How do I give 3D-printed parts in PLA a shiny smooth finish?

  • How do I give 3D-printed parts in PLA a shiny smooth finish? kenorb

    The surfaces of my printed parts using PLA plastic look rough and uneven.

    Would changing filament to a better one make any difference?

    If not, what kind of methods can I use to achieve a smoother finish for my for 3D-printed objects?

  • It is called Acetone Finishing

    Basically the 3D printed part stays in acetone vapor and the outer shell turns to smooth surface. PS: I heard that it works better with ABS.

    This article shows how with videos.

  • Your two easiest options are dipping your print in acetone or giving it an acetone vapor bath. Note this process generally only works with ABS not PLA, with the exception of some brands. There are many articles online where you can learn more about the process.

    Aside from finishing, you will generally get a smoother looking end result by lowering the layer thickness, and removing any hysteresis/wobble in your print head making sure it's well calibrated.

  • PLA parts can be finished with a coat of epoxy like XTC-3D from Smooth-On. This will smooth out the part and give it a pretty nice shine.

    I've also had a fair amount of success sanding prints, giving them a coat of automotive filler primer, and using glossy spray paint.

    You can also get great results with an acetone vapor finish if you're willing to switch to ABS. Though that will require a heated bed and can be a bit more finicky to work with than PLA.

  • Acetone vaporing is a great way to smooth ABS prints. For PLA, however, acetone smoothing does not work. An article about smoothing PLA says:

    This is a pity, since PLA is much easier to work with than ABS. We found some solutions for smoothing PLA, but most involve rather dangerous-sounding chemicals such as Tetrahydrofuran and Dichloromethane. The one exception we found is Ethyl Acetate which seems to give good results and is (relatively) safe.

    Other article mentioned MEK Substitute, which is Ethyl Acetate as well. You could also try some kind of polisher manufactured for 3D print results, such as XTC-3D. Here is a real photo of XTC-3D on PLA:

    XTC-3D on PLA, image courtesy of

    Ultimaker also suggests using chloroform for smoothing PLA prints.

    If your parts are really uneven, it might be a symptom of something bad going on with your print(er), you might want to read Taxonomy of Z axis artifacts in extrusion-based 3d printing.

    The most recognizeable cause of this problem is Z-wobble. It is caused by the misalignment of layers in a repeating pattern with a period equal to the Z thread pitch (technically the lead, but this is the same as the pitch unless you are using a multi-start thread), and was a famous problem of the original Makebot, the CupcakeCNC.

  • It takes quite an effort to make PLA shiny, and it's not as simple as ABS and acetone.

    You have to sand down the print with sandpaper with different grit sizes (start with grit P100, then P240, P400, P600, P1500 and P2000).

    To make the shining result you have to polish the print with plastic finish compound. Alternatively you can apply XTC-3D Print Coating.

    See these posts:

  • Make sure your printer is properly calibrated and that there are no jams as this can cause blobs or other defects on the object. Printing at a higher resolution would also make the object smoother, as there would also be less difference between each layer.

    The filament that you are using could be a cause for the rough look as well. Make sure you play around with the temperature to find the right range for a specific brand of filament. I have noticed different brands tend to print better at different temperatures, and if it too low could cause flow issues.

    Also leaving PLA out in the air tends to have it absorb moisture which is also no good. If you are not going to use it for a while put the filament back in a resealable bag with a desiccant to help keep moisture out.

    If you don't want to see the printed layers you could also try melting the surface again with a heat gun to smooth out the object. Be careful not to overheat the object, because could you could discoloring or cause drooping.

plastic-filament finishing-techniques makerbot surface pla
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