As one of the most common and easily accessible 3D printing filaments, PLA is the go-to choice for beginners, hobbyists, and professionals on a budget. PLA comes with many advantages, including an affordable price tag. This filament is also one of the few that are printable at low temperatures and that don’t require an enclosure or a heated bed. When looking for the best PLA filament, you may come across PLA+. What is the difference between the two? Find it out in our PLA vs. PLA plus guide.
PLA and PLA+ are very similar. Essentially, PLA+ is an enhanced type of PLA. The additives in PLA+ boost the material’s mechanical properties, making it more durable. However, PLA causes less trouble when printing. Our PLA vs. PLA+ comparison guide will help you pick the right filament for you.
FDM is an acronym for Fused Deposition Modeling, which is the most popular 3D printing technology. The filaments in this category are essentially strings made of different plastic materials. When printing, the filament is extruded through a heated nozzle and deposited at specific coordinates on the printer bed, creating the 3D object.
The FDM filament category includes a variety of thermoplastic filaments, such as ABS, PETG, PLA, and PLA+.
What is PLA?
PLA stands for polylactic acid, which is a thermoplastic material obtained through the condensation of lactic acid. The material is used in the manufacturing of numerous consumer goods, agricultural accessories, and medical implants.
In 3D printing, PLA is one of the most popular filaments. In addition to its affordable price tag, PLA filament is also considered more environmentally friendly than other FDM filament options. PLA is an excellent choice for low-temperature 3D printing (374°F to 428°F) and for use with unheated beds (although a heated bed can increase the quality of your print).
What is PLA+?
Essentially, PLA+ is a premium type of PLA. Contrary to popular belief, PLA+ doesn’t refer to only one type of modified PLA, but the PLA+ filaments can vary from one another based on the additives used during the manufacturing process.
In most cases, manufacturers use a variety of modifiers and pigments that help improve PLA’s weaknesses, including its brittleness and excessive moisture absorption.
PLA+ has similar print settings to PLA, including similar print speed, temperature, and shrinkage. However, the results are often superior when using PLA+. This material delivers better surface quality, color, and mechanical properties.
You should keep in mind, though, that there is no industry standard to follow when manufacturing PLA+. For this reason, the actual quality of the PLA Plus filament can vary from one manufacturer to another.
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Differences Between PLA And PLA Plus
While PLA and PLA Plus have similar characteristics and require similar printing settings, there are some differences between the two filaments you should know about.
PLA+ is a reinforced version of PLA, a thermoplastic polymer mixed with additives and modifiers that enhance the material’s properties. Thus, PLA+ filament offers higher quality than PLA. The material is not only stronger and more resilient, but it also offers better layer adhesion as well as better-looking and more resistant prints.
PLA is an excellent choice for hobbyists and printing simple objects. PLA+ works best for larger projects or more intricate items.
As mentioned above, PLA+ is a reinforced type of PLA, which means it’s also stronger. The material has higher tensile and impact strength compared to PLA. This characteristic makes PLA+ a better choice for printing functional objects, including medical implants. PLA Plus is also the filament of choice when printing household items that have to bear heavier loads.
By comparison, PLA holds up pretty well, too. However, the material tends to break under heavier loads and becomes brittle when exposed to certain environmental conditions.
Another field where PLA Plus dominates PLA is flexibility. The former is much more flexible and less brittle than PLA. At the same time, PLA+ can withstand higher pressure. This is another characteristic that makes PLA+ a better choice for objects that have to bear heavy loads, such as wall-mounted TV stands, for example.
We mentioned already that PLA and PLA+ require similar printing settings. However, PLA+ has increased heat stability.
One of the standard PLA’s weakest points is the low-temperature resistance. Due to this characteristic, PLA is unsuitable to use for prints that have to be kept in extreme temperatures – either outside in cold weather or in very hot environments. PLA prints shouldn’t be heated, either, which limits the type of objects you can make with this filament.
PLA+ temperature resistance is higher than PLA’s, and the material can fix many of PLA’s drawbacks. PLA Plus printing temperature can go up to 455°F, giving you a thermal boost of about 27°F compared to PLA. This puts PLA+ in the same category with heavier duty filaments like PETG.
The material’s thermal resistance is also higher, allowing you to safely use PLA+ for objects intended for outdoor use.
Filament strength is one of the most important characteristics when printing objects with overhanging features or that require bridging. Since PLA+ is stronger than PLA, it goes without saying that it has better bridging performance.
The improved material supports its own weight better and becomes stronger as it cools down; thus, you can use PLA Plus to experiment with a wider variety of models or print more intricate items.
PLA+ also wins when it comes to overall print quality and surface finish. There are several points to consider when printing a 3D object, including the surface smoothness and color brightness.
Thanks to its higher strength and better thermal resistance, PLA+ offers a smoother finish. You wouldn’t be able to obtain a glossy finish with standard PLA, for example, the rough surface of the material hindering the purpose. This isn’t an issue with PLA+.
PLA Plus also tends to have brighter colors due to the higher quality of the pigments used – although you should not confound this characteristic with color variety.
