PLA Filament Moisture Study: Effect of Moisture on 3D Printer Filament Properties
Moisture influences printability of 3D printing filaments. This PLA filament moisture study shows that even different filament colours influence the printing properties.
PLA (polylactic acid) is a biodegradable 3D printing filament material made usually of starch, potato or sugarcane. It decomposes in a span of several months to few years. Petroleum-based plastics are non-degradable and almost immune to atmospheric conditions, but PLA is not. It absorbs water when exposed to moist or humid environments and expedites its process of decomposition. Let aside the natural degradation, the presence of moisture even influences the quality of parts in 3D printing. We will now discuss the effect of PLA filament moisture for variations in filament colour and manufacturers.
PLA FILAMENT MOISTURE PROJECT
iGo3D, an online shop selling 3D printers and accessories, and Fraunhofer Institute of Wood Research, a research institute, together conducted a project to analyse the influence of moisture on printability of PLA filaments. iGo3D has a track record of being Germany’s first online store for home 3D printing and involves in regular research projects. In this project, they took PLA filaments from three different manufacturers in six different colours: black, white, grey, dark blue, light blue, transparent, and yellow. The names of filament manufacturers were not released due to copyright reasons, but the effects on various coloured filaments were presented.
The filaments were first pelletized into uniform pieces and exposed to distilled water vapour for 14 days at 130 degree Celsius. Then they were tested for moisture content. Initially black and white filaments from first manufacturer were tested and it was found that moisture content kept increasing in both filaments up to 140 – 150 hours. After 150 hours, the material attained its saturation. The interesting part of this study was the variation in diameter. After 14 days in damp environment, white filaments had more or less the same initial dimensions. But the diameter of black filaments kept increasing and reached up to 40 micrometres higher than the white counterparts. Diameter variation is one of the major problems in 3D printing. Although our printers’ working environments are not as harsh as these test conditions, we still need to consider the colour variations for PLA filament moisture effects.
MASS FLOW RATE VARIATIONS
The next study was to measure the mass flow rate of PLA filaments. We generally desire high flow rates, but very high flow rates lead to over-extrusion. On the other hand, low flow rates indicate high viscosity of filament and lead to under-extrusion. The flow test is conducted by measuring the amount of material extruded in 10 minutes through a standard-sized nozzle. Black, white and light blue filaments from different manufacturers were tested for mass flow at three different conditions: dry, wet and room temperature. Dry filaments are those that were kept at 100 degree Celsius for 24 hours. Wet filaments are those that were kept in water for 240 hours. Inspection at each condition showed only expectable results: wet filaments had the highest flowability and dry filaments had the lowest.
Now comparing the colours, first black vs white, it was found that white filaments had better flowability than the black ones. But comparing these two with light blue filament showed stark different results. As can be seen in image below, the blue filaments from another manufacturer had very high mass flow rates. This points out that we might have to optimise printing parameters for the same PLA filament purchased from different suppliers in different colours.
PLA IS NOT ALWAYS PLA
The results of the PLA filament moisture study indicate that the mass flow rate is directly correlated with the moisture content. An overall comparison of mass flow rate of filaments of all colours from all manufacturers is shown in the image below. Yellow coloured filament is seen to have the lowest viscosity and highest mass flow rate. Hence it is clear that it is necessary to manage the storage conditions of PLA filaments. Too tropical and humid countries require better supply chain conditions than drier lands. All these tests were carried out with Ultimaker2.0 which has good tolerance against such variations, but we need to take these factors into account for all other printers too. The ultimate result: PLA is not always PLA.
Image credits: Medium, iGo3D, Fraunhofer
Interesting article and thanks for sharing this information.
Thanks for that info, in AZ so likely not a big factor here
AZ has monsoon season, that is probably a more radical humidity change than most areas where change is more gradual. I would be concerned at least during that time of year.
Good article, I had always suspected that color might make a difference, I have had a few filaments from the same manufacturer that just do not print the same at all with the same settings.
Yes your doubts were right and are now experimentally verified. Seasonal and geographic variations too play a role. The same filament might behave differently in Miami and Las Vegas.
Living in Florida, humidity is always a concern. I dont use much PLA, PETG and TPU, but I think the effect moisture has is the same. I keep DampRid in every room, in every plastic container, and all around the printer
This was an interesting article. I was hoping to see more about the effects of moisture content when printing. Like printing some performance tests using filaments at varying percentages of saturation. I live in New Jersey and our summers can get pretty humid, but I have not noticed it affecting any of my prints so far.
I’m wondering why people use PLA to print parts if it degrades over time? I’m thinking people don’t use PLA to print important things unless they don’t mind the parts having a short life. I imagine the storage of PLA is a major concern for most people, especially if they buy in bulk. How long does a (PLA) print last if it’s in a dry environment 24/7?
I never really thought PLA would be susceptible to moister issues. I guess I’ll have to pay attention now.
may I have the link to the research paper used in this article? I can’t seem to find your sources
I have Chola on my Facebook ill ask him. 🙂