowly. Poor temperature management or too rapid cooling may cause cracks or splits between layers.|
|ABS is a very forgiving material can achieve overhangs of up to 45 degrees; ABS is very forgiving when printed with the correct settings and with careful temperature management||ABS printed elements can curl and warp, particularly if those objects have a large standing surface|
|ABS material is easily worked with acetone; parts made from ABS can be glued easily, and even filed and painted with acrylic paints||ABS parts can be damaged by direct sunlight; ABS may not be an appropriate material for printing parts to be used outside in direct sunlight|
|Printing with ABS can cause the release of smelly and potential harmful fumes (Styrene as the result of heating the ABS), which can be managed by a combination of an enclosure and extraction/ventilation system|
|ABS filament must be roughly 30 degrees hotter in the printer’s nozzle, and roughly 50 degrees hotter than PLA filament on the printing bed|
Using an enclosure to 3D print with ABS filament
There are 10 main reasons to use an enclosure when printing with ABS filament, many of which help to resolve some of the disadvantages that can arise from printing with ABS:
- To reduce warping of printed parts
- To reduce splitting of layers
- To maintain a consistent temperature
- To control the rate of cooling
- To protect the printing area and extruded parts from drafts
- To protect the printing area and extruded parts from dust
- To reduce noise
- To contain fumes
- To allow for connection of the contained fumes to an extraction or ventilation system
- To reduce noise
When determining what kinds of enclosure to use for your 3D printer while printing with ABS filament, there are several considerations to keep in mind:
- How much do you want to spend?
- What do you want it to look like, considering where it is located?
- How important is ease of access to the printer, and who’ll need access?
- Will you be connecting to an extraction system?
- Will you be relying on passive ventilation?
- What portions of your equipment and materials do you want to contain within the enclosure, keeping in mind that temperatures will increase in the enclosed space during printing?
- What materials do you have on hand to build (if you’re looking for a DIY option) an enclosure, and how flammable are those materials?
How important is controlling 3D printing fumes?
Georgia Institute of Technology researchers investigated the negative impacts of 3D printers based on their filament materials in a study described in an October 2019 article entitled Commercial 3D printers emit traces of toxic fumes, study finds. According to the article, heating 3D printing materials “releases volatile compounds, some of which form ultrafine particles emitted into the air near the printer and the object.”
The study found that particles emitted by PLA filament were more toxic than those emitted by ABS filament on a per-particle basis, but printers using ABS filament produced so many more toxic particles that they are of much greater concern. The negative implications of toxic ABS particles emitted during 3D printing were greater in residential settings with less effective ventilation than might be found in an educational or commercial environment.
Enclosure options for printing with ABS filament
Depending on all those factors, using an enclosure to print with ABS may be as simple as sourcing an empty cardboard box. Alternatively, some 3D printers use photo studio tents purchased from Amazon, clear storage containers, upcycled furniture such as a filing cabinet, or combinations of IKEA products. For examples of improvised 3D printing enclosures in all those categories, check out this site. There are purpose-built enclosure kits for 3D printers, including one by Creality featured in that same site. If you’re handy, building an enclosure to use ABS filament in your 3D printer is also an option.
There are a wide variety of retail options for 3D printing enclosures from manufacturers, such as the following pieces of equipment:
- 3D Print Clean 870 Pro Enclosure
- 3D Print Clean 660 Pro Enclosure
- BCN3D Sigma R19 Enclosure
- Enclosure Kit for Ultimaker S5, 2+/3, 2/2+, 3 & 3 Extended, and S3
- BOFA 3D PrintPRO 2 Fume Extractor
Additional retail options include Prusa, Creality, Lulzot, Makergear, Artillery, Monoprice, and Folgertech 3D printer enclosures.