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3D Printed Quadcopter – PLA or ABS?

Like everybody else I stated building Quadcopters using cheap carbon frames from eBay and Hobbyking – they are light and stiff and you will be flying FPV in no time.

The trouble arise once you break a carbon arm or top plate and have to wait for a replacement – for what seems like an eternity. You could of course just stockpile a huge amount of spare parts (which I actually have done). but would it be better to make your own spare parts. I realised that I had to buy a 3D printer – a must-have for every maker and hobbyist.

Creality CR-10

After some research for a both durable and cheap 3D Printer I finally ordered a Creality CR-10 printer from Banggood (buy here). I was impressed with the quality of the prints, and the huge build volume, but also with the huge amount of customizations available on Thingiverse. The CR-10 is backed by a Facebook group where thousands members is helping each other  getting most out of the machine – goto https://www.facebook.com/groups/CrealityCR10.

The CR-10 can print all kinds of parts for drones – especially canopies, spare arms and camera mounts. You can print in either ABS filament or the modern PLA filament.

But why not print the entire quadcopter frame?

3d printed quadcopter frame

Having built 5+ quadcopters with carbon frames I was a bit sceptical about using simple plastics in this hobby. My main reservations was that the material was to heavy, fragile and brittle – but then again the benefits could potentially outweigh the drawbacks.

I bought some filaments rolls from both Hobbyking, ESUN and Banggood and started to reserach posible 3d printed drone plans primary on Thingiverse.

I wanted to create a 180 mm class frame, light and large enough for 4″ inch propellers that is considered the sweet-spot these days.

The model I choose was the Mauler 180 – https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1521672
It is a classic X-frame design much like the QAV-R from Lumenier.

I decided to print both an ABS and PLA version and compare the results.

Comparison – The PLA and ABS 3D printed Quadcopter

I started by downloading the STL files and loading them into Cura – that is my favorite slicer application.
Filament was bought from Banggood, HobbyKing and eSun – since both are great filament choices where the later probably is the best brand.

Both ABS and PLA where printed in draft quality 0,2mm layer height.
I used a simple plastic bag as enclosure for the ABS quadcopter.

PLA version:

Quadcopter using PLA filament
Quadcopter using PLA filament

PROS

  • Stiffer frame which might give better flight characteristics
  • Better surface with less scars
  • A bit heavier at 87 grams
  • Easy to print

CONS

  • Durability, feels a bit more brittle

ABS version:

Quadcopter using ABS filament
Quadcopter using ABS filament

PROS:

  • Lighter frame at 78 gram, and less is definitely more in the world of quadcopters
  • A lot more flexible – the arms a more bendable
  • ABS is more weatherproof and doesn’t deteriorate as easy as PLA

CONS:

  • Finish is not as good as the PLA Quadcopter
  • Difficult to print (for me at least)

Conclusion, ABS vs PLA

All things put aside the differenties is really not that big between the two types of filament they have some similarities.
ABS is  giving your Quadcopter much better structural integrity and will be more suited to withstand a hard, but it will also require a more difficult material to print.
PLA will give you more precise prints and better looking quadcopter, more flexibility in the quadcopter frame. PLA is the best flying drone – as long as you don’t crash too often since the material is weaker than ABS.

So if you can live with the the listed PROS and CONS – I would surely recommend you to print your Quadcopter in PLA since it is the hobbyist favorite filament.

Which material do you use for own 3d printed quadcopters? – leave a comment below.

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