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Polylactic acid (PLA) is a bio-degradable polymer that can be produced from lactic acid, which can be fermented from crops such as maize. This makes it an ideal candidate for use in certain energy rich, cash poor areas of the world.

It is harder then PTFE and melts at a lower temperature (around 180°C to 220°C), so is potentially a very useful material. It does exhibit higher friction than PTFE however which can make it difficult to extrude and more susceptible to extruder jams.

For more details, see the Wikipedia entry on Polylactic acid

for chemists

A note from wikipedia:

The name "polylactic acid" is to be used with caution, not complying to standard nomenclatures (such as IUPAC) and potentially leading to ambiguity (PLA is not a polyacid (polyelectrolyte), but rather a polyester)


PLA is the ideal material for a Mendel RepRap. It is dimensionally stable, so there is no need for a heated bed. It is relatively inexpensive, and is not hard to source in filament form.

It does require some torque to move PLA through an extruder because of its higher coefficient of friction (relative to ABS), so it is recommended that you use a Geared_Nema17_Extruder or Geared_Nema17_Extruder_Driver vs the stock mendel extruder.

Heater Settings

Depending on which material you use, you should adjust your heat accordingly.

4042D should extrude at 190°C

4032D requires higher temperatures and may need to be set as high as 230°C

Extrusion width

There has been some evidence that pigment may affect extrusion width. If you are switching plastics a lot, it is a good idea to measure the extrusion before going through the toolpath process.

Build Surface

PLA bonds very very firmly to Acrylic, and it is not recommended to print directly on an Acrylic build surface.

It does stick well and is removed easily from BlueTape

It can also be printed on Polyimide(Kapton) that is pre-heated, but will be hard to remove until both the part and the surface are cooled.

It can also be printed directly onto heated glass

Moisture Issues

PLA can absorb moisture from the air. When it is heated this moisture can turn to steam bubbles which with certain hot end (extruder head) designs can interfere with printing. The symptom is that when the extruder motor stops the PLA kept coming out. When the stepper starts again there is a significant delay. Occasionally the tip may blow a bubble with a tiny puff of what looked like steam.

Small amounts of PLA filament (Natureworks PLA4043D has been tried) can have some moisture removed by putting it on a piece of aluminum foil in an oven heated to 170F for an hour. The filament in the oven is floppy, but sticks to itself only slightly. Flexing the coils after cooling unsticks them from each other. Heating a whole spool this way has not been tried, and may result in the spool becoming unusable, so caution is advised.

Interestingly, a weight change can be seen after baking. One coil went from 120.5 grams to 120.0 grams (almost 1/2%).

Mendel Suitability (#reprap irc chatter)

  • <sbailard> you heard nophead saying that pla-based mendel had trouble printing abs?
  • <Forrest_Higgs> doesn't surprise me.
  • <bkecman> Forrest_Higgs, I cannot compare properly now as I started using hot bed (K5W) so now need to reconfigure too many settings
  • <davmj> model airplane glue is a solvent, it is effect welding the ABS together
  • <mendeluser> sbailard: my x-carriage got deformed while printing ABS
  • <mendeluser> PLA..
  • Forrest_Higgs is glad he didn't do hot beds.
  • <sbailard> mendeluser, want to upload the photo
  • <mendeluser> sbailard: too late i swapped it for a new one and put the old one on a hotbed so its kind of straight now
  • <davmj> If the hotbed creates an ambient temp around the whole system above 50 to 60 degrees it is going to effect PLA (if I remember correctly)
  • <Forrest_Higgs> yupyup
  • Forrest_Higgs thinks that PLA might well be a blind alley
  • <davmj> When you added in the heat of the extruder and the increased heat required for melting ABS over PLA then you are again to be causing problems.
  • <bkecman> pla is good for mendel if you don't print abs/hdpe and don't use hot bed... with hot bed or abs/hdpe one has to go with abs/hdpe


New Zealand

Contact User:VikOlliver through his email or IRC for PLA 4042D in NZ

He has natural and black as well as some standard colors (blue, yellow, green). If you want a custom color, and can meet a minimum order, he can source it locally.


Several resellers have popped up and are supplying two different varieties of PLA

Ultimachine - Green, Black, Natural 4042D in 5 lb coils

Makerbot - Natural 4032D in 1 and 5 lb coils.


Reprapsource - PLA 4043D in different colours

2PrintBeta - PLA 4042D in many different colours


A crude form of PLA can be produced by simply heating powdered lactic acid with powdered stannous chloride - commonly used in pottery glazes - in a test tube. Extracting it from the test tube afterwards is left as an excercise for the diligent student.

See papers in footnote for further details.

Papers etc

  • [[File:PLA-kim-23-2-6-98033.pdf: Synthesis, Characterization and in Vitro Degradation of Poly(DL-Lactide)/Poly(DL-Lactide-co-Glycolide) Films.|thumb]]
  • [[File:PLA-v30 327 334.pdf: Synthesis and Characterization of Poly(L-lactide-co-ε-caprolactone) Copolymers: Effects of Stannous Octoate Initiator and Diethylene Glycol Coinitiator Concentrations|thumb]]
  • Stereoselective Ring-Opening Polymerization of meso-Lactide: Synthesis of Syndiotactic Poly(lactic acid) [[Page 1, Page 2, Addendum|thumb]]