If PLA+ has dominated the fields up until now, PLA comes with one huge advantage – this filament type is available in a wider variety of colors.
PLA’s hues aren’t as bright as PLA Plus’, but you can choose from a higher number of colors and shades.
The increased color variety is linked to the demand. PLA is an affordable filament and generally the go-to choice for beginners and hobbyists. Arts and crafts involve creativity, and most creative people love colors – hence, the demand.
PLA+ is more expensive and often used for more specialized applications. In most of these cases, color isn’t a driving factor – printers will likely consider the filament’s strength, heat stability, and finish quality rather than the hue. Thus, it is available in fewer colors.
Speaking of numbers, PLA is available in over 250 colors, whereas you can only choose from about 20 shades if you want to use PLA+.
While PLA won a point with its color variety, PLA Plus gained another field in terms of storage. It all comes down to moisture absorption.
All filament types absorb some moisture from the environment, but some are spongier than others. PLA is one of the filaments that absorb a lot of moisture. For this reason, storing PLA filament is a pain. Not only will you have to keep the filament in a dry room, but you’ll also have to invest in additional equipment, such as an air dehumidifier or airtight containers.
All these steps are necessary when working with PLA because printing with wet filament leads to poor results. PLA that is not stored properly can also become brittle and break off.
PLA+, on the other hand, resists most environmental conditions. The material doesn’t absorb excessive humidity and is much easier to store compared to PLA. Generally, keeping PLA+ in a dry room (perhaps in a closed container with a bag or two of desiccant) would suffice, even if the container isn’t airtight.
PLA might not be as strong, good-looking, or easy to store as PLA+, but it definitely is easier to print. The lower extruding temperatures and the fact that it doesn’t require a heated bed make it perfect to use with lower-end 3D printers.
This characteristic makes PLA an excellent filament for beginners and hobbyists on a tighter budget.
PLA+ doesn’t only require higher printing temperatures, but it is also much more viscous than PLA when heated. Due to this reason, PLA+ is more likely to clog the extruder nozzle.
Another thing to consider when deciding between PLA and PLA+ is the price. PLA Plus is more expensive, but that’s to be expected from a more performing filament. In the end, it all comes down to your needs.
Do you want to print random objects for fun? PLA is undeniably an excellent choice. Do you have a 3D printing business? You might want to choose PLA+.
In terms of actual money, a PLA spool (about 2.2 lbs.) can cost you up to $25. PLA+ would cost you about $10 more in most cases, although some brands are more expensive than that.
The price also varies based on the filament’s color and finish. Some high-end PLA types with a silk finish and colors ranging from silver to copper and gold are generally much more expensive than PLA filament in standard colors. The same goes for PLA+.
Comparing PLA and PLA+ To Other Filaments
PLA and PLA Plus are two of the most common types of FDM filaments, but not the only ones. Here is how the two compare to other popular filaments.
PLA, PLA+, and PETG belong to the same group of polyester plastics, but the physical properties vary greatly between the three.
We already discussed the differences between PLA and PLA+, but PETG wins against both in terms of strength and durability. PETG also tolerates higher temperatures and is more elastic.
However, neither PETG nor PLA+ can beat PLA when it comes to ease of printing. In fact, PLA+ and PETG behave similarly and are harder to print than standard PLA. Price-wise, PETG is more expensive than PLA, but PLA+ is often the most expensive of the three.
Nylon is a very flexible printing material but the lower stiffness compared to PLA and PLA+ comes with a price: lower strength, too. Despite this, nylon is more resistant to chemicals and could be a better choice than both PLA and PLA Plus when printing items that will come in contact with chemical substances. Three D printing enthusiasts rarely use nylon for other applications.
Chemically similar to ABS, ASA is a resistant type of filament that withstands chemicals and UV light. It also resists higher temperatures, but it requires higher printing temperatures, too. This is often a disadvantage, especially for hobbyists.
The high thermal expansion coefficient can also lead to printing problems, including wrapping and layer separation. For this reason, ASA is mostly used for professional and industrial 3D printing rather than simpler projects. PLA and PLA+ are undeniably easier to work with.
ABS is another popular filament. The material is stronger than PLA but slightly weaker than PLA+. In terms of other characteristics, PLA+ and ABS share many similarities, including strength and durability.
However, ABS requires higher printing temperatures and is generally not as easy to work with compared to PLA and PLA+.
PLA and PLA+ share many similarities, but the differences make them suitable for different applications. It is impossible to say that one is better than the other, although PLA+ is being a better choice from an objective standpoint.
Subjectively, it all comes down to your needs. Are you looking for the utmost ease of use? PLA is definitely your best bet. Do you want to print objects that require more strength? Go for PLA+. At the end of the day, each filament comes with its own pros and cons, and we hope this guide can help you decide which is the best option for you.
Jerzy Bochnia et al. – A Comparative Study of the Mechanical Properties of FDM 3D Prints Made of PLA and Carbon Fiber-Reinforced PLA for Thin-Walled Applications – Materials (Basel)