Smoothing the Surface of ABS and PLA 3D Prints

27 Nov


One of the drawbacks of the FDM (FFF) 3D printing method is that the result of your printing is a model that is not totally smooth to the touch, you can see and feel the texture created by the layer by layer printing by extruding the thermoplastic material. The smaller the layer size the less noticeable the texture of the printed 3D model is, but it is till there and some people just want to get a smoother glossy or matte object as a result of their 3D printing. There are multiple solutions for smoothing the surface of your ABS or PLA 3D prints to make them look even better as a final product and not seem so much like they were actually 3D printed. The most commonly used approach seems to be the use of various solvents that can help you get a smoother look of the surface of different 3D prints, but you need to be careful with these as solvents might be dangerous to your health and if not properly handled you can also damage your 3D printed models.

One of the most commonly used methods for smoothing the surface of 3D prints made with ABS material is to use Acetone as it melts the ABS plastic and creates a smoother and glossy looking surface. The there are various ways for the application of Acetone for smoothing ABS prints that may produce varying results, so you might want ot try them all and experiment to see what works best for you and gives you the best results. Some people dip the model in acetone, some apply it on the model with a brush and some use Acetone vapors to melt the ABS plastic and give it a smoother finish. Regardless of what you use however you should be careful with Acetone and try to avoid inhaling and also be careful as Acetone is highly flammable. Another alternative to Acetone that might give you the same results for smoothing ABS prints is Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), also known as Butanone, as some people report successfully using this instead of Acetone. Do note that Acetone and MEK do not seem to work well with PLA filaments like they do with ABS, so do not try them for smoothing PLA 3D prints!

For smoothing the surface of PLA 3D printed objects it seems that so far the best working solvent providing similar effect to Acetone for ABS is Tetrahydrofuran (THF). THF not only works for PLA like Acetone does for ABS, but it also smells similar and might be as dangerous as Acetone to your health if you do not properly handle it, so you should be extra careful when working with any of the solvents mentioned here. It is a wise idea to wear gloves and work in well ventilated area, so you will not be inhaling the fumes of the solvent you are working with, also be very careful when handling any of the mentioned solvents – Acetone, MEK or THF as they are all very flammable. Do note that Acetone is the easiest and most widely available solvent of the mentioned ones and you may have trouble finding or obtaining any of the others mentioned, so do check locally if they are easily accessible.

Another safer for handling alternative that is supposed to work with both ABS and PLA 3D print (as well as many others) is a special product dubbed as high performance 3D print coating called XTC-3D from Smooth-On. It has been getting some attention lately among the 3D printing community, though people are reporting mixed results after trying it out. The product is essentially an epoxy coating consisting of two liquids that are mixed together and then brushed onto any 3D print, the coating is supposed to self-level and wet out uniformly without leaving brush strokes. Working time is 10 minutes and cure time is about 4 hours and after that the XTC-3D should have cured to a hard, impact resistant coating that can be sanded, primed and painted. The problem with the Smooth-On XTC-3D is that it is not widely available, might be easier to obtain in US, but we could not find it available anywhere in Europe or a place to order it from that will deliver here, so that could be a serious problem. Other alternatives include priming and sanding the model and then maybe painting it or painting with PlastiDip rubber like coating directly.

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7 Responses to Smoothing the Surface of ABS and PLA 3D Prints

Phi Avery

November 28th, 2014 at 17:33

Xtc-3D can be purchased in the UK from Bentley Advanced Materials. see the link below.

Please read the directions. for best results use the foam brush when applying and apply it very lightly. Also if you want to avoid drips and pooling you should work the surface until it tacks up and stops flowing.


November 28th, 2014 at 17:58

Thanks for pointing this out, they do seem to deliver to some other European countries besides UK, but not all.


December 18th, 2014 at 19:09

We have found another place to order XTC-3D that delivers to more European countries:


January 28th, 2015 at 01:04

I have had pretty good success just coating my PLA prints in regular, cheap ass Epoxy Resin. Due to the nature and viscosity of it (actually I use a slow-curing resin) it pulls into the lines and gives a perfect surface that can be sanded and painted. No need to buy expensive stuff..


February 13th, 2015 at 00:09

I was able to get it locally in the US at

It works to a degree, but does not fully eliminate layer marks unless they are VERY fine. I also recommend experimenting a bit as the way you brush it on and your mix are big factors. I noticed that you can’t really ‘spread it’ like paint – each brush stroke will retain, creating additional issues.


December 23rd, 2015 at 04:21

Heads-up on the XTC-3d product. I bought this stuff about 6 months ago and have been using it extensively. It does a great job at smoothing out the 3d printed surfaces and leaves a beautiful shiny finish as well. It looks incredible. The only problem is that it doesn’t age well at all. The shiny surface over the space of a few months goes dull and the coat turns from clear to yellow. This isn’t a problem if you paint over it, but if you don’t, it is very disappointing to see your nice shiny 3d printed finished pieces turn dull and yellow (if you covered a light colored surface. I’m not sure what causes the yellowing and dulling, but all my prints aren’t getting any sunlight so I don’t think it is UV related etc.


January 24th, 2016 at 14:23

Havent you the issue that THF leaves white spots? I hated it when my model looked like a white/black mixture. Couldnt clean it up with acetone or any other cleaner…

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