Guide to 3D Printers

FDM vs. SLA: Compare Filament and Resin 3D Printers

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Scott Gabdullin

Updated on June 17, 2024

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3D Printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM) technology, makes three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file. This technology works by melting or fusing materials that become solid once cooled.

This technology can produce super-strong, but lightweight 3D printed models through the assistance of computer-operated printers. By delivering print jobs layer-by-layer, 3D printers create complex physical objects from about any imaginable material.

There are two major types of 3D Printing. The first is Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). In FDM, a material, typically plastic, which could be clay or other substances, is heated and extruded onto the build platform via a nozzle to make an object. The second type is Stereolithography or SLA, where lasers melt solid plastic into layers of three-dimensional objects.

In this article, we will compare FDM vs. SLA printers in depth. So, keep on reading!

What Is FDM Or Filament 3D Printing?

FDM is also known as “filament printing” or, less frequently, FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) printing. FDM printing is the most common form of 3D Printing Technology. It uses a plastic filament that is melted and deposited layer by layer to build up parts. 

The FDM process begins with a computer model and an STL file, a standard format used in 3D Printing. The software then slices the file into layers, which are sent to the machine for printing. It uses an extruded filament of heated plastic that is fed through a hot end and then deposited onto your print bed. FDM printing can be done repeatedly to make objects layer by layer using different coloured filaments, allowing you to create multi-coloured prints in one print job.

FDM is cost-efficient compared to other 3D printing technologies and offers versatile results.

What Is SLA Or Resin 3D Printing?

Stereolithography or SLA is a form of 3D printing technology that uses a digital file to build a physical object utilizing curing light-sensitive resin. A vat of liquid polymer is cured using a digital light-sensitive resin exposed to a high-powered computer-generated laser beam.

This laser draws a picture in three dimensions and gradually builds up a physical part from an existing digital file. The UV light from the laser causes the resin to harden almost instantly, layer by layer. In essence, stereolithography enables layer building without needing support structure, therefore, creating your desired shape.

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FDM Vs SLA Printing Technologies

These 3D printing technologies have advantages and disadvantages depending on the application and final product. Some aspects of these 3D technologies that must be examined appropriately include printing quality and precision, supported materials, and applications. Also, the printing process, printing speed, build volume, software setup and ease of use, strength and durability, printing cost, and maintenance must be checked. Let us take a closer look at these comparisons.

Quality and Precision of 3D Printed Models

Print quality and precision are directly related to the printer you use. A 3D printer’s accuracy is determined by the number of steps it takes to get from point A to point B. The higher the resolution or step size, the smaller those steps will be and, therefore, better print quality.

However, this does not mean that all printers with a high resolution can achieve perfect results every time because other factors also come into play, including the software used for slicing and the material used in printing. 

FDM is the most common 3D printing process for homes, schools, and offices because it does not require a computer or software but can be used by anyone who wants to make their parts. The low precision and print quality make FDM best suited for prototypes, basic prints, large-scale prints, and low-quality prints. The print quality of FDM 3D printers varies based on the model.

While the print quality and precision of a resin 3D printer are critical factors in your choice, if you’re trying to use your printer for art or industrial applications, the ink-jet-like resolution of FDM printing isn’t going to cut it.

An SLA printer produces models with smooth surfaces, fine details, and accurate colors because they cure under UV light layer by layer. The thin layers mean less risk of unwanted overhangs when building complex objects: instead of cracking off or warping like an FDM print might do at these points, excess resin simply drains away until each layer has cured properly before being laid down again on top of it.

Some printers can produce high-quality prints, while others are not as good. The most significant determinant of print quality is the material used by the printer and how well it is calibrated or maintained.

Materials and Applications Used

In order for you to make an informed decision about which type of 3D Printing is right for your project, you mustn’t only understand what kind of applications each technology supports but also what materials can be used with each one. 

FDM is a great 3D printing technology for all kinds of applications. The supported materials range from engineering plastics to food-grade thermoplastics and even flexible materials, depending on your chosen printer.

The FDM process works by heating a thermoplastic filament and extruding it layer-by-layer onto a build platform. Each layer is fused to the previous layers via a bridge formed between adjoining layers when they cool down. This process can be repeated until your part is complete. 

When it comes to SLA, it has a wide range of material properties and applications, including full-color capabilities and high-resolution models that can be printed in metal. However, the process requires user maintenance and post-processing steps such as sanding or polishing before the final product is ready for use. For this reason, SLA isn’t well suited for large-scale production workflows or projects where large numbers of finished parts are required at once (such as automotive manufacturing). 

