FDM vs SLA: How does 3D Printing Technology Work?

FDM vs SLA: How does 3D Printing Technology Work?


3D Printing History

3D printing technology has been around since the 1970’s but has recently made headlines in mainstream news for it’s dramatic impact on engineering, research, and medical industries around the globe.  With new developments in 3D technology, a hobbyist community emerged and desktop 3D printers are now available for people to use in their homes. So what is this 3D printing wizardry all about how does the technology behind 3D printers work?

There are numerous types of printers that range from plug-and-play desktop 3D printers, to the industrial $100k+ machines.  There are two main types of desktop printers, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printer and Stereolithography (SLA) printers. Although they both create a physical product from a 3D model, the technologies are quite different. Let’s look at how  FDM vs. SLA 3D printing differs. 


FDM Technology

FDM stands for fused deposition modeling, which simply means that during printing, material is deposited in single layers that fuse together to create a 3D printed object.


How it works:

  1. A 3D Model file (.stl file) is imported into a program called a slicer. For FDM printing, we like Simplify3D because they have all the features necessary to create a great looking print. This program will “slice” the object into layers and create a code that tells the printer which settings  to use for the design and where each layer will go.
  2. Send the “Gcode” created by the slicer to the 3D printer

  3. Plastic filament is fed through a heated nozzle where the material is melted and deposited onto a build platform.

  4. As layers are deposited onto the platform, each successive layer fuses on top of the other until the 3D object is complete.  



Pros and Cons

FDM printing is one of the most popular forms of 3D printing for home use. This is because they are more affordable and typically range in price from ($200-$4,000).

Although they require more mechanical and software tinkering to run optimally, they can produce models with moderate amounts of detail. FDM printers are limited in the intricacy of the details they can produce so for finer models, SLA machines are a better choice.


SLA Technology

Stereolithography (SLA) printing was first invented in the 1980’s and works by curing resin with specific wavelengths of light. The light solidifies the liquid via a process called photopolymerization and builds objects layer by layer. It is one of the most accurate forms of 3D printing.  

There are two main types of SLA Technology: laser based or projection based (DLP)

Laser SLA 3D Printing 

How it Works

  1. Just like with FDM, we need a 3D model and a slicer program.
  2. Resin is held in a resin tank.

  3. The build platform lowers into the tank and a UV laser positioned by two galvanometers (actuated mirrors) projects a design onto the resin, curing it.

  4. As the liquid resin hardens, it creates the layers of the object. This process is repeated and the build platform continues to raise until all the layers of the object are complete.




Pros and Cons 

These printers are known for creating more detailed, crisp designs because of the more precise positioning capabilities of galvanometers.  SLA prints also have a chemical bond between layers that occurs when connecting photopolymers.  This creates much stronger parts that are water-tight.  The resulting objects are more professional looking than most things created with an FDM printer. You can also print with different kinds of resin which will produce objects with different physical properties. For example, Formlabs created a tough resin which is stronger than regular resin for functional applications.

Since this process creates such detailed and accurate prints, it comes with a higher cost and SLA printers are more expensive to run and maintain than FDM printers. To learn more about 3D printer specs and what they mean, check out this blog.

Dino attack

T-rex by jidapa_kerdsiri printed on a Form 2 


DLP SLA Technology

DLP and Laser-based SLA are very similar. The major difference between them is the light source. Instead of UV lasers, DLP technology uses a projector below the resin tank to project entire layers at once. DLP also creates highly detailed prints but is often restrictive in terms of build volume.  


The Form 2 Desktop SLA 3D Printer



Since most SLA printers are industrial and cost upwards of $5,000, Formlabs Form 2 is focused on providing the highest quality desktop 3D printer.  For the first time, it’s affordable for consumers to purchase an SLA printer for their home. If you decide to order a 3D printer, you can find awesome 3D printable files for it on Pinshape. Check out the latest and greatest 3D printable designs now!







Pinshape is a 3D printing community and marketplace where makers from all over the world can find and share their next great 3D print and help each other get the best results from their 3D printers.

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  • marco

    I do own a Kudo3D Titan and have been less than impressed by the manufacturing quality of this product. This is basically a PC tower case from Taiwan, fitted with a scrap chinese arduino compatible card, and a poor junior developped software to drive it.The red diamond like plexiglass cover – apart the fact it protects the prints from external UV light – is only there for the geeks and brings no more that headeaches when you need to put it on and off at each print. The only quality part of this printer is the Z-arm mechanism, made in Japan and the Viewsonic projector. Nothing that justifies the price though. Ok, now, let’s dive into the facts : THE BAD : lot’s (i mean plenty) of trial/error that sucks your available time even if you’re psychologically prepared to spend it (be prepared to purchase many VATs in advance to absorb the devastating errors of your learning curve, and a good stock of vitamins to help you keep your sleeping time minimal), a build plate which is impossible to make perfectly horizontal due to its pretty unreliable and cheap ball lock mechanism, a scrap software that does not always send the sliced images to the projector at start of sequence (lets be honnest, the culprit may well be windoz!), a software which only accepts sliced images (no STL), an arm mechanism that screams loudly when in operation – even when oiled or greased -, vibration and resonance in the whole assembly when operated, a software which does not save correctly your entries for future reference (exposure, lift height, lift speed etc.), the lack of obturator to protect your precious projector lens against resin spills, a basic threads/screws (and screwed-up) mechanism to adjust the projector height (and thus XY resolution) that makes any XY resolution change