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How to Get an A with PLA

The Best PLA Print Temperature & How To Achieve It

Picture of Ethan Sommer
by Ethan Sommer
Jun 8, 2018

Temperature is crucial for a good print. Too hot, and your print could turn out to be a squishy mess. Too cold, and it might lead to an hour of cleanup. This guide will help you to achieve the best PLA print temperature.

The Perfect PLA Print Temperature

Image of: The Perfect PLA Print Temperature
Source: Ethan Sommer / All3DP

In an ideal world, there would be a perfect temperature that you could set your printer too and just hit print. In reality, the perfect temperature for PLA (polylactic acid) does not exist. Instead, it takes trial and error to achieve this “hallowed” PLA print temperature.

PLA is quite forgiving when it comes to temperature, and as long as you don’t go too far in either direction, prints should be fine. Moreover, PLA is a great way to start experimenting, as it is easier to use than ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) or PETG (polyethylene terephthalate) filament.

One important thing to remember when trying out ranges of temperatures is that particular colors and brands of PLA may print at different temperatures.

The Ideal Range for Hot End Temperatures

Image of: The Ideal Range for Hot End Temperatures
Source: I HD Images

As much as it would be great to have one PLA print temperature, there isn’t one. Instead, there’s a range of different heats to print with, depending on your needs. The general range for PLA is around 190°C to 220°C.

If your layers aren’t adhering to one another, heating up your hot end can usually fix it. Cooling the hot end, on the other hand, can help with print quality. If the extruder is too hot, the PLA filament can become extra soft and flimsy. This can cause your prints to be messy and droopy.

Signs of Bad Hot End Temperatures

A messy top caused by hot filament being dragged by the hot end
A messy top caused by hot filament being dragged by the hot end Source: Ethan Sommer / All3DP

Another indicator that the hot end is too hot is if your printer can’t bridge. This might mean that the plastic is so hot, it doesn’t cool properly. If the hot end is too hot, your prints will be messy and droopy, as shown. Cooling down the temperature can help this.

Meanwhile, prints not sticking to the print bed can sometimes mean too cool of a hot end. A cool hot end might also make it hard to do tight corners in your prints. 

One of the best ways to achieve ideal hot end temperature is to experiment. Slowly adjusting the temperature, either up or down, you will find out what works best for you.

Different brands and colors of filaments can have different temperatures that they print best at. For instance, a spool of black PLA that prints at about 215°C will have a different temperature than a spool of blue filament that prints at 210°C. Even small differences between numbers can have an effect on your prints.

The Best Range for a Heated Bed

A heated bed helps to prevent warpage
A heated bed helps to prevent warpage Source: Paperlief.com

Heated beds are crucial to 3D printing. Although not all printers have them, the ones that do always need to be set to a certain temperature. Even though the recommended PLA print temperature is 70°C, this doesn’t always work. We’ve found, for example, that the best range is between 55°C and 70°C.

Signs of Bad Bed Temperatures

Elephant's foot
Elephant's foot Source: All3DP

The most obvious indication that your bed temperature is too cold is if your prints aren’t adhering to the bed. If they’re not sticking well, you may want to move the temperature up a little. A warmer bed can then help to soften the plastic, allowing it to stick. Just be careful not to heat up your bed too much, or your prints might end up with “elephant’s foot”, seen in the photo.

Elephant’s foot is when the bed of the printer is too hot. This makes the first couple layers of the print melt, and the weight of the print smooshes them down.

Elephant’s foot happens especially when the print is very heavy since there is more force pressing down on the print. This ugly side effect is easily remedied by making the bed a little colder. Just be careful that you don’t end up making the bed too cold.

External Effects

A Prusa i3 enclosure
A Prusa i3 enclosure Source: Robert Soják

External effects can also affect your PLA print temperature. If you have a cool breeze coming in from a window, for example, you might want to turn the hot end and bed up a couple of degrees. Air conditioning vents might also throw off the printing temperature.

One of the best things for your prints is to build an enclosure for your printer. Enclosures have two jobs: They keep outside temperatures from affecting your prints, and they keep heat inside.

Many are printable, with a few plywood and plexiglass pieces, such as this one from Thingiverse, by dldesign. There are also many videos showing you how to build enclosures, like this MatterHackers video.

The Best Way to Find the Perfect PLA Print Temperature

Torture tests like these towers can help calibrate your printer's temperature
Torture tests like these towers can help calibrate your printer's temperature Source: Orubap

We said it once, and we’ll say it again: Trial and error is the best way to figure out the temperature for both the bed and the hot end. If you find that your prints are sloppy, turn the hot end temperature down a little bit. If your prints are failing or aren’t sticking to the bed, maybe you need to turn the hot end temperature down, and the bed up.

Elephant’s foot can also be a key indicator that your bed is too hot. As long as you stay within the given ranges, experimenting is the best way to achieve the best PLA print temperature.

License: The text of "The Best PLA Print Temperature & How To Achieve It" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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