PLA (Polylactic Acid) is the most commonly used filament in 3D printing. As with any fdm filament, there are certain temperatures at which it will work best, and this is determined by the temperature of the printer’s nozzle.
Getting this temperature right is the key to using PLA properly.
The temperature of the nozzle is set to reach the ideal heat at which the PLA will melt sufficiently for it to be used in 3D printing.
This is known as the working temperature and will have an advised upper and lower limit. These advisory figures are usually set by the filament manufacturer and are fairly universal, but can vary across different brands and types of PLA.
As we’ve already said, getting this temperature right is the key to your PLA printing properly and therefore producing quality and accurate 3D prints.
In this article we’ll be discussing the importance of the correct nozzle temperatures for PLA and what affect the wrong temperature can have on your nozzle, extrusion and printer maintenance.
We’ll also look at what factors can affect the nozzle temperature itself, how to set the temperature, and also how to maintain its consistency.
So, let’s first start by looking at what can affect the nozzle temperature while printing with PLA filament.
Factors Affecting Nozzle Temperature for PLA
In a perfect world, you should be able to set the temperature of your printer’s nozzle at the start of your print and that will be that.
Unfortunately, as we know, the world of 3D printing is seldom perfect straight away!
This means that we should be aware of certain considerations when thinking about the nozzle temperature for PLA.
The ambient temperature is that of the surroundings where your 3D printer is housed and operating.
This could be a garage, workshop or indeed any room in your house and the temperature of that particular workspace is unlikely to remain at a constant throughout the cycle of your print.
It’s also very unlikely that this workspace will be anywhere near around the 200 °C mark where your printer nozzle is going to be, as this would be impossible for a human to work in!
So, the ambient temperature and any fluctuation in that may have a detrimental effect on your nozzle temperature.
Another factor in the ambiance of your printer’s surroundings would be any draft or gust of cold air caused by say a door opening and closing or any sudden drop in temperature during an overnight print for instance.
This would be where a printer enclosure may be useful to avoid such temperature fluctuations.
Humidity links us back somewhat to the ambient temperature issue and is again down to the surroundings in which your printer is working.
Any excess in humidity can cause an increase in the nozzle temperature and also have a detrimental affect on the PLA filament itself.
This will lead us into the realms of print quality now and how the nozzle temperature itself will have an affect on the printing of your 3D object.
The layer height you set for your printer will set the quality of the print; smaller heights will give better quality and higher layers will give less. The layer height will also control how much filament is extruded per layer and therefore, a higher layer will allow the extruded filament slightly more time to cool.
The nozzle temperature may then need to be set slightly higher to ensure that the filament maintains the right working temperature for the extra time it will take to print each layer.
Again, this follows on from the layer height consideration and will mean a difference in time that the working temperature of the PLA is maintained.
Therefore, a similar adjustment needs to be considered based on faster or slower print speeds.
Recommended Nozzle Temperature for PLA
We’ve discussed the factors that can affect the nozzle temperature when printing with PLA, but haven’t yet looked at what the ideal or standard temperature setting should be.
As mentioned, different PLA manufacturers will give different advisory nozzle temperatures for their particular PLA, so it’s always best to follow what it says on the box or filament spool.
Lets through look at what we mean by a standard nozzle temperature for PLA and why this may vary.
Firstly, PLA by nature melts and becomes workable as a 3D printing medium at reasonably low temperatures.
This is why it’s such a popular and easy to work with filament choice for most users.
Typically though, PLA will require a nozzle temperature of between 180-220 °C but as we know, this can vary between both filament types and indeed different 3D printers.
Often, getting the right temperature for the PLA you are using will come down to your own experience and some degree of trial and error.
You may start working at the higher end of this range but find that you get better results by reducing the temperature to nearer the 200 °C mark.
This may well be determined by some or all of the factors we’ve already discussed.
PLA Temperatures Recommended by Manufacturers
To get an idea of what we’re talking about with regards to the advice of different filament brands, let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular and see what variations we’re looking at.
|PLA Brand||Suggested Nozzle Temperature (°C)|
As you can see from this small cross-section of PLA filament brands, the suggested working temperatures for the printer nozzle vary by quite a bit.
This will mostly be down to how the particular manufacturer produces their PLA and whether it’s referred to as PLA+ or silk, for instance.
You’ll also notice that some upper temperatures are higher than what we’ve referred to as standard and this again will be down to the particular manufacturing process and any additives that have been introduced to the basic PLA formula.
Furthermore, should you not achieve ideal results with their recommendations, I’d suggest to perform some tests. In our article about temperature tower in Cura we are giving advice how to print the tower from Cura and what to know about it.
How to Adjust Nozzle Temperature for PLA
So, we’ve looked at the importance of the correct nozzle temperature when working with PLA, the factors that can affect this and the variations in manufacturers’ suggested nozzle temperatures.
