Different 3D Printer Types

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Updated February 3, 2023

If you are new to the world of physical printing, you may wonder about the different 3D printer types available for use. Some of the best printers, after all, are 3D printers, and these models ship in a wide range of designs and styles. So what are the types that classify the best 3D printers, and which is right for you? Keep reading to find out.


  • There are many different types of 3D printing techniques and 3D printing materials out there to suit a wide variety of both residential and industrial consumers.
  • For newbies, FDM and SLA printers are the best bet, as they are fairly budget-friendly while still remaining useful even when printing complex geometries.
  • For heavy-duty industrial use, SLS printers and DLP printers are likely the best options due to advanced speeds for rapid prototyping with materials of varying mechanical properties.

What are the Different Types of 3D Printers?

Before finding the best 3D printer, it is helpful to understand the various types. You have no shortage of printer types to choose from here, so go ahead and compare SLA vs PLA printers. 3D printers are commonly found in commercial and industrial settings, so go ahead and conduct that MSLA vs SLA review. Before too long, you will find the best 3D printer for action figures, among other doodads.

Insider Tip

If you are a true beginner, SLA and FDM printers are likely your best bet due to their ease of use.

Not only are there a multitude of printer types in the world, but there are also many different 3D printer filaments. In other words, after learning about the various printer types, take some time to compare PLA vs PLA+ filament, among other comparisons. Here are the various types of 3D printers, along with some pros and cons, so you can make informed purchase decisions.

FDM Printers

Fused deposition modeling (FDM) printers are very common in residential settings, as these printers specialize in making plastic prints. The process by which these printers operate is sometimes known as fused filament fabrication (FFF) due to the nature of the building method.

This kind of 3D printer works by pushing a plastic filament layer-by-layer onto a build platform and is likely what you picture when imagining a 3D printer. They are known for being relatively budget-friendly and fairly quick with prints. If you are an absolute beginner, this is likely the printer type for you.

Reasons to Buy

  • These are standard 3D printers great for a number of basic printing tasks, such as making replacement parts or simple plastic gadgets.
  • FDM printers are relatively budget-friendly and becoming more so with each passing year.
  • These printers are efficient and speedy when making most prints, so you won’t have to hang by the printer all night.

Reasons Not to Buy

  • This is a basic form of 3D printing technology, and simple plastic knick-knacks may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
  • Though fast, these printers can create errors on occasion, particularly when making complex designs.
  • The designs created by these printers are prone to breaking, so support redundancies must be part of the blueprint.

Tips for Buying an FDM Printer

  • Look for sales, particularly around the holidays, from the most renowned manufacturers. You never know what kind of deals will be going on.
  • Make sure the printer is stacked with modern technologies like Bluetooth and other wireless connectivity options.
  • If you have certain prints in mind, take a look at the blueprints before buying the printer to ensure proper integration.

SLA Printers

Stereolithography (SLA) is the original 3D printing process, dating back decades. These printers started in the industrial sector for rapid prototyping but are now available for home use. SLA printers use laser beams to draw layers onto a pre-existing material. These printers use liquid resin to create support structures and to layer the exterior of objects. These printers are known for creating detailed prints with strong and smooth exteriors.

Reasons to Buy

  • SLA printers excel at creating durable and useful items, which is why they are so popular in the world of prototyping.
  • The prints here are highly detailed, so they are perfect for creating long-lasting keepsakes and toys.
  • SLA printers are accurate, so you will rarely find mistakes and rarely have to repeat prints.

Reasons Not to Buy

  • These are not exactly budget-friendly, though the prices have come down in recent years with the competition.
  • It requires liquid resin to use, and this material is more expensive and a bit harder to find than filament.
  • Some designs may require pre-made support structures due to the nature of the liquid resin.

Tips for Buying an SLA Printer

  • Just as with all 3D printers, look for models with advanced technologies to simplify use, like Bluetooth.
  • SLA printers can be on the slower side, so look for models that advertise higher speeds.
  • These machines can get expensive, so look for sales that could potentially save thousands of dollars.

SLS Printers

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) printers work slightly differently than the previous types. These printers melt together two nylon-based powders into a solid plastic throughout the printing process, allowing for extremely durable finishes. They fall somewhere between SLA and FDM printers as far as finish goes. The prints made via these machines are also known to be highly durable and strong, making them a good choice for prototyping and testing various components.

STAT: 3D printing, also commonly referred to as additive manufacturing, is an umbrella term that encompasses a group of different 3D printing processes. (source)

Reasons to Buy

  • There are no pre-existing supports required when using SLS printers due to the nature of the manufacturing process.
  • Creates durable and strong prints that are perfect for prototyping standalone components.
  • Tend to work faster than SLA printers, though perhaps not as fast as FDM printers.

Reasons Not to Buy

  • These are not budget-friendly models. As a matter of fact, commercially available units have only recently become a thing for average consumers.
  • The finishes on the objects made by these printers are durable but not smooth.
  • Most objects made using SLS printers require some post-processing in an oven of some kind.

Tips for Buying SLS Printers

  • Some SLS printers handle the post-processing for you, so these printers are a better fit for newbies.
  • Make sure the printer has plenty of useful ports and wireless connection protocols like WiFi and Bluetooth.
  • SLS printers are extremely expensive for now, so wait for steep sales or for the prices to drop naturally.

DLP Printers

Digital light processing (DLP) printers also use liquid resin, like SLA printers, but they cure the resin using light. In other words, SLA printers use a laser, and DLP printers use a digital light projector screen. The advantages of this become readily apparent, as DLP printers can cure and build an entire layer at once, resulting in the fastest print speeds available with modern 3D printers. This makes these printers great for rapid prototyping and for making small batch runs of plastic gadgets.

Reasons to Buy

  • If you have a need for speed, this is your best option. Other printer types don’t even come close.
  • The speed comes in handy when making multiple copies from the same design schematic.
  • Often ship with pre-existing enclosures, so you won’t have to spring for this accessory.

Reasons Not to Buy

  • Though faster than other types of 3D printers, they are also less detailed, as the layers present as relatively large pixels or voxels.
  • The parts made by these printers are also not extremely durable when compared to the results from other printers.
  • Again, this is an extremely expensive type of printer better suited for business use than personal use.

Tips for Buying DLP Printers

  • Due to the initial expense, wait for sales before committing to a purchase.
  • Future-proof your investment by opting for high-tech add-ons like Bluetooth receivers and integrated touchscreens.
  • You should also look for sales on resin and buy in bulk since these machines are so fast.

3D Printer Types FAQs

How does 3D printing work?

3D prints are made via an array of mechanical properties and techniques, such as electron beam melting, to make impact-resistant prototypes. These printers use a range of materials and raw materials to make objects.

How to choose a desktop 3D printing technology?

This depends on your preferences and budget, as different mechanical properties offer different price ranges for the 3D printing process. Take a look at direct metal laser sintering for your 3D prints and other common types of printing.

What should I know before buying a 3D printer?

There is a wide range of printers out there, so there is plenty to understand regarding the mechanical properties of the 3D printing process. Some printers use UV light, while others use thermoplastic filaments and high-powered lasers. Just do some research on design features before making a purchase.
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