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PLA vs. ABS: Which Is Better for Cosplay?

Explore the pros & cons of PLA vs. ABS for cosplay, comparing their durability, ease of use, and finish quality to determine the ideal material choice.

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So, you’re planning on printing a custom cosplay costume, but you can’t decide which filament will look the best, feel comfortable, and last. Still, you’re likely considering using PLA or ABS since these are the most common, affordable, and user-friendly 3D printing filaments. But which one will be the best for you and your costume?

ABS is better than PLA for cosplay because it is more flexible and durable. PLA prints are more brittle and likely to snap or crack if subjected to too much stress or wear and tear. Besides, ABS is more flexible than PLA, so it can make your cosplay costume more durable and comfortable.

If you want to make the best, most durable, cost-effective cosplay costumes at home with your 3D printer, you’ve come to the right place. This article will compare two of the most popular plastics available: PLA and ABS. I’ll go over the pros and cons of each plastic and help you decide which one is right for your cosplaying needs.

The Pros and Cons of ABS Filaments For Cosplay

Before we directly compare ABS and PLA for cosplaying, let’s discuss the pros and cons of each filament for costuming. 

ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is a type of thermoplastic resin. 

ABS is a strong, durable plastic resistant to wear and tear. It’s also flexible and easy to sand, finish, and paint. These properties make ABS an ideal material for cosplay applications where accuracy, detail, and durability are essential.

ABS Pros

Here are the pros of ABS for cosplaying:

  • Versatile: ABS is a versatile filament you can use for a wide range of cosplay applications.
  • Solid and durable: ABS is strong and durable, making it ideal for props and costumes that will be subject to heavy use.
  • Flexible: ABS is more flexible than PLA, making it less likely to break or crack under stress.
  • Can be recycled easily: ABS can be recycled multiple times without losing its properties, making it a sustainable option.
  • It is lightweight: One of the benefits of using ABS is that it’s light, making it easier to carry and wear cosplay accessories and garments made from this material. 
  • Creates prototypes quickly: ABS is a fast-cooling plastic, so it’s ideal for creating prototypes rapidly.
  • Easy to weld: You can weld ABS using various methods, making it easy to fix or modify cosplay props and costumes.
  • Easy to finish: While plastics like PLA require sanding to remove layer lines and artifacts, some acetone is all you need to add a seamless shine to ABS prints.

ABS Cons

While ABS is our winner for the best filament for cosplaying, it has some drawbacks that you will need to note before printing up your costume:

  • Emits harmful fumes: When heated, ABS emits toxic fumes. Therefore, working in a well-ventilated area is essential when using this filament.
  • ABS is toxic. Besides the fumes, ABS can be poisonous via skin contact. Thus, you cannot use it safely when creating items that will be close to your face or touch you directly. You’ll have to wear many layers to use ABS prints in your costume safely. 
  • Is challenging to print with: One downside of ABS is that it tends to shrink when heated, which can cause warping and distortions in the 3D printing process. As a result, ABS prints often require a heated build plate or enclosure.

The Pros and Cons of PLA Filaments For Cosplay

PLA (polylactic acid) is a thermoplastic resin that includes cellulose from starchy plants like potatoes and corn. 

It’s the cheapest, most common filament, and it’s also the easiest filament to print. 

PLA is a stiffer, more rigid plastic than ABS. As a result, it’s more brittle and can be more uncomfortable when creating items for cosplay costumes. PLA is also less resistant to heat and wear and tear than ABS.

PLA Pros

Here are the benefits of using PLA for cosplay: 

  • Non-toxic: The most significant benefit of using PLA for cosplay is that it’s non-toxic. So, unlike ABS, it’s safe to wear PLA directly on your skin.
  • PLA doesn’t require a heated build plate. In general, PLA is more straightforward to print with than ABS. That’s because it doesn’t shrink or warp as easily. As a result, PLA prints often don’t require a heated build plate or enclosure, which can save time and money.
  • Safe to use: PLA is made from renewable resources and doesn’t emit harmful fumes when heated. Therefore, it’s safer than ABS to use indoors.
  • It is cheap. While the price difference between ABS and PLA isn’t much, PLA is generally more affordable and easier to find than ABS. That price difference can add up to a lot if you print large items for your costume. 

Caution: Although PLA is safe to use, some people may be allergic to it. If you experience any adverse reactions after using PLA, stop using it immediately and see a doctor. In addition, always take the necessary safety precautions when working with any type of 3D printing filament.

PLA Cons

While it has many disadvantages, PLA also has some drawbacks when cosplay is concerned: 

  • Brittle: One downside of PLA is that it’s a brittle plastic. That means it can break or crack more easily than ABS.
  • Not as solid or durable as ABS: PLA is not as strong or durable as ABS. As a result, it’s not the best choice for props and costumes that will be subject to heavy use.
  • Stiff and abrasive. PLA is naturally more porous than ABS, making it rougher on your skin. 
  • Shrinks when heated: Another downside of PLA is that it tends to shrink when heated. That can cause warping and distortions in the 3D printing process and afterward. PLA may shrink and warp if you leave it in a hot car or expose it to heat when you wear it, so keep PLA cosplay items cool. 