Resin 3D printing is ideal for short-run fabrication because it reduces costs associated with creating custom tooling needed during production processes like injection molding or machining metal parts into shape using hand tools like lathes and milling machines.

The 3D Printing Process

Let’s now compare FDM vs SLA printer in terms of the printing process. The process of filament 3D printing is very similar to that of a traditional printer. A computer-controlled nozzle moves over the print bed. It extrudes melted plastic onto it in a layer-by-layer fashion. 

The main difference between these two processes is how they melt and extrude the material. In traditional printers, the ink comes out of a cartridge onto paper. In contrast, in FDM 3D printing, plastic filament comes out at high temperatures via an extruder head (a device responsible for melting and flowing the material).

On the other hand, SLA printing is a light-curing liquid resin process that uses a UV laser to cure the resin, layer by layer. The laser is controlled by the print software, which you can use to change the speed of printing and even make adjustments on the fly. The process takes about five minutes per layer; once your object is complete, you can remove it from its base and clean up any excess material.

3D Printing Speed 

The printing speed depends on the material and the size of the object. The time it takes to print a model depends on the size of your model and the quality settings you choose. The printing speed is faster for smaller objects because they don’t take as much time to print. The printing speed is slower for larger objects because they take more time to print.

Filament printers tend to be fast when producing single objects one after another without having to wait for material extrusion or bed temperature changes. For example, suppose you are printing a large object at an ultra-fine resolution. In that case, it may take several hours or even days to complete. Suppose you’re printing something small and simple like a keychain or figurine with basic details and few colors. In that case, the print should only take minutes.  

Unlike FDM printing, where each print requires a new filament to be fed into the printer and a build plate to be heated up, SLA can create multiple parts with just one print. And this means you don’t need to spend as much time waiting for a machine to heat up before you can begin your following file.

With this speed advantage comes a difference in product design: SLA printers are best used when you want a large number of identical objects—for instance, if you’re making prototypes or creating molds for casting metal jewelry. If you need only one object or model at a time, then FDM may be faster because it doesn’t require as much setup time between prints.

Build Volume Capacity

If you’re a 3D printer beginner, it’s essential to compare FDM vs SLA printers before deciding which one is right for your needs. With both types of devices having pros and cons, there are many things to consider when making this choice.

You should also consider the build volume of a 3D printer. The build volume refers to the maximum size of an object that a 3D printer can print. The higher the build volume, the more parts you can print simultaneously, and they will be more accurate and detailed. 

Whichever type of FDM machine you have, whether an entry-level or pro model, it can print more significant parts if it has a larger build volume. This makes the FDM Printer ideal for industrial applications that require large-scale production parts. However, you should note that having a larger build volume doesn’t necessarily make your 3D printer more accurate or detailed.

SLA or resin 3D printers have a much smaller build volume than FDM printers (up to 100 x 100 x 150 mm). This can be a problem if you’re looking for something that can print large items or multiple objects simultaneously. However, if you just want to create small objects such as jewelry pieces and figurines, then this shouldn’t be an issue.

Setup of Software and Ease of Use

While some 3D printers have a dedicated software program that you’ll need to download, others come with a built-in software app. Some apps are straightforward—you can use them right out of the box without additional setup. Other options are more complex, offering more features than your starter printer could use and requiring an advanced knowledge of 3D modeling software in order to make it work properly. 

Suppose you’re not comfortable with complicated programs or setting up new software on your computer. In that case, it’s probably best to go with one of the more straightforward options that don’t require extensive installation or tweaking before Printing.

3D printers have become easier to use over time. The first machines were very difficult to figure out. Still, now you can buy a 3D printer and start in just a few minutes by downloading the design for an object you want to print. You don’t need any special training or experience with computers or technology.

The FDM software is complex and can be challenging to use, especially if you don’t have any experience with 3D modeling. You’ll want to spend some time learning the interface and how it works before you dive into printing your first object. The settings here can be adjusted depending on the size of your model, so it’s best to take some time to get familiar with them before you start printing anything in earnest. 

FDM materials are typically safe to handle without special safety equipment, as they do not release harmful fumes. Moreover, FDM printers usually require very little post-processing once the print is complete. This means swapping colors in an FDM printer is simple: just remove the finished part and replace it with another loaded filament spool.

There are several advantages to the SLA method. The software is easy to use and navigate, so even if you have no experience with 3D Printing, it should be easy for you to start a project. The only settings that will ever need changing are for support material and layer time (the amount of time each layer takes).

SLA resin printing is often more complicated than FDM printing, which can be a turn-off for some users. Because the resin is a liquid that must be cured, it is necessary to wear gloves at all times while using an SLA 3D printer.

