Few questions are as important as the one we seek to answer today. For many years, DIY enthusiasts, tech enthusiasts, and other creatives have struggled to choose the perfect 3D printer for their projects. But how do you choose the make and model that’s right for you if you don’t know the differences between the printing technologies they use?
Join us as we explore two of the most popular 3D printing methods on the market, fusion deposition modeling (FDM) and stereolithography (SLA), to provide you with the information you need on this pass. exciting time.
What is Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printing?
First developed by Stratasys co-founder S. Scott Crump in 1988, fused deposition modeling has long been the most popular 3D printing technology on the market. Part of the success of FDM 3D printing is due to its simplicity, making it a great option for everyone from entry-level hobbyists to manufacturing professionals, while keeping costs down.
In most cases, a strong thermoplastic, such as PLA or ABS, will be used for FDM 3D printing. A filament is passed through a heated block with a fine nozzle, known as an extruder and hotend, which softens and melts it, providing the ideal ingredients to begin forming a 3D shape. But FDM 3D printing is not limited to an extruder.
A filament is passed through a heated block with a fine nozzle
The extruder is able to move in three dimensions thanks to a stepper motor and a set of rails on each of its axes. As the extruder moves, a thin trail of plastic is left behind, adhering to a heated build platform at the base of the machine to form a real-world object from data found in a digital pattern file.
This type of layered construction leaves objects created by FDM 3D printers with distinct horizontal lines that make it easy to tell how the item was made. Of course, there are other limitations with this type of printing, but that’s a topic we’ll cover later in the article.
What is Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing?
Although it might seem like a more recent development than FDM 3D printing, the first successful patent for stereolithography was filed in 1984 by a man named Chuck Hull, earning him four more years. It is true that the availability of SLA printers has been limited until relatively recently, at least in the hobbyist space, which means that many people are less accustomed to their design.
An SLA printer uses liquid resin as a build material
Unlike an FDM 3D printer, an SLA printer uses liquid resin as the build material. Belonging to a family of additive manufacturing technologies called vat light curing, as described by the Additive Manufacturing Research Group, SLA 3D printers use a calibrated light source to harden the resin. This is usually achieved by suspending a slowly rising print bed above a small bath of resin, using a light source shining from above or below the bath to build precise models from the cured resin. .
There are other types of resin 3D printers, using light sources such as UV LEDs to cure the resin, but SLA printers rely on a laser to turn 3D model files into full-fledged objects.
Other 3D printing technologies
It should be noted that FDM and SLA printers are not the only types of 3D printers on the market. DLP and LCD printers are very similar to SLA 3D printers, while the common term fused filament fabrication (FFF) is the same as FDM printing.
Selective laser sintering (SLS) is a good example of a unique 3D printing technology, using a laser to fuse polymer powder without the need for supports, while quickly producing high-quality parts.
The benefits of FDM 3D printers
As with any buying decision, it’s worth exploring the benefits of an FDM printer before deciding to shell out. These printers have obvious advantages like easy availability and affordable prices, but they also have advantages that you might not think of.
Less post-processing work
SLA printer resins are toxic and need time to cure, which means you need to take the time to clean every print you produce with an SLA printer, then use UV light for long periods of time to cure . FDM 3D printers do not have this problem: the printed parts are ready to use as soon as they are finished, provided they are given some time to cool down.
Faster printing process
FDM 3D printers are generally able to complete a print faster than an SLA printer, although this depends on the slice settings that were used for each of the parts.
Affordable printing materials
3D printer filaments like PLA, PETG, TPU, and Nylon are available on sites like Amazon and eBay at very affordable prices, and you can also find dedicated retailers offering great deals. This contrasts sharply with the cost and variety of SLA materials available.
Larger build platforms
While SLA printers with large build platforms are available, FDM printers in the same price range will usually have a larger build platform, allowing you to produce larger prints.
The benefits of SLA 3D printers
Like FDM printers, SLA printers offer a range of benefits that can make them ideal for your projects. These machines have become increasingly affordable in recent years, making them more compelling as desktop DIY tools.
Incredibly precise printing
Many hobbyist FDM 3D printers are able to achieve layer heights as low as 0.1 mm (100 microns), while SLA printers can often achieve resolutions of 0.03 mm (30 microns). This means that SLA printers are able to produce much finer detail than their FDM counterparts, while overcoming other drawbacks.
Fewer moving parts
An SLA printer only needs one stepper motor to move its print surface, whereas an FDM printer will typically have three, which can positively impact the life of your parts. printer.
Thanks to the precision of an SLA printer, this type of machine generally offers a much smoother surface finish than an FDM printer. There are no layer lines, making items printed with SLA printers look like they were injection molded.
What is FDM printing used for?
FDM printing is arguably more flexible than SLA, and that’s one of the main reasons it’s so popular. But what is this type of printer used for?
Creating rapid prototyping is essential to product development. FDM filaments like carbon fiber and nylon make it easy to create strong prototypes and the affordability of these materials is very compelling.
Creation of custom molds
Thanks to the low printing time and affordable price of FDM materials, this type of printer can be ideal for making disposable molds. Specific applications for this range range from making plaster molds to creating metal casting jigs.
Other Hobby Projects
FDM 3D printing has its place in the business world, but it is also ideal for those who want to bring their own hobby projects to life. They might not be the easiest machines to use, but it will be fun to go through the process of learning about them.
What is SLA printing used for?
SLA 3D printers aren’t as flexible as FDM machines, but that doesn’t mean they lack value. In fact, their specialized nature makes stereolithography 3D printers the best option for specific types of 3D printing.
We’ve explored 3D printing miniatures with an FDM printer in the past, but could have gotten much better results with an SLA machine. The ability to produce smooth surface, fine detail and durable models makes SLA printers perfect for miniature making.
Other complex projects
Being good for specific applications works in favor of an SLA printer. Projects that can be difficult with an FDM printer can be much easier with SLA machines, especially when complex substrates need to be used.
Choosing the right 3D printer for your project
Choosing the right 3D printer for your projects takes patience, research, and a bit of know-how, but this article should help you along the way. Whichever printer you choose, you’re sure to have fun taking the time to learn.
A superb 3D printer, capable of producing exceptional 3D prints. Liquid resin plastic means it’s not for everyone.
About the Author