If you have been following the technological developments of 3D printing, then there’s no doubt that you’ve heard of the two most common types: FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) and SLA (Stereo-Lithography Apparatus).
Both are widely used in both home and industrial applications—to make replicas of action figures, small furniture for dollhouses, whatever you can think of, you can print it. But still, there remains a certain level of confusion and misunderstanding about the differences between these two. We’ll try our best to explain those differences in the simplest way possible.
SLA printing can print any type of material, even metals, but it needs special high-grade resin. You can also use it for large-size objects with ultra resin. Its printing accuracy is incredibly high, surpassing FDM. As a result, the product is smoother and closer to the reference image. There is also no need to post-process the printed part after printing.
Main Difference From FDA Printing
The main difference compared to FDM is that it’s hard to find the right resin for a specific material. Furthermore, SLA printers are more expensive than FDM printing per piece, even at high volume production. Also, the tools are more complex when using SLA 3D Printing technology. It requires high-grade resin, which needs to be replaced and recycled after each use.
Note About SLA Resin Printers
The lack of a heated print surface makes it so that printing materials cool off quickly after it comes out of the extruder. This means that you will have to create your design quickly or else the finished product will lose detail and form. This is probably disliked by many designers who want more leeway. Also, if you’re not planning on doing a lot of printing, it is not worth the price.
FDM printing has a low cost per piece, even at high volume production. It is versatile and can be used to print any type of material. No need for tooling. It is suitable for small series production—no need for special ventilation or an environmental system. You can operate FDM printing in a closed room without any air conditioning—but it requires a well-ventilated place.
Main Difference From SLA Printing
FDM printers are slow. As the machines are based on an extrusion process that involves continuously melting and extruding plastic, the print speed tends to be rather slow. Standard FDM machines can print in the region of 50-100cm3/hr. This means that you can expect to wait anywhere from hours to days for a print job to complete. It depends on its size and complexity.
Note About FDM 3D Printers
FDM or fused deposition modeling is a rapid prototyping technology that, like stereolithography and laser sintering, builds 3D objects by laying down successive layers of material. FDM machines are cheaper than other additive manufacturing systems. While this cost-effective entry has made FDM technology very popular in industrial applications, it also means that you have to put up with a few downfalls.
In short, SLA 3D printers are better than FDM for accurate printing of models, while FDM is suitable for and cheap production with a good surface finish. So if you need something very accurate or smooth surfaces, then go with SLA 3D printers. But if you need good quality and a large volume of production, then go with FDM 3D printers.