ABS polishing experiment

by srepmub, published

ABS polishing experiment by srepmub Sep 11, 2012
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An experiment in polishing ABS, using increasingly finer wet-sanding paper, a special-purpose plastic polisher (Xerapol) and silicone spray.


I used my recently uploaded arcade stick (thing 30008) to experiment a bit with polishing ABS. Attached photos are the results of almost two days of polishing (what fun!). Unfortunately my time is up on this one for now, or I guess the results could be smoother/shinier still.

The main unsolved issue consists of some small gaps/holes, which I'm not sure how to best fill up. I tried to fill them up with ABS juice, but didn't get that to work well. The holes remained after sanding or things got discolored. Perhaps some acetone could fix the latter, but I haven't tried. Or perhaps it works better to fill the holes with warm plastic or use heating somehow. Or I just need to use better plastic or increase my extrusion multiplier, or use a better printer (this was done using a classic mendel..). In any case, if these holes can be filled neatly, spectacular results should be possible.

In all, this experiment gave me the confidence that it should be possible to get a really perfect finish for ABS prints, well, at least given infinite time and patience.

So I used sanding paper, starting with cheap 80 and 150 grit. I'm wondering a bit about the quality of these, since I always end up with some scratches. Next I used more professional wet-sanding paper, with grits 280, 320, 600, 800, 1000, 1200, 2000, 3000 and 5000 (slightly overkill perhaps). Finally I used Xerapol (xerapol.com), to make things shine again. I haven't compared Xerapol to, say, toothpaste, so I can't really say how well it works on ABS. It didn't really impress me a lot, but perhaps that was just because I wasn't able to reach 5000 scratch-free.

In the end I added a bit of silicone spray, which seemed to give a bit of extra shine.

I'd love to hear suggestions on how to improve these results, especially of course on how to cleanly fill minor holes/imperfections. Or on how to further improve the results using some kind of wax or lacquer perhaps?

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I use a 3d Doodler pen (like a hot glue gun for ABS and PLA) to fill in or correct slightly to moderately damaged prints. I have both versions, the first and second generation. Stay away from discounted first gens, they're garbage. The latest version does a great job at filling in tiny to large fractures, cracks, gaps, holes etc.

The acetone vapor bath can be performed in a empty paint can, or your wife's cupcake dome glass cover...not that I would know anything about that. It seems though that you have nailed some solid methods, great job, it looks awesome!

Maybe try laywoo type filament and some primer? i havnt tried it but apparently you can sand it back a bit nicer

why did not you use acetone?

at the time, I thought it was dangerous enough not to try and use an acetone vapor bath inside our small appartment. also the setups I saw (rice-cooker I think) seemed too complicated to quickly throw together (on the reprap blog someone just published a much simpler setup, which I may try at some point.) another reason is I only need a single print, and I care more about the result and what is maximally possible than about being efficient. finally, I really haven't seen anyone using acetone baths on precise mechanical parts, only on squirrels and yodas, so I'm not sure for example how a large flat surface would come out, or what will happen to the corners of a cube. I think thin wills or delicate structures may also collapse when they get too soft..

hmm, an acetone vapor bath could perhaps give similar results, but with much less effort:


thank you all for your comments. I hope to continue my polishing experiment after finishing my new mendelmax..

I was in the body shop to get my bumper fixed some time ago, and the guy said they have a little trick to rejuvenate the black ABS strip on painted bumpers: They gently work it with a paint stripper. It turns the greyed out black back into black again. Unfortunately, it also smoothens the textured matt surface into a shiny surface, but that may just be what you need. Try it at your own risk, though, on a test piece first.

Awesome job on the stick! It brings back memories of wasted afternoons, evenings and nights, sigh....

This is amazing... wow!

I wonder if a defused industrial laser beam would work to remelt the matrial smooth :)

Nice :) Had a very brief go with a shot blaster on PLA using a small cabinet and glass beads as the abrasive medium. Was impressed enough with the results to think that next time I need a really smooth surface this is the approach i will take.

I remember playing wintergames on the C64. After a day a new joystick would look exactly the same ;) Good work!!... ;)

Wow great job. That came out really nice. What do you think about a more automated solution? Possibly a chamber/tub or maybe a few tubs that vibrate with glass abrasive beads or sand like what they use in sand blasting. Maybe each chamber could contain finer glass beads or sand then the previous.

Novus Plastic Polish (#3, then #2 then #1).

As for the small gaps melt a little blob of the same color ABS in acetone and fill the hole with it. Works pretty goof for me.

This has me thinking, we have a Mr. Deburr wet media ceramic vibration tumbler at work, and some bead-blasting stations. I wonder what sort of results I can get with those on ABS. We normally use these tools for SLS nylon parts. Thanks for the inspiration!

I recommend rubbing compound used for cars to remove fine scratches.

Mother's Aluminum polish will also work very well (perhaps better than rubbing compound). I know it is aluminum polish but it works great on plastic.

Finally if you want to add natural shine to ABS.. just rub with with a piece of cloth (some grunts required and jeans or Tshirts works great)

In my opinion: this looks awesome! It seems to be a "normal" produced joystick that has simply been used for a while. But compare it to your original one - this result is very good!

I tryed once with simply using some lacquer/paint. This seemed to fill the small holes but adds very much "shininess" to the model.

Thanks for posting. Awesome results. I've sanded down some PLA90 with wet and dry and it came out very smooth too.

Great suggestions, I've been wondering about how to do this.

Thanks for posting!

Amazing results!

I'm currently making some test with paint, and I will try your method.

For little holes, did you try to make a very thick ABS juice mixture?

not thick enough perhaps, thanks! perhaps that could decrease discoloration as well? I hope to have another look in a few weeks..

I experimented a bit with spray-on primer/paint earlier, but didn't get smooth results at the time. and isn't it nicer to do without any paint? ;-)

Nice! I'm thinking of ways to postprocess printed parts too but doing manual 'polishing' like this is going to be very hard.

I'm thinking of using sandblasting.

I guess with some more experience, better tools (polishing machine, dremel, holding vice?) and a reliable way to fill small holes, it can be done in much less time than I used. but yeah, I was mostly interested here in if/how smooth/shiny we can polish ABS at all, regardless of method..