Obviously, then the next stage is to look at how we go about adjusting and setting the nozzle temperature for your 3D printer.
You will probably have noticed that your printer has a preheat setting for both PLA and ABS, as these are the two most commonly used filaments.
These settings are there so that you can load a new spool of filament and prepare your printer ready for printing. Typically, the preheat setting for PLA will raise the nozzle temperature to 200 °C which is sufficient for you to load the filament.
However, this may not then necessarily be the temperature at which you’re actually going to print.
This will be set during the slicing process for the specific model you’re going to print, so you’ll need to do this in whichever slicing software you generally use.
The most common slicing program is Cura so let’s briefly go through the steps you need to take to set the right nozzle temperature.
Of course, you can replicate this steps in the slicer of your choice, the settings are usually general and easy to find.
Using Cura, start the software and upload the model file you plan to print.
Set the Printer model and filament type
Ensure you’ve set the printer to your exact model or the closest that Cura has in its list.
This will make the settings much easier and give you a print file which is compatible with your printer.
Set the nozzle temperature
In the printer settings menu, set the nozzle temperature to the required figure based on the filament brand recommendations.
Note however that this setting can have variations relating to the initial layer, end temperature and pause break temperature, but for this example, we’ll just set the overall printing temperature.
Make any other adjustments
Carry out any other changes or adjustments relating to your model as required.
Complete the slicing process
Once you have everything as you need it to print your model, slice it and save your slice file.
You should then have a G-code file which incorporates the settings that you’ve applied in Cura.
This will then determine the nozzle temperature for your printer and should maintain that for the duration of the print.
As we’ve already discussed, there are some tips and measures that you can take to ensure that this temperature is maintained as much as possible throughout the course of the print.
Its therefore worth referring back to these at this point and making sure you’re doing everything you can to maintain a consistent nozzle temperature,
Importance of Maintaining Proper Nozzle Temperature
We’ve now looked at different nozzle temperatures and how these can vary according to brands and types of PLA.
We’ve also covered different factors that can adversely affect the nozzle temperature, shown you steps to take to try and alleviate these, and also how to set the nozzle temperature in Cura.
Let’s now finally look at why maintain the correct nozzle temperature is important when printing with PLA or indeed any type of filament.
Improved Print Quality
The most important thing that we’re all looking for in our 3D prints is how well they actually turn out and the quality of the surface, structure and texture of the print.
The nozzle temperature plays a major part in the quality of your prints for the reasons that we’ve already discussed, so things like layer height and printing speed will come into play.
Hopefully then if you’re using the correct nozzle temperature for your PLA your print quality will be greatly improved.
Avoiding Extruder Clogging
Nozzle and extruder clogging can be frustrating and will ultimately cause the failure of your print. Avoiding this issue will be assisted by the correct nozzle temperature, as we’ve already covered.
One thing we haven’t yet considered though is the issue of under or over extrusion.
Extrusion issues are generally caused by a number of factors and can usually be rectified by adjusting the E-steps in your printer’s settings.
Have a look at our article on the subject for more information on how to correctly calibrate the extruder.
Under extrusion is when not enough filament is being sent through the nozzle, and over extrusion is obviously the opposite.
These extrusion issues can also be as a result of incorrect nozzle temperatures, which will either melt the filament too little or too much.
Too little and the PLA won’t be at the correct working temperature so won’t extrude properly, and too much will result in more filament than is needed through the nozzle.
Extending the Life of the Nozzle
The nozzle through which the PLA is extruded is only a tiny and relatively inexpensive part of your 3D printer, but that doesn’t mean that you want to keep changing it regularly.
The issues of nozzle clogging and overheating can cause terminal damage to the nozzle, and it will need to be replaced.
It therefore makes sense that having the correct temperature will alleviate the damage caused to the nozzle and will extend its life considerably.
We’ve looked at many factors that will affect the maintenance of a constant nozzle temperature for PLA and how to set the correct temperature for your printer.
We’ve also seen that the suggested working temperature for PLA has a fairly wide range and can vary between different brands.
Other considerations have been the ambience of your working area, humidity, layer height and printing speed. All of which are things that will affect the quality of your printed item.
Nozzle and extruder clogging are also things to be aware of, as is the potential for damage to your printer’s nozzle.
All in all then, there are a lot of things that can be affected by the temperature of your printer nozzle when printing with PLA and external factors that can adversely affect the temperature as well.
The answer therefore lies in first using and setting the right temperature for the PLA you’re using, avoiding external factors that may affect that temperature, and some degree of trial and error to get the results you want.
Hopefully then your print quality while using PLA will greatly improve and you’ll consistently produce high quality 3D prints.