Shiny 3D Printed Parts

With only a few parts, you can give your printed ABS components a real shine.

ABS polishing with acetone
Before and after. Using nail polish remover to polish ABS prints.

An unused jam jar with lid, nail polish remover (acetone) and some wire is all you need.

Acetone, is a solvent that can be used to dissolve some plastics, such as ABS. Directly applying acetone to ABS will make the plastic sticky and soft. However, if your ABS print is placed in a sealed container with some liquid acetone, the acetone will vapourise and evenly cover the ABS object. Given a couple of hours, the acetone vapour will slowly dissolve and smooth the outer surface of the ABS print.

The obligatory warnings must follow:

  • Acetone is a solvent, it is flammable.
  • Keep acetone away from naked flames and hot surfaces.
  • Do not heat the acetone under any circumstances.
  • Only perform this in a well ventilated space.
  • Don’t intentionally inhale the acetone vapours.

Required Parts

  • An unused jar with airtight lid. (Do not reuse the jar for food storage.)
  • Acetone or acetone based nail polish remover
  • Some stiff wire
Polish ABS prints with acetone
L to R: Nail polish remover, wire, an airtight jar

Steps

Make a Wire Strand

Take a short length of wire (about 300mm) and bend it into a frame. Test that your 3D printed part balances on the stand you have fashioned.

The frame’s function is to prevent the print from sitting in liquid acetone. Also, try to minimise the amount of wire frame the ABS print touches because as the ABS softens it will stick to the wire frame.

Bend wire into a small stand
Bend wire into a small stand

Add Acetone and Wire Stand

Add a small amount of acetone to the jar. I only fill the jar with about 2 capfulls of acetone. (There is no real science behind it.) Then carefully place the wire stand in the bottom of the jar.

Add ABS Print and Close Lid

Carefully, place the ABS printed object on the wire stand. This can be tricky. Close the lid to the jar.

IMG_3895

 

Wait Some Time

After two hours (this time can be increased or decreased – experiment some) your ABS print will emerge with a shiny surface finish.

IMG_3894

 

Results

The duration of time the printed part is exposed to the acetone can be varied. A shorter exposure will have a more subtle effect compared to a longer exposure.

Also, be aware of how you position your print on the wire stand. Since the acetone softens the print’s surface, it is prone to sticking to the wire stand and deforming the surface. The image below shows three diagonal stripes that are a result of the wire frame.

IMG_3899
Surface damage due to the wire stand

 

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