ABS vs. PC: Comparing Two Common Thermoplastics

By Protolabs

Whether your project requires CNC machining, injection moulding, or 3D printing, you can reliably depend on ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) and PC (polycarbonate) thermoplastics to suit your specific needs. In fact, the two plastics can even be mixed together in order to form even stronger parts for projects that require added durability and stability.

While there are plenty of shared properties between ABS and PCs, there are also key differences that would make one thermoplastic a better choice over the other for your project. And in some circumstances, the ABS/PC combination will be the best option to meet your specifications and requirements.

A quick note: While Protolabs prints ABS-like materials every day using stereolithography, our Partner network can handle any ABS 3D printing needs through their industrial FDM process.

ABS 3D Print build
Translucent ABS-like parts with support structures are shown after building on a stereolithography printer.

Benefits of ABS

It is more affordable than comparable thermoplastics, and has superb mechanical properties like toughness, hardness, and rigidity. ABS maintains a high impact resistance and surface hardness under high and low temperatures, has terrific dimensional stability, and a higher heat deflection temperature than its thermoplastic counterparts. ABS also has excellent aesthetic qualities thanks to its natural opaque and ivory tones, which make it easily modifiable into vibrant, colourful parts with variable gloss levels from matte to high gloss. So, how does ABS stack up for various manufacturing processes? Here’s the rundown:

CNC Machining 

  1. Quick and affordable way to make precise prototypes and mass-produced parts, reducing the need for injection moulds.
  2. Great impact strength and surface hardness over a wide temperature range, with high heat deflection temperature and good dimensional stability.
  3. Good electrical insulator and is mostly unaffected by temperature, humidity, and frequency, so it can be used in most environments.
  4. Resistant to most types of fluids, unaffected by water, alkali alcohols, inorganic salts, hydrocarbon solvents, and many acids.


ABS Measurements and Specifications for CNC Machining



Density (g/cm3)


Tensile strength (MPa)


Tensile strength (MPa)


Hardness (ISO 2039)

R 105

Hardness (Shore-D)



Injection Moulding

  1. Ideal choice for moulding applications that require an inexpensive, strong, stiff plastic
  2. Holds up well to external impacts due to its high tensile strength and impact resistance, maintaining high levels of toughness and stiffness under all conditions
  3. Good machinability and exceptional dielectric properties, with excellent dimensional stability and high stability under load
  4. Heat and creep resistant, and resistant to most oils, acids, and alkalis
  5. Maintains characteristics and performance in extreme temperatures

3D Printing

  1. Low-cost material ideal for producing tough and durable 3D parts
  2. Great mechanical properties with high resistance to heat and everyday chemicals
  3. Can endure more stress, heat, and pressure than comparable 3D printing materials
  4. Minimal oozing and stringing gives models a smoother finish
  5. Reliable results and familiarity of use, as one of the first plastics used with industrial 3D printers
resin pellets being poured into a hopper
A technician pours PC resin pellets into a hopper in preparation for making a moulded part.

Benefits of PC

Polycarbonate is a lightweight, transparent thermoplastic that is extremely durable and highly resistant to impact and fracture. PC is 250 times stronger than glass, with comparable light transmission properties, but it’s significantly lighter and more durable than glass. Polycarbonates are fire-resistant, have insulating properties, and are easy to machine. PC also exhibits high heat resistance. Polycarbonates are available in multiple colours to suit any part requirements or project demands. PC and ABS stack up pretty closely. Here’s what PC looks like in short form for three major manufacturing processes:

CNC Machining

  1. Excellent dimensional stability and good strength and stiffness
  2. Superior impact strength and durability
  3. Good machinability, with excellent electrical and properties
  4. Extremely versatile plastic that is highly transparent
  5. Perfect for parts that require clarity, strength, and stiffness


Machined PC Properties

Type of PC

Tensile Strength at Yield

Flexural Modulus

Tensile Elongation at Break


67 MPa

2300 MPa



Injection Moulding

  1. Good thermal resistance with high viscosity during processing
  2. Easy to work with via moulding and thermoforming
  3. Parts and components have high impact strength, excellent rigidity, and clear transparency
  4. High strength retention at elevated temperatures, with superior resistance to temperature extremes
  5. High tensile, shear, and flexural strength, with excellent creep resistance

3D Printing

  1. Highly durable and heat resistant up to 135°C
  2. Impact and shatter resistant
  3. Withstands torsional stress better than other thermoplastics
  4. Flexibility allows it to be machine bendable at room temperature
  5. Transparent and electrically non-conductive


PC Block
A block of clear polycarbonate.

ABS vs. PC

Now, let’s put ABS up against PC using different manufacturing processes. In this case, PC wins out in terms of heat deflection and tensile strength, but looking at elongation, the process used makes quite a difference.




Comparing ABS and PC for Moulding and Machining  


ABS Moulded

ABS Machined

PC Moulded

PC Machined

Heat deflection





Tensile strength




67 MPa

Elongation at break


7% (at yield)




Benefits of ABS/PC

For projects that require the toughness and heat-resistance offered by PC along with the ductility, processability, and aesthetics offered by ABS, the combination of ABS/PC is potentially the best option for your parts. ABS/PC is also a more cost-effective alternative than using just polycarbonates. ABS/PC materials help minimise the thick moulding concerns found in ABS or PC materials when moulded alone and offer improved processing during injection moulding. The electronic, automotive, and telecommunications industries have all found success in using an ABS/PC blend to meet their specifications. The benefits of using ABS and PC on their own are mostly reinforced when using a combination of ABS/PC.

  1. High strength, stiffness, and heat resistance
  2. Excellent impact resistance, at both high and low temperatures
  3. Retains dimensional stability over time
  4. Extremely workable due to enhanced flow characteristics and high processability
  5. Easily colourable and pigmented material, providing freedom of design


Mechanical Properties of ABS/PC



Tensile strength


Tensile modulus


Tensile elongation


Flexural strength


Flexural modulus


IZOD impact notched

196 J/m

IZOD impact un-notched

481 J/m

Build orientation on long edge side. The properties in this table are from Stratasys using their FDM technology.


Comparing ABS, PC, and ABS/PC by the Numbers

It’s important to look closely at the strength, heat resistance, and flexibility of ABS, PC, and ABS/PC ahead of any CNC machining, injection moulding, and 3D printing projects. The thermoplastics all share similar properties and specifications, but there are differences to consider that might make one material more suitable than the other depending on the specific requirements for your parts and the material demands of your project.