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There are a lot of great 3D printing options out there. But although someone might claim they’re selling you the best 3D printer, they’re leaving out a vital fact: the best printer depends entirely on your needs. And to understand what you need, you must know the various types of printers and print processes available. So, below we’re going to outline two of the most common types and compare FDM vs SLA 3D printers.
Make sure you don’t stop with this article, there are many more types. For example, we have another article explaining the differences between FDM vs DLP 3D printers and yet another comparing FFF vs FDM printers.
SLA printers can be outfitted with accessories to automate the post-curing and washing process.
Let’s get one thing straight. All 3D printers have the same goal: using a computer file to create an object. And this requires a material and a method of transforming that material into a usable, three-dimensional object. However, when it comes to SLA and FDM, that is about where the similarities end.
FDM stands for “Fused Deposition Modeling.” It’s the most common form of 3D printing and is very popular among at-home users and hobbyists. It takes a filament (made of a thermoplastic material) and passes it through a heated nozzle, where it is melted. Then, the melted plastic is placed, layer by layer, onto the printer bed. Eventually, these layers form the 3D object.
It’s important to remember that users have more options and subcategories to consider, even within specific types of printers like FDMs. For example, you’ll have to choose a 3mm or 1.75mm filament printer. But that’s a subject entirely left to its own article.
SLA stands for “Stereolithography.” It was the first-ever invented 3D print technology, and the process and device are much different than FDMs in that they use liquid resin to create objects instead of plastic. Resin-based printers are known for their ability to produce intricate detail, SLA being the most common type in this specific printer category.
The process of the SLA starts with a vat of liquid resin. Then, a series of UV lights shine on the resin vat, which selectively cures it layer by layer until the 3D object is formed.
The process begins with the build platform lowered into a layer of uncured resin. As the object is raised, the UV lights flash onto the specified areas to form the next layer. Then the lowering height of the build platform is adjusted, and the process repeats until the model is complete.
Lastly, if you’re unsure that the 3D printer is the bright device for your operation, make sure to take time to research alternatives. For example, we have a great resource comparing 3D printers vs injection molding.
SLA is one of the best printing processes for printing in fine detail. The reason why it’s so precise is that the UV laser is incredibly accurate, and the device can cure very thin layers, which increases overall resolution.
On the other hand, FDM printers can’t print as thin layers, and the nozzle can create problems in allowing the layers to adhere to one another.
While FDM printers are still handy for basic objects, the overall quality of detail goes to SLA.
The difference in print time between SLA and FDM is massive. Overall, depending on the complexity and layer height, SLA printers can produce an object at 2-10x the pace as FDMs.
If you attempt to increase the object resolution with your FDM printer by lowering the layer height, you will significantly slow down the overall print time.
The cost all depends on the type of printer you need. However, when comparing similar-grade models, FDM printers win in terms of affordability. The cheapest FDM models start around $100-$200, with professional-grade options beginning at closer to $2,000.
SLM printers begin at $200-$300, but professional models begin closer to $4,000.
Regarding material cost, FDM is the most affordable if you print only a few basic items, but it can quickly become costly if you print in bulk. This is because it uses more material.
STAT: Three main 3D print technologies use vat polymerization: SLA, DLP, and LCD. (source)
Conversely, SLA printer resin is more expensive but can be worth it if you print many objects because it uses less material during the printing process.