Why ABS Is Better Than PLA for Cosplay

When it comes to cosplay, ABS is a better option than PLA. Still, what makes ABS so much better? Here are a few reasons:

ABS Is More Flexible Than PLA

Flexibility is one of the most important properties of any plastic used in cosplay. After all, you don’t want your costume or prop to break the first time you wear it, and you don’t want it to be so stiff that you’re uncomfortable all day. 

ABS is much more flexible than PLA, meaning it’s less likely to break under stress.

As a result, ABS is the ideal material for cosplay applications where flexibility is critical, like for:

  • Armor or props: If you’re making armor or props that need to flex or bend, ABS is the way to go.
  • Structural garments and straps: When wearing 3D-printed support structures such as shoulder straps, holsters, belt buckles, shoe clasps, or breastplate fasteners, you want a material that bends to conform to your body without breaking. This circumstance is where ABS shines. 

In addition, ABS is also easier to process, cut, sand, and paint, giving you more options for finishing your cosplay. As a result, ABS is the clear choice for anyone looking for a versatile 3D printing filament.

ABS Is Softer Than PLA

Another essential consideration when choosing a filament for cosplay is its softness. Softer plastics are much more comfortable than stiff, hard, and rigid ones, and they’re also less likely to break or crack if dropped.

ABS isn’t only more flexible than PLA. It has a shiny, smooth, soft texture that won’t rub you the wrong way.

Plus, with the structural soundness of ABS, it’s hard to go wrong! 

For these reasons, ABS is a better choice than PLA for cosplay applications where comfort and durability are concerned.

ABS Is More Resistant To Wear and Tear Than PLA

In addition to being more flexible and softer than PLA, ABS is also more resistant to wear and tear. That makes it a better choice for cosplay applications where the prop or costume will be subject to heavy use. 

For example, if you want your costume to last for many years or plan to make moving components such as weapons, tools, or tight garments from your 3D prints, ABS will stand up to the load. 

Besides being more durable, ABS is less likely to fade or discolor over time. So, you can wear ABS in the sunlight without worrying that the color will fade. 

Therefore, ABS is the best if you’re looking for a filament that can withstand heavy use.

ABS Is Easier To Process than PLA

Post-processing any 3D print can take a long time, especially if you just go in with sandpaper and elbow grease. However, if you’re using ABS, you can ditch the sander and use acetone instead. 

Acetone fumes can dissolve ABS, so you can use them to remove layer lines and give your costume components an incredibly seamless shine. Plus, paints like cheap acrylics can stick to ABS without a primer, making it easy to get the best result. 

On the other hand, you can’t do that with PLA. You can only sand and trim it. To paint it, you need a primer. 

So, for a quick, seamless finish, go with ABS. 

When To Use PLA or ABS For 3D Printing Cosplay Costumes

ABS is a great all-around filament for cosplayers, but PLA has some strong suits that might work better for some of your costumes. 

When To Use PLA in Cosplay

While ABS offers flexibility and strength, it’s not always safe or wise to use for your entire costume. 

In addition, there are some benefits to using PLA that you can’t find in ABS. You’ll only need to know what costume parts best suit each. 

Here are some common cosplay costume items you might want to consider printing with PLA: 

  • Ornamental accessories. PLA is best for accessories such as horns, glasses, jewelry, and other small items that may touch your skin for prolonged periods. Since PLA is easier to print, cheaper, and less toxic than ABS, anything that is small and touches your skin is ideal for PLA. 
  • Stiff items. While the flexibility of ABS makes it more durable and comfier, sometimes, you’ll need a rigid, stiff costume component in cosplay. 
  • Helmets. This choice is a hot topic in 3D printing for cosplaying, but I highly recommend using PLA for helmets and face pieces. PLA is safer and less toxic than ABS, which is a critical consideration when making a piece that will be so close to your mouth and get warmer as you wear it. PLA is also cheaper than ABS, so printing a bulky helmet with this filament won’t break the bank. 
  • Body-hugging components. PLA has a lower heat resistance than ABS, so you can use a heat gun and pressure to bend and “mold” PLA 3D prints to any shape. This characteristic is handy for gauntlets, arm pieces, cuffs, form-fitting corsets, breastplates, and headpieces. 

When To Use ABS in Cosplay

Some items you may want to use ABS for include: 

  • Structural items. As I mentioned, costumes that need structural elements such as straps for a back piece, buckles, grommets, and other supporting structures are perfect for ABS. The flexibility and strength of ABS make these components stretch and conform to your costume without breaking, which is great for any part that will bear some weight. 
  • Outerwear and extensive accessories. Outerwear, such as breastplates and armor, and oversized accessories, such as weapons and tools, can benefit from the strength and flexibility of ABS. ABS items can withstand handling, dropping, and pressure, so use this filament when you need something to last. 

Check this video to select the right 3d printer for making cosplay parts:

Final Thoughts

So, which is better for cosplay – ABS or PLA? Usually, the best filament for costuming is ABS.

ABS is better if you want to create a cosplay prop or costume that will withstand heavy use. However, PLA is better for items that contact your skin or face or smaller items that don’t need to be strong.

I highly recommend using each filament for different applications in your costume since incorporating both will allow you to add ABS for strength and PLA for skin-safe, rigid structures.

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About Ben

I started 3D printing since 2013 and have learned a lot since then. Because of this I want to share my knowledge of what I have learned in the past years with the community. Currently I own 2 Bambulab X1 Carbon, Prusa SL1S and a Prusa MK3S+. Hope you learn something from my blog after my years of experience in 3D printing.