A Comparative : The Two Most Popular Types of 3D Printers

FDM Vs SLA Is Filament Vs Resin

We are taking a closer look at the two most popular 3D printers: FDM and SLA 3D printers, also known as filament and resin 3D printers. Both have been adapted and made better for the desktop, hence, they are more affordable and capable, and easier to use. Let us see how they compare in terms of applications, materials, quality of print, cost, and others.

Fused Deposition Modeling or FDM is the most widely used 3D printer in the market. It works by extruding thermoplastic filaments through a hot nozzle, melting the material and applying the plastic layer by layer to a build platform one at a time until the part is complete. They are well-suited for basic proof-of-concept models and fast and low-cost prototyping of simple parts, such as machined parts.


Stereolithography or SLA or resin 3D printing is the opposite of FDM, melting plastic into liquid, using a UV reactive liquid that’s hardened under light. Each cured layer uses an LED array that emits light in a set pattern. This process is called photopolymerization. It has the ability to produce high-accuracy, isotropic, and watertight prototypes and parts in a range of advanced materials with fine features and smooth surface finish. It is suitable for detailed models, miniatures that are quite complex to work with.
In terms of print quality and precision, due to the process by which layers are formed the surface quality, level of precision, and the accuracy of each layer, and consequently, the overall print quality are affected. FDM printers tend to produce uneven layers, with voids in between; unlike SLA printers that produce fine features, smooth surface finish, ultimate part precision, and accuracy.

In terms of materials and applications, due to the abundance of color options and various experimental plastic filaments blends, FDM 3D printing is popular among the hobbyist space sector. However, engineering materials and high-performance thermoplastics that are also available are often limited to selected professional FDM printers. SLA resin materials have the benefit of a wide range of formulation configurations, or those with additives, or those with mechanical properties like high heat deflection temperature or impact resistance. There are various resin formulations that offer a wide range of optical, mechanical, and thermal properties.

In terms of cost, FDM 3D printers are low- cost machines, a main selling point. They are easier to use and more tailored to businesses. They create the cheapest parts if only relatively simple prototypes in limited numbers. SLA printers are at a slight premium as they offer higher resolution, better quality, and more printing materials choices; they become more cost-effective as designs become more complex and batches larger. This is due to SLA’s less labor-intensive post-processing.

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3D Printing Into The New Millenium

The Milestones in the 2000s

Now we continue on with the remarkable history of 3D printing, as it leaves the 1990s, which years heralded the wide diversification of the technology. With so many developments, we are concentrating only on the most important breakthroughs.

The year 2000 saw the first 3D printed kidney; however, it took another 13 years to have one transplanted into a person. Since then, there have been more 3D printed kidneys now working perfectly while other 3D printed organs for transplant are developing rapidly.

In 2004, a self-replicating 3D printer was launched – a 3D printer printing another 3D printer. It’s called the RepRap Project, an open-source initiative that spreads the use of the FDM 3D desktop 3D printers. In 2005, the very first high-definition color 3D printer was introduced, called the Spectrum Z510 by ZCorp. In 2006, the first commercially available SLS printer was released, with on-demand manufacturing of industrial parts. CAD tools also became more available at this time, enabling anyone to develop 3D models on their computers.

In 2007, 3D Systems introduced the first 3D printing system under $10,000. It did not quite catch on as insiders, watchers, and users were looking forward to 3D printers under $5,000. Actually, 2007 was the year accessible 3D printing technology took root. Thanks to the RepRap phenomenon. In 2008, the first prosthetic leg was printed and it was sensational around the world. By 2009, new companies and competitors began to avail of the new technology as FDM patents fell into the public domain. The prices of 3D printers started to decline in the 2010s, making them available to the general public. Quality and ease of printing also increased.

Materials also evolved. A variety of plastics and filaments became widely available. Carbon fiber and glass fiber can be 3D printed. In 2012, alternative 3D printing processes were introduced at the entry level, like those using DLP technology, followed by stereolithography, with huge success. It was also in 2012 that many different mainstream media channels featured the technology. 2013 was a year of significant growth and consolidation. In 2019, the world’s largest functional 3D printed building was completed. 3D printing is now being used in developing healthcare applications, and many industries and sectors have adopted the technology into their daily workflow. By the 2020s came the more advanced additive manufacturing materials that are high performance materials offering improved thermal resistance, chemical resistance, or heat resistance for the most demanding applications.


Advancing Into The Future with 3D Printing

If you are looking into the advances of 3D printing technology, visit us at 3D Composites. We have been in business serving the community in the last three decades.

The Value and Benefits of 3D Printing

3D Printing Vs Traditional Methods

3D printing offers a host of benefits that all facets of work life, whether that be personal, local, or industrial, can avail. The value it offers is far more than traditional methods of manufacturing, or prototyping, can give.

3D printing allows for mass customization. This means that final products can be personalized and in accordance with the end-user’s specifications at no additional expense. 3D printing can ensure that even if products are mass-produced, there is flexibility and freedom of design experience.

3D printing offers levels of complexity. Complex components can easily materialize with 3D printing, offering more impressive visual effects. Products can be more light-weight, stronger, intricate and detailed as desired. Traditional processes have design restrictions that make manufacture of complex products very difficult. Some industrial applications such as in aerospace, automotive, and medicine benefit from this.

3D printing can eliminate the need for tool production. This is true for low to medium volume applications, such as industrial manufacturing. There are stages of product development in the making of tools that are very time-, cost-, and labor-consuming. With 3D printing, intricate geometries and complex components can be achieved without the need for costly assembly requirements. Hence, budget goals, including saving, are easily realized.

3D printing products can be produced on demand. This advantage eliminates the need to keep huge inventories and to maintain storehouses, improving logistics. Products are manufactured quickly and shipped anywhere where needed in calculated time.

3D printing is environmentally friendly and sustainable. The 3D manufacturing process utilizes as much as 90% of its materials, thus affording less wastage. Due to the light weight of 3D printed components, more fuel is conserved leading to reduced carbon imprint on the environment

With these range of benefits compared to traditional manufacturing methods, and the technology advancing and revolutionizing as it goes, it is no wonder that 3D printing is a gamechanger par excellence.


More Value Than Conventional Manufacturing

Knowing now how beneficial is additive manufacturing, come to 3D Composites, your approachable and experienced 3D printing partner.

Robotic End-of-Arm Tooling in Ultem 1010

These cylindrical pieces were designed to work as part of an end-of-arm tool for a robotic arm. We printed them in Ultem 1010 because we wanted to be sure that they would be strong enough to withstand the repetitive motion of the robot’s work path.

Robots are used in all industries for increased productivity, and customized end-of-arm tools make sure that your automation is specific to your needs. 3D printing with Ultem 1010 is a great choice because it can be certified for food-contact and bio-compatibility.

We printed these tools with different edge heights so that the caps go from a flat surface to a more conical point. The option to have interchangeable tools gives the capability to have a range of finished products that can have build variations while maintaining quality consistency.

Can your project benefit from interchangeable custom parts? What other applications should we integrate with 3D printing? Send us your questions and ideas.

Quality Inspection Blocks

We printed some blocks that are making quality inspection a breeze.

We have hundreds of small parts that have been printed and need to be quality checked. These blocks are individually sized to cover a particular quality check point. They have been super useful for helping us ensure that each part in this large production run is conforming to the correct specifications.

To learn more about our practices visit our quality page.