ABS of goop – Making liquid ABS Plastic

One of the problems with 3D printing that has plagued mankind since… the beginning of 3D printing … is warping of the part while it’s being printed. Unfortunately, the ABS plastic material that is used in printers that use FDM technology is pretty susceptible to significant warping causing many a hunk of plastic to be tossed into the garbage. Now you can save those hunks of plastic as they may come in handy for making liquid ABS as we’ll see shortly.

Different 3D printers use different techniques to combat warping, with varying degrees of success. The professional commercial types usually use a closed heated environment with disposable build platforms that are made of ABS plastic. ABS sticks well to ABS. It can actually be difficult to remove a model from such a platform and if the model has delicate features you could even end up damaging the model when removing it. But this does a great job of preventing warping.

In the DIY realm lots and lots of techniques have been tried, which many people swear by, but don’t necessarily work well all of the time. Printing on perfboard is pretty popular as well. The tiny holes in the perfboard allow the plastic grip better, preventing warping.

I don’t know of any DIY types of printers that you can readily buy disposable trays for. Adding cost to each print is also not something most of us really want to do anyway. So I did a little research and experimentation with liquid ABS.

Where can you find liquid ABS? Well as it turns out, if you’ve got some 100% acetone and some ABS plastic you can make your own. Most nail polish remover is diluted but I’ve found you can buy 100% acetone in a nice sized bottle in the nail care section of drugstores like Walgreens, CVS, etc. You can also get it at hardware stores like Home Depot but it’s usually in a metal can that I find is a little harder to pour from. Use gloves and a well ventilated area as it’s pretty harsh stuff.

Acetone-and-ABSABS scraps, acetone, and liquid ABS plastic in glass bottle.

I usually use “painters tape” which is that blue tape that sticks to drywall, trim, etc and then peels off without taking the underlying paint with it. I put it right on my aluminum plate build platform then press it down with a putty knife. That gives pretty good adhesion between the tape and the metal. Often times when I experience warping, what happens is the raft under the model (I usually print with rafts vs raftless) lifts in one corner. The separation is between the ABS and the tape. I also usually put a coating of something on top of the tape. I’ve tried acrylic paint as well as other types of material to try to get good adhesion. For awhile now I’ve been using “Gesso” which is kind of like a thick paint.


pressing-painters-tapePressing tape onto platform

liquid-abs-dropDrop of liquid ABS on painters tape

But when I want it to stick really well I’ll put down a thin layer of liquid ABS which provides pretty good adhesion between the model being printed and the underlying tape. This does seem to help most of the time and when there is lifting in these cases it’s usually between the tape and the platform. The tape/ABS goop/model sandwich stays stuck together pretty well.

Using liquid ABS may well be something that could work for you sometimes and be in your bag of tricks for when you’re having a tough time printing that troublesome model. It’s easy to make. Just store it in something like a glass container or other material that Acetone won’t dissolve. You don’t want to find a big mess the next day from your liquid ABS container being compromised by the acetone.

abs-filmThin film of ABS plastic on top of tape.

Another way to avoid warping is to use PLA material, which unlike ABS, has very little if any issues with warping. It’s one reason why PLA printing has become more popular. However for durability and longevity especially in warm storage or use environments PLA is not quite as durable. PLA prints look great though and many people print them directly on glass or Kapton tape without concern for warping. Your printer may have a little difficulty with PLA though if it has not been designed for compatibility with PLA. PLA has a lower melting point and some material extruders can’t consistently feed the material properly.

Happy printing!

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