Post Processing PLA and ABS Prints!

Post Processing PLA and ABS Prints!

In an ideal world, 3D prints would all come out of our printers ready to go. But, as anyone with a 3D printer knows, this is not always the case, and at some point most of us will find ourselves trying to seamlessly remove supports from our prints without leaving an uneven surface on our prints. We’ve got some tips on how to avoid the struggle of removing supports and fly-away material to help in post processing PLA and ABS 3D prints.


Post processing PLA and ABS 3D Printed Parts

Acetone vapor smoothed parts. Courtesy of Kenny Janssens.


1. Minimize Supports

The first step in dealing with supports actually comes before you start printing, in your slicer software. Whenever you’re setting your slicer settings and orienting your print, pay attention to which orientation will take the most supports, and then avoid that orientation. Your goal is to minimize the amount of supports, and subsequently the amount of work that you need to do while post processing PLA and ABS 3D prints.


2. Assess Your Material

How you post process your prints is based on which material you used to 3D print your designs, so your next steps will depend on what your chosen printing material is. This is a good thing to keep in mind whenever you’re planning your 3D print, since different processing methods, take different amounts of time and you’ll have to have different tools on hand depending on whether you’ll be post processing PLA, ABS or something else. 


3. Take Safety Precautions

It is important to note, that although appropriate for at-home use, both chemicals used to smooth your prints are relatively toxic. As a result, make sure to be careful whenever working with these chemicals. You should only use these materials in a well-ventilated area and wear gloves. Make sure that your gloves are non-latex (nitrile or neoprene gloves are fine) – the THF will eat through latex gloves.





It’s also important to note that we do not suggest this method post processing PLA and ABS for prints that will come into contact with food or prints that will be used by young children who may place the print or their hands in their mouth, as ingesting even trace amounts of these compounds could be dangerous.


4a. Post Processing ABS

One of the easiest, and most effective, ways to smooth your ABS plastic is with an acetone vapor. 

Post Processing ABS Acetone 3D printed parts

What you’ll need:

1. Paper Towels

2. Acetone

3. Tin Foil

4. Sealable Container


To smooth your print:

  1. Remove any excess material that you can from your print.
  2. Place paper towels around all four sides of a plastic container.
  3. In a well-ventilated area, sprinkle a small amount of acetone in the bottom of the container, and cover the bottom of your container with tin foil.
  4. Place your 3D print in the container, and allow to sit for several hours – until the print has smoothed to your liking.
  5. Remove your print, and allow it to sit for several minutes to allow the acetone to evaporate off of your print.
  6. Your print is smoothed ready for display!



4b. Post Processing PLA

For PLA, hand polishing with Tetrahydrofuran (THF) is a good option, in place of the acetone vapor for ABS.

Post Processing PLA with THF 3D printed parts

What you’ll need:

1. Non-Latex Gloves

2. A Lint-Free, Non-Dyed Polishing Cloth

3. Tetrahydrofuran (THF)


To polish your prints:

  1. Remove any excess material that you can from your print.
  2. Put on your non-latex gloves and locate your polishing cloth.
  3. In a well-ventilated area, dip the cloth in your THF, and polish your print like you would polish a shoe – circular motions work well here.
  4. Let your polished print dry (while still in a well ventilated area) to let any excess THF evaporate.
  5. Your print is smoothed and ready for use! 


Have your own successful post-processing methods? Share them with us in the comments below!



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