In addition to being a safety consideration, this also means that prints must be post-processed using a solvent or alcohol (such as isopropyl alcohol) before they can be handled or used in any way. This can lead to delays in finishing your print job if you need to wait for the post-processing process to complete before removing your part from the build platform. 

3D Printed Model’s Strength and Durability

Essential factors to consider are the strength and durability of the 3D printed models of FDM and SLA. Production of 3D printed models is a rigorous task. Quality results must include strength and durability as part of the product performance.

FDM printers create more robust and more durable products than SLA printers. FDM printed models have higher tensile strength, the force required to pull apart an object, and flexural strength, the material’s ability to bend without breaking.

SLA printers, on the other hand, produce more flexible 3D models due to their lower glass transition temperature. SLA printed models are brittle compared to FDM printed models. Still, some industries produce durable resin products, such as jewelry making, dentistry, sports, and medical-surgical industries.

3D Printing Costs and Maintenance

FDM printers are also more affordable than other types of printers because they don’t need expensive materials to create parts—you just need raw material in the form of plastic filament. The low cost and accessible maintenance features make FDM printers well-suited for small businesses or hobbyists who want to get started with 3D Printing but aren’t ready to invest in higher-end equipment yet.

FDM printers’ return on investment is also higher than other types of 3D printers because they can produce parts at lower cost materials, making them an affordable option for small businesses or hobbyists who want to get started with 3D Printing.

The cost of entry-level SLA 3D printers is indeed significantly higher than the cost of filament 3D printers. The reason for this is that SLA resin materials are more expensive than FDM filaments. The cost of an SLA printer is often significantly higher than that of an FDM printer, but it does not mean it has to be so. With some clever shopping and research, you can easily find a great deal on both types of printers, including one that will produce high-quality prints without breaking your budget or being too cheap to be reliable.

In general, the cost of maintaining a 3D printer will vary from printer to printer and manufacturer. Some printers are designed to be easy to take care of, while others require more intense maintenance. If you have purchased a DIY kit—or assembled one—you may need additional tools and materials to perform some repairs on your own.

FDM And SLA Printers: Their Complementary Features

FDM, or Fused Deposition Modeling, and SLA, or Stereolithography Apparatus, are similar in their use. Many people can find value in owning one of each type. These printers are both three-dimensional (3D) printers. They are computer-controlled devices that make objects by adding layer upon layer of material in order to create a shape that is programmed into the machine. Both of these 3D printing technologies can be used to make plastic objects.

FDM and SLA printers contribute to the success of the educational sector. FDM printers are widespread in educational institutions for basic experience and quick drafts because they are inexpensive, especially for students. Other educational institutions prefer SLA Printer for high-quality and technical drafts.

FDM and SLA printers are excellent in product development for simple proof-of-concept prototypes. They are also used in manufacturing, but they complement each other well because of their different strengths. FDM printers can quickly fashion complex parts that would be difficult to manufacture otherwise, like those with overhangs or internal structures. SLA printers produce high-resolution prints with smooth surfaces and fine details, making them ideal for creating prototypes that look like production parts.

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Final Verdict

3D Printing is a rapidly growing technology that allows businesses to create prototypes of their products. It will enable companies to test their products before manufacturing and reduce error costs by eliminating problematic parts from production. Printing also makes it easier for small businesses to enter into manufacturing because they don’t have much capital upfront for large machines or tooling required for mold making.

The 3D printing technology is used across many industries, including aerospace, construction, automotive, medical-surgical industries, and jewelry design. Some 3D printing products are prosthetic limbs for medical-related accidents, furniture and decorations at home, jewelry holders, sports safety gear like a mouthpiece, and tools and equipment for automotive and construction.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology is the most popular and widespread 3D printing method. FDM printers are used by hobbyists, students, and professionals in many industries.

When comparing FDM vs SLA printers, the main advantage of FDM over SLA is that you can use a broader range of materials with FDM (for example, glass fibre-reinforced thermoplastics) than with SLA. This makes it easier to print complex models using only one printer—you don’t need an expensive machine for each material type you want to print.

SLA is a great technology to use in a production environment. It is fast, has high-quality prints, and can be used on any material. The only downside is the cost per print, but if you’re printing large amounts of parts, this shouldn’t be an issue.

When deciding which 3D printer to use, the primary question is what to produce as the final product. Both FDM and SLA have advantages and disadvantages depending on the project you are working for. If you want a versatile and sturdy result, go for FDM printers. But if you are looking for high quality and précised product, then the SLA printer is the best choice.

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