Making your PLA prints FLEXIBLE V2 (and ABS smoothing!)

by nickdisney, published

Making your PLA prints FLEXIBLE V2 (and ABS smoothing!) by nickdisney Jun 4, 2013
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Okay, so yesterday I uploaded a video of a few parts I have managed to make into flexible pieces. Today I am giving you the how to. (I waited to make sure the parts remained flexible and to see if I could come up with a suitable way to restore the color to some of the treated parts.)

(Yesterdays video) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHhHHAQd0KI
(How to) http://youtu.be/lP-S3PkvBbk
(Detailed How To) http://youtu.be/GP36vJh3-B0


Just as an update, I found some ABS parts in my scraps that came with my printer, and after about two seconds immersed in this liquid, the surface became gummy and smooth, and then hardened after about fifteen minutes. so for those of you with heated beds printing with ABS, this is definitely something to experiment with.

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Wow, cant believe I never saw this thing and its been on here since 2013. I wonder if with the experimenting you guys have done, you might be able to clear something up for me

I'm wondering if this method makes the PLA flexible as well as tacky / grippy
Wondering if this would be grippy & flexible enough to serve as a fingertip on a 3D printed prosthetic hand

If you notice, the fingertips are separate parts in there, I tried printing them with flexible filament (Filaflex) but it comes out flexible, but with no grip, very slippery, so just wanted to know if the chemical treatment of PLA parts produces the same results...?

Cathy's Lucky Fin - Prosthetic Hand - Bowden / Push-Pull Variant

Xylene, toulene, acetonitrile, and hexane all de-polymerize PLA, that is break down the long chain polymers that give it its strength.

Xylene, That is what does it. Xylene can be found in things like goof-off or goo-gone and also solvent thinners. I found this out whilst trying to dissolve PLA but i ended up just making it soft. I recommend letting the PLA part sit in Xylene vapour or just sprayed with Xylene liquid over night in a closed glass jar. Note that the part will smell and will have white powdery artifacts coating the part.

I printed a cell phone bumper (http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:74692)http://www.thingiverse.com/thi... in PLA and sat it in an un-heated Xylene vapour bath over night. It worked a treat making the bumper very rubbery, so xylene is the way to go. Also there was no noticeable discolouring when in exposed to vapours, but I did get some whitening when submerging in the xylene. Good work.

LG Nexus 4 Cover / Bumper Case V1.3
by Zodd

i had deducted that from other experiments and reading the MSDS of all the common chemicals that had the same effect. now if you would do me the favor, let me know if it remains flexible over time. the things i had treated also become rubbery, but they go back to a normal hardness after a few days, a week the longest. keep the treated bumper out in air and report back to me in a week or so. my guess is that it will harden again.

I did print 2 bumpers at the same time, treated one with the xylene vapour bath, and left the other untreated - so it is my control. The treated bumper is certainly not as rubbery as it was a week ago, but it is still flexible/bendable compared to the untreated one. I can happily twist it into a figure 8, but the control made a cracking sound when I tried just now (only got half way through the figure 8 twist). Will let you know in another week whether it is getting harder.

So how do you get rid of the smell ?

it fades. it doesn’t linger like gasoline.

I could see the partial treatment of parts by this process being very useful e.g. making flexible "living hinges" on more stiff and solid items. Good work!

So this works very well. But the stuff itself is not something you want to be handling nor breathing. Only do this in an open area and try keep skin exposure to a minimum. Benzene is a well know carcinogen.

Not really benzene but ethylbenzene if you check the link. Different chemical but still needs to be handled properly for sure. Freaked me out too when I read the post about benzene in the ingredients.

Has anyone tried treating a small portion of a spool and then printing with it?

He mentioned its extremely flammable I wouldn't risk putting it in the machine like that.

Nooooo. :) Hahahaa, that would be funny though. Like take a meter of PLA or so, treat it with a vapor bath (not directly submerged), let it vent, then print with it.

I'm not gutsy enough to try it with my UM though. I have no intentions of taking it apart to clear a clog. :/

might be the way to clear a clog --- boom boom

Is there any loss of detail? Usually in very detailed prints most immersion bath techniques result in significant loss of detail.

if you are using this on ABS, then yes, there would be, but on PLA, there is no loss at all.

Thank you..Was it ever determined what the actual chemical was that is doing this. If so, what was it? I don't think I saw that answer. If not, what are the active chemicals in this product. My friends who have seen all three vids all seem to think you are about to blow yourself up with such a flammable product but you seemed pretty light hearted about that aspect. Would you say it is safer than acetone vapor polishing?

as far as the source of the softening, I believe I answered that in this thread already.

"Xylenes are mainly produced as part of the BTX aromatics (benzene, toluene and xylenes) extracted from the product of catalytic reforming known as "reformate”

I would say its safer if used properly. I don’t expect to blow up using this stuff. I have seen many people using a heat source to accelerate the acetone vapor bath which I would say definitely puts it at a higher flammability risk. but like all chemicals, flammable or not, they should be respected and used with caution.

Love this thank you very much for your work!

For any UK based Thingiversers out there, Toolstation stock a carburettor cleaner. I went out and bought some today, took it home to try immediately and it works. Follow the instructions in nickdisney's latest video and within 5-10mins, you will have a flexible part.


Superb, many thanks.

Did you immerse in the liquid or use vapor?

Hi, I sprayed the liquid into a small jar and immersed my prints. I suppose it depends on the viability and size of your part. I guess you could also do a local soak using a small paintbrush on an area where you might want something flexible, such as a live hinge, or an area susceptible to delaminating.

Thanks for this info, much appreciated!

if atone can track down the MSDS on this brand, I would like to compare it to Berkible and Supertech varieties for similar ingredients. maybe we can pinpoint the one that works and find it raw.


nothing similar to the first one posted, but this wiki page has some interesting info on xylene. I’m wondering if thats the common chemical.

"Xylenes are mainly produced as part of the BTX aromatics (benzene, toluene and xylenes) extracted from the product of catalytic reforming known as "reformate”.”

Found you via the Adafruit blog, FYI

NM, I found it. awesome! thanks!

really? whats the link?

Absolutely awesome. I love printing in PLA because its easier to stick to the bed but the prints are so brittle. This solves a major problem for me. Thank You

Very cool! Have you determined if there are any other changes to the PLA resulting from this process? Is it more flammable than regular PLA once the cleaner dries? Does it damage any other plastic it contacts (such as an iPhone)?

no, I haven’t experimented with burning PLA at all, but once the chemicals dry, they are no longer flammable. tif you leave the print submersed for too long, the chemical will break down the plastic to something crumbly and unusable, so there is a golden time frame with which to keep your parts submersed. as far as damaging plastics, I have been using a case printed and processed with my s3 for about a week now and have had no negative results.

Love this, thanks for the great work.

Thanks for posting it, for the none-us maker please give us pictures of the full label, i can not fly to us to buy carburetor cleaner from supertech, we need to know which substance it is
are other brands of carburetor cleaner also working?

how much does it cost?
does the pla stays flexible over an longer time?

no worries, you can use any brand. just go down to your local pep boys, auto zone, or even your local mechanic and ask him to buy a can. its a staple in every shop. they are all the same, just branded differently. most of it is made by a company called berkible I think.

Just been testing with pure kerosene. Not getting any results. It's not the kerosene.


I have a meeting right now, I can’t read this, so someone gets a few minutes, let me know if there is anything interesting we should know about. (besides the cancer stuff)


this stuff (berkible gum cutter) has the same effect, and the only ingredient that the two share is the benzene. thats probably the culprit.

Benzene is highly carcinogenic and I doubt it's used in any consumer products. It's even a banned chemical in some industrial plants like Eastman Chemical. The site you referenced said "ethylbenzene". Structurally similar but with different properties and health effects. Toluene (also sometimes called methylbenzene), xylene, and ethylbenzene all are based off of a benzene ring system and are only a carbon or two off from each other but it's enough to change their properties.

Very cool discovery by the way! Tried it a little while ago and worked great. The product I used contained Acetone, Methanol, Toluene and Xylene but no ethylbenzene. I doubt acetone and methanol contribute much to the effect but maybe they do when used in combination with the other chems. Lowes carries Xylol which is the same thing as Xylene and Ace used to carry Toluol which is toluene. You may able to find some toluol on Amazon. Shouldn't be too hard to find out which chemical makes it rubbery.

Looks like a missed your comment about xylene being the only common chem in the supertech and Berkible brands. So I guess I'll try xylol from Lowes and see if it works by itself.

How did it go?

Vapor bath? like acetone Vapor bath or liquid bath dipped? Time to treat the bong and get to the method....

Just a heads up, your "how-to" video wasn't very how-to. I think you may have gotten a bit distracted. =P

ha, very true. I will upload the process I use in a little bit. just gonna finish this episode of next generation...

Incredible!! I have to try this myself :)

let me know how your stuff comes out. I’m wondering if there is a difference between sources (brands) or PLA.

Definitely worth documenting, if you could detail which PLA vendor you used and if they provide which grade of PLA the filament is that would be useful. As far as I know there are about 3 commonly used grades of PLA used for 3D filament. 4032D, 4042D, 4043D.