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ABS polishing experiment

by srepmub Sep 11, 2012
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For glossy finish I usually start with sanding the surface with 4oo grit, leave the sanding dust on the surface and wipe the with a acetone soaked cloth. This seals the small gaps. Let it dry until the acetone has vaporized. Then continue sanding with finer grit, the last sanding is done with 1500 - 2000 grit, wet sanded.

For the mirror finish the final step is to polish with rubbing compound and polish compound, this can be done with a small buffing machine or manually, the trick is to generate exactly the right amount of heat. I use 3M finesse it products (rubbing, polish and pads) and the work quite well, white felt pad for rubbing and a soft grey or black for polish.

The result depends on the color of the filament, black is difficult, white is easiest and gives best finish. The posted photo is a test on PLA
quickly polished, but hopefully the resolution shows that the layer gaps are gone, on PLA acetone doesnt work so its just sand and polish
the right amount of heat does the trick.

great idea to use the dust + acetone soaked cloth! I haven't printed in ABS for 5 years by now however..

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..