Is there any way to test what kind your filament is? There are no labels on the spools and I don't know whether they are ABS or PLA.

I got the plastic with the printer, which is no longer sold (Solidoodle 2). Since I bought it on eBay that is probably why it has unprofessional filament. The plastic filament came with the printer which is now off sale (Solidoodle v2).

I set my extruder to 210 °C and bed to 50 °C and it printed fine (with tons of hairspray and painters tape).

I figured out where I got it. I got it from Solidoodle (who have gone out of business) when I bought the Solidoodle 2 right after it came out.

I bought PLA and ABS so it has to be one of the two. Any other ways without having to burn and smell plastic? I just have the roll with no numbers, works or anything on it. And how to I smell without breathing in the fumes?

  • $\begingroup$ Hi Noah! I've proposed an edit to the title of your question, because "how to determine what type of filament" isn't very clear as to your actual question: it could also refer to a question about what type of filament to use for a particular purpose. $\endgroup$ Mar 12, 2017 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ If you try to print with it (or simply get a sample past the glass transition temperature), you might find PLA tends to smell somewhat sweet. $\endgroup$
    – Hari
    Mar 17, 2017 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ @HariGanti Well it definitely didn't smell sweet $\endgroup$ Mar 18, 2017 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ Well, that seems to rule out PLA. $\endgroup$
    – Hari
    Mar 19, 2017 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't rule out PLA. PLA has very little odor at all, and whether you'd describe it as "sweet" probably varies by individual. If it's prints at 210/50, with no difficulty, and it's not flexible (e.g. TPE/TPU), then it's almost surely PLA, possibly/likely blended with smallish amounts of other proprietary ingredients. There's really very little else with that printability at those temperatures, which is largely why PLA is so popular. $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2019 at 17:51

4 Answers 4


ABS dissolves in acetone, you could try clipping a small section and leave it in some acetone for a few minutes and if it begins to dissolve it's safe to assume that it's ABS, if not then you'll know that it's not.

This won't confirm that it is PLA, only whether it's ABS or not.

  • $\begingroup$ Great idea! This is a lot safer and I know that it is PLA or ABS. $\endgroup$ Mar 12, 2017 at 22:40
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how long it takes to dissolve, or melt but I think it's pretty quick. Certain types of nail polish removers contain acetone if you don't happen to have any laying around. Good luck! $\endgroup$
    – Diesel
    Mar 12, 2017 at 22:41

I can identify filament type by smell of it when it is hot. Touch it with solder or smth.

  • PLA emits a sweet smell resembling the burnt sugar.
  • ABS smells of chemicals.
  • PVC smells of chemicals too, but this smell is very acrid and makes you sneeze. PVC is toxic to burn and to print!
  • PC has a very peculiar smell. If you bottle that smell into air freshener and call it "flower meadow" it will work.
  • PET You know this smell. You experience it every time you unbox new gadgets.
  • HDPE and PP smell of church. Of hot candles. They are not easy to separate, but an experienced person can do it by sound and feeling of snapping filament.

Using The Burn Test to Identify Plastic Materials is one way. From the link:

To initially determine whether a material is thermoplastic (meltable) or thermoset (non-meltable) type, heat a metal or glass stirring rod until it glows red or orange (to about 500°F / 260°C) and press it against the sample. If the sample softens, the material is a thermoplastic; if it does not, it's probably a thermoset.

Next, hold the sample to the edge of a flame until it ignites. If no flame is produced quickly, hold the sample in the flame for about 10 seconds. If the material burns, note the color of the flame, the nature of the smoke, the presence of soot in the air and whether, while burning, the sample drips.

Next, extinguish the flame and cautiously smell the fumes. To identify the odor, samples of known plastic samples for comparison can be most helpful. Finally, check your observations against the known characteristics of each plastic as shown in the table below. Once you have made a tentative identification, it is usually desirable to repeat the flame test once or twice to confirm the results of the original identification. Remember that additives may affect results. For example: flame retardants can mask the polymer material's normal flame & smoke burning characteristics.

Burn Test Characteristics Table

However, remember ABS and PLA aren't the only types of filament.

ABS and PLA have different melting points and smell different when melting. Maybe try melting little bits on a soldering iron or stove top. The smell could give it away. Just don't breathe in the fumes, it can be toxic, also molten plastic particles in lungs aren't great either. I'd recommend contacting the supplier.

No markings complicates matters. Not very professional of the supplier. Smelling without breathing in fumes, just don't put your face directly over the fumes, just hold it away from your face and sniff sniff the air. if the smoke curls are going into your nose you are doing it wrong.

  • $\begingroup$ @Greenonline: I think to be relevant to 3D printing rather than general materials science, it should be noted that the first paragraph is not needed, or even just omit it. Any filament for printing is necessarily going to be a thermoplastic, not a thermoset, and the procedure described for the unnecessary test is gratuitously dangerous. $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2019 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ I merely quoted the article as it was, otherwise, a link only answer. I can see what you mean, nevertheless, the question was about unidentified materials, so it does give a broader picture as is stands. Maybe put your concerns into your answer, referring back to this answer - that would seem to be a good idea, as, IMHO, a potential loss of information through an edit would be a shame. $\endgroup$
    – Greenonline
    Jul 24, 2019 at 11:15

I know this question is old, but the existing answers are all overly general relative to the question. If someone is in OP's same sitution, the "prints at 210/50" data point pretty much guarantees it's PLA. No subjective "smell tests" or playing with fire needed.

The comments indicated some doubt that it's PLA due to lack of "sweet" odor, but PLA has very little odor at all, and whether you'd describe it as "sweet" probably varies by individual.

Aside from "PLA" (usually blends of PLA of smallish amounts of proprietary ingredients), there's virtually nothing on the filament market that prints at these temperatures, especially not without adhesion and warping problems. TPU/TPE can also print at these temperatures, but you'd usually know if that's what you had just from the flexibility. These properties of PLA are largely why PLA is so popular.


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