For 3-D Printed Firearms, Go with ABS over PLA

An answer to a question I haven’t thought to ask, Freedom Printing 3D tested two of the most common materials used for 3-D printing, ABS and PLA. Using a simple hammer, the ABS lower receiver was able to stand up significantly better to impact. Comparatively, the PLA shattered immediately.

Now, ABS Is harder to print, but when done correctly, it will outlast the PLA.

Now you know!

Nathan S

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


  • iksnilol

    Also, Lego is ABS. So you can use the plastic to get new bricks.

    Just a friendly tip.

    • Guest

      And use them to make your lego-brick AR stock….

      • iksnilol

        What? No, use them to build a kicka$$ fort.

  • sapper

    I just has an epiphany!! Lego ar 15 lower. Im trying it.

    • Mystick

      I think that’s been done already…

  • BryanS

    ABS lowers are usually treated chemically to make sure layers are properly fused. Not possible with PLA (which is a milk derivative).

    PLA is more brittle and rigid, but prints a lot easier.

  • Alex Nicolin

    Printed plastics are inherently weaker than those which are mold injected and bonded with a filler, because the polymer chains are much shorter and irregular. Orders of magnitude weaker that is. I don’t really understand the hype about fabricating gun parts using this.

    • Ben

      Because molds are expensive to make, and only really viable options for large part runs. 3D printing allows you to make small batches of prototype parts quickly and cheaply.

  • Foo

    You are better off 3d printing a mold, and then pouring in an RTV polyurethane.

  • DIR911911 .

    cat is looking like ” what are you doing? I was going shooting this weekend.”

  • Lee Manevitch

    PLA’s glass transition point is also at a paltry 150 degrees F, so unless you’re looking for a melty mess you’d better be shooting Airsoft pellets.

  • Budogunner

    The short answer is wait about two years.

    3d printing had barely got a foothold in the private sector right now, but printable materials are starting to get more diverse. In two years or so, a metal product should be producable by home machines.

    • Evaris

      Pfft, two years? Apparently you haven’t been keeping up with the news. There is a new printable material called filamet, which is 99.8% metal with a low temperature polymer binder. It’s made to be placed in a home pottery kiln for sintering, leaving a full metal part afterward.

      So for $500-1000 for such a home kiln and we’re already there.

      • jcitizen

        Is this a Virtual Foundry project?

        • Evaris

          Yeah? They had a kickstarter a while ago for their filamet material.

  • highhammer

    some anti gunner is fappin to this vid.

  • guest

    There is equipment out there that can do this “3D printing” thing with stainless steel–I believe they call it “computer controlled laser sintering.” It’s vastly more expensive than this stuff that creates plastic parts, but the prices are coming down. That’s where I’d be looking, in the long term.

    Also, for any of you software guys out there, I personally am of the opinion that anybody who can make 3D CAD software for CNC mills as simple to use as a word processor is going to make a great deal of money–not just from the engineering industry, but from ordinary people who are intrigued by the this idea but don’t want to have to learn CAD programming just to whittle out an AR15 receiver in the garage. Once CNC mills come down in price a little more, and more of the 25-year-old 1st-gen CNC mills come onto the surplus market cheap, this may become the technology to watch, rather than 3D printing.

    Of course, I’m just some guy on the Internet, and what do I know?

    • Ben

      There are already some pretty easy to learn 3D modeling programs out there. Check out Cubify design. Only $200, fairly simple, but still quite powerful.

    • Mystick

      Some are even simpler than a word processor.. just load the pre-defined file from one of the many maker sites and print.

      The hardest part is dialing in the machine to get it to work properly. Right now there are so many disparate designs and one-off’s that a design functioning on one may not function on another. There are some proto-standards emerging, but there’s still a lot of divergence.

  • Evaris

    And better than ABS is Carbon fiber composites with PET or ABS. Ex. Colorfabb XT, they’re a good bit stronger still.

  • Greekpreparedness

    AFAIK PLA is biodegradable….And he says twice it is an old part….
    (not that matters would be different if newly printed)

  • Van The Handcannon Man


    ~~~~DON’T TREAD ON ME~~~~

  • Avery

    I disagree with ABS being harder to print. While it takes higher temperatures and a heated bed to keep from warping while printing, ABS is much, much easier to finish and clean with acetone, while PLA requires MEK, which is pretty hazardous. Also, flexible as a filament, which means you can leave it in the printer and not have it snap in the feed mechanism when you leave it in overnight (which has happened often with PLA)