3D Printer: Delta vs Cartesian

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Updated February 1, 2023

Understanding the world of 3D printing can be difficult, especially if you’re a beginner. But to ensure you’re on the right track to buying the best 3D printer, you need to understand some of the key differences separating different printer models. And what gets even more confusing when selecting the best printer is that some of these models have sub-categories. So, if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, don’t worry; we’re here to help. Below, we’ll compare two types of FDM 3D printers: Delta vs Cartesian.


  • FDM 3D printers use a specific navigational system to guide printer heads while making objects.
  • Cartesian navigation operates on the X, Y, and Z axes, whereas the Delta is a free-motion system and does not operate according to linear patterns.
  • Delta navigation is praised for being highly accurate and significantly decreasing print speeds.
  • Cartesian navigation is easy to use and excels for prints with large horizontal volumes.

Check out our other resources for helpful guides to get acquainted with many key 3D printer-related topics. We have everything from guides on various models, like our comparison of FDM vs DLP 3D printers, to more technical spec comparison lie printing with 100 microns vs 200 microns.

Insider Tip

Always use proper ventilation when using 3D printers, as many of the melted filament lets off toxic fumes.

Differences Between Delta vs Cartesian 3D Printers

Before going any further, it’s crucial to know that Delta and Cartesian are terms specific to FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) 3D printers. FDM printers work by feeding a spool of filament into a heated nozzle. Then, the filament is melted, passed through the nozzle, and extruded in layers onto a build plate that lowers with each added layer, eventually forming a 3D object. This happens because the printer is programmed with a computer file containing information about the 3D print model.

So how do Delta and Cartesian play into this? The answer is that these two types of coordinate systems explain how the printer moves to create an object.

The Cartesian navigation system (named after the coordinate system invented back in the 17th century) is the most common among 3D printing, and it is simple to understand in that it explains a print head that moves along three axes:

  • X (Horizontal)
  • Y (Vertical)
  • Z (Up and Down)

So if you’ve seen a box-shaped FDM 3D printer, it was a Cartesian. It moves along one axis at a time. The print head moves along the X and Y axes. And it also has a print bed that raises and lowers to position the object concerning the nozzle along the Z-axis.

The Delta navigation system is the newest type of 3D printing navigation. Instead of moving along a set axis, the print head can move in any direction. To put it simply, there is no linear pattern to its motion. Here, the printhead is suspended by a series of arms that moves the printhead in all directions.

So, now we’ve covered the details of how each operates. Next, we’ll dive into the strengths and weaknesses.

If you finish this and are hungry for more printer knowledge, we have another article comparing two types of 3D printer beds: glass vs magnetic. And for even more detail on printer beds, we have one comparing Prusa’s smooth vs textured beds.

Print Volume

There’s no clear winner with print volume because each navigation system has unique advantages. Cartesian systems are great for prints that have a large horizontal volume. The box shape makes it easy to print objects that stretch along the X and Y axes.

On the other hand, the design of Delta printers is limited in their horizontal volume. However, they benefit from prints with a large vertical volume (height).

Ease of Use

The main benefit of Cartesian printers is that they are easier to set up, understand, and operate. Because there’s a limited range of motion, calibrating and changing the machine is much easier than with the Delta navigational system.


If you’re limited on space, a Dela printer may not be your best option. The machines themselves take up quite a bit of room, especially from a vertical standpoint.

On the other hand, Delta printers require a complicated calibration setup to get the print head working correctly.

Print Speed

A Delta’s free-range motion is excellent for decreasing the total print time. And in addition, the print head of a Delta is much lighter than that on Cartesian systems. Therefore, the amount of inertia is lower, meaning the printhead can move faster.

STAT: Mathematician Renee Descartes invented the Cartesian navigation system in 1637. (source)

Cartesian systems are not only bulkier in terms of the print head, but the navigation method itself means it cannot instantly change direction. Because of this, Cartesian systems will lead to longer print times.

3D Printer: Delta vs Cartesian FAQs

What is an SLA printer?

An SLA printer differs from an FDM because it uses resin and UV light to create objects rather than melted polymer.

Is a Bowden or direct drive extruder better?

Both have their strengths and weaknesses. For example, a Bowden often leads to higher resolution and lowers print times, while a direct drive leads to less extrusion error and works with more types of material.

Is a Cartesian or Delta more expensive to maintain?

Cartesian units have more built-in motors, making them more expensive to run and repair over time.
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