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How To Print ABS Without an Enclosure (Complete Guide)

ABS can be a little tricky to print, especially if you’re doing it without an enclosure. It needs to be at the right temperature and exudes toxic fumes. Luckily, a few tricks can get you around not having an enclosure.

Here’s how you can print ABS without an enclosure:

  1. Protect your printer from drafts.
  2. Do it in a ventilated area.
  3. Use a heated bed.
  4. Print small models.
  5. Make a DIY enclosure.
  6. Don’t use cooling fans.
  7. Make sure your print is sticking to the bed.

ABS has a lot of advantages: it’s strong, durable, and somewhat elastic. It also has its disadvantages, and this article will help you navigate through them even if you don’t have an enclosure for your 3D printer.

1. Protect Your Printer From Drafts

You won’t want to have any drafts going around during the printing. Since the ABS will be exposed to the environment, air drafts could cause rapid temperature changes, creating warping.

The first thing you should check in the case of not having an enclosure is that your printer isn’t exposed to air drafts. You might be able to fix this by simply closing windows and doors.

Another solution is to put your printer inside a closet. You won’t be able to keep an eye on it, but it’ll certainly be protected from the wind. Just make sure the closet doesn’t wiggle.

2. Print in a Ventilated Area

ABS fumes are toxic, and that’s one of the main arguments against printing it without enclosure. If you’re going to spend time in the same room where your printer is, make sure the place has windows and is easy to ventilate.

We just said the room where you’re going to print shouldn’t have drafts, and closing windows and doors can help with that. But if you do that, consider staying outside while the printing happens.

Drafts of air can increase the chances of breathing dangerous ABS fumes. Avoid being nearby while you’re 3D printing ABS and make sure you can ventilate the room before spending time in it again.

3. Use a Heated Bed

Beds are the surfaces where the first layer of printing is laid. They’re usually made of glass or PEI sheet and have some kind of material that helps plastic stick.

With other filaments, like PLA, you can print without having a heated bed. But if you’re already printing ABS without an enclosure, a heated bed becomes a must.

ABS is a thermoplastic. It solidifies when it cools down, but it also contracts in the process. This means that it becomes mouldable after it reaches a certain temperature.

Printing without a heated bed will increase the chances of warping, especially if you’re not using an enclosure.

Warping can make one part of the object shrink more than another, which is particularly bad if you’re printing parts. The first sign of warping is that the corners unstick from the bed and become slightly lifted.

Other thermoplastics don’t have the same issue because their melting temperature isn’t as high.

However, ABS is a high-temperature thermoplastic. Your print will cool down quickly without an enclosure or a heated bed, especially if it’s a large piece.

Printing in a warm place without drafts of air will help, but a heated bed will make the biggest difference.

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4. Print Small Models

If your 3D printer doesn’t have an enclosure, consider sticking to small models when you use ABS.

Small objects stay closer to the heated bed and thus retain more heat. However, larger objects will quickly cool down as they grow away from the surface. The taller the model is, the higher the chance of warping.

In fact, if you’re printing parts that are only a couple of inches high, there’s no requirement for an enclosure at all, as long as the printer is in a relatively warm room without drafts.

5. Don’t Use Cooling Fans

ABS needs very high temperatures to become moldable. Since you’re printing without an enclosure, it’ll be difficult to maintain that temperature inside the printer. Adding fans will just make it even worse.

ABS needs careful temperature control with slow cooling. Since you’re not enclosing your printer, it’s better to make its environment as neutral as possible.

Turning on the cooling fans will also spread the toxic fumes throughout the room, which obviously you don’t want.

Before printing ABS without an enclosure, make sure your printer’s cooling fans are disabled.

6. Make Sure Your Print Is Sticking to the Bed

When prints don’t stick to the surface, things start going wrong. Any small movement could mean you’ll end up with a twisted or misaligned object.

A sticky surface becomes even more important when you’re printing without an enclosure since drafts of air could shake your print.

Here are some things you can do to make your print stick to the build plate:

  • Clean the build plate. This is one of the first things you should try. Dirt or any kind of residue could make it harder for your print to stick to the plate. Alcohol usually works perfectly well for materials like glass or PEI sheet.
  • Level the bed. Unlevel beds are one of the main reasons for non-sticking prints.
  • Use an adhesive. A more definitive solution is to use an adhesive, which essentially works like glue. There are adhesives specifically made for ABS, but other substances like common glass adhesives or even hairspray can work as well.

7. Make a DIY Enclosure

If you want the advantages of an enclosure but can’t get one right now, you may be able to find a way around it with a DIY replacement.

At the end of the day, there’s not that much to a 3D printer enclosure. Essentially, it’s a box. Of course, your DIY enclosure might not look as good or contain as much heat as an actual enclosure, but it can do the trick.

Here are a few materials you can use as a DIY enclosure:

  • Cardboard box. This one might look a little shabby, but it’ll help to some degree. It won’t contain much heat, but it should be able to protect the printing from drafts. Don’t forget that cardboard is very flammable, so keep an eye on it or put a smoke detector nearby.
  • Plastic box. A big enough container or Tupperware should also do the trick. And buying a plastic box at IKEA will certainly be cheaper than purchasing an enclosure. It also has the benefit of being transparent so that you can keep an eye on the printing.
  • Old furniture. This will require some work, but it’ll provide a better enclosure, especially regarding noise reduction. You can pick an old cabinet that isn’t being used and cut an opening. If you like working with wood, you can get as fancy as you like.
  • Photo studio tent. This solution is just as easy as using a box but will look much better and perhaps provide a little more insulation. If you don’t have an old photo studio tent lying around, you can find them for very cheap.

Can You Print ABS Without an Enclosure?

It’s perfectly possible to print ABS without an enclosure. But, depending on what you’re doing, it might bring some difficulties. Luckily, there are solutions to most situations.

You can print ABS without an enclosure, but you’ll face some disadvantages. Without an enclosure, it’s harder to regulate temperature, and printed objects will be more likely to warp. You’ll also be more exposed to toxic ABS fumes.

Keep in mind that if the object you’re trying to print with ABS is too large or complex, you’ll need an enclosure to get good results.

There are mainly two disadvantages to not having an enclosure when printing ABS: warping and health side effects.

After laying down the first layer on the heated bed, every new layer is farther away from it than the previous one. That means that, as the object is printed and gets away from the heated bed, it starts to cool down.

ABS needs very high temperatures to become moldable, so it cools quickly if there’s nothing to avoid it. As it cools down, it also shrinks slightly. This creates a defect called “warping.”

One of the tasks of an enclosure is to prevent warping and other similar defects. The enclosure helps maintain a stable temperature inside the printer so that there’s little to no warping.

Without an enclosure, the plastic loses more heat and is exposed to things that could cool it faster.

The other issue with printing without an enclosure is your health. In the next section, I’ll explain it in detail, but the main takeaway is that inhaling ABS fumes exposes you to health risks.

All that said, many people print ABS without an enclosure, and you can do it too. As long as you know its limitations and how to avoid certain risks (to both your print and your body), you’ll be fine.

Are ABS Fumes Toxic?

The ABS fumes that are released while it’s being printed are toxic. ABS fumes contain some toxic gasses, as well as plastic nanoparticles that can irritate your nostrils after a while and increase the risk of severe pulmonary illnesses in the long term.

Most people who print ABS are used to the bad smell of ABS fumes, but the truth is that there’s more to it than just slight discomfort.

Processing plastic releases gases called Volatile Organic Carbon. Not all VOCs are toxic; in fact, some organizations don’t consider ABS fumes a hazard.

However, when ABS is classified as non-hazard, only acute symptoms are usually considered. They don’t go beyond some dizziness and nostril irritation.

But the truth is that inhaling VOC fumes can cause severe damage. VOCs are also present in other types of printing plastic like PLA, but their toxicity is higher in ABS.

Processing plastic can release gases like ammonia, cyanuric acid, phenol, and benzene, among others, all of which are toxic in the long term.

There’s also the issue of nanoparticles released by ABS printing. Plastic nanoparticles can make their way to your alveolus and even be absorbed through your skin.

After inhaling ABS fumes for a while, the first thing you might feel is irritation inside your nostrils. Many people report headaches.

Some of the medical risks associated with exposure to ABS fumes are bronchitis, asthma, and other pulmonary illnesses. There’s also a link between plastic nanoparticles and cancer.

In any case, you should pay attention to ABS fumes when you’re printing without an enclosure. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it. You just have to be a little careful. Having an enclosure definitely helps, but there are other things you can do:

  • Print in a well-ventilated room.
  • Don’t stay near the printer while it’s working with ABS.
  • Create a DIY enclosure.

Can I Print ABS Without a Heated Bed?

You shouldn’t print ABS without a heated bed, especially if you don’t have an enclosure. ABS plastics need very high temperatures to become moldable and shrink as they cool down. Without a heated bet, you’ll get a lot of warping in your prints.

As I explained before, heated beds improve the results of printing with any plastic, but they’re especially important for ABS.

Because ABS melting temperatures are so high, it also cools down rapidly. Enclosures help conserve its heat. If you don’t have one, then the quality of the final result will largely depend on having a heated bed.

Conclusion

ABS is trickier to print than other materials. It needs to maintain a high temperature as it’s being printed. Otherwise, you’ll end up with warped prints.

If you don’t have an enclosure, there are ways around it. First of all, make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area without any unpredictable air drafts.

Turn off the cooling fans, make sure you’re using a heated bed, and you should be fine. Try to stick to small models.

You could also try to make an enclosure yourself with a simple box. This will at least help protect you from ABS toxic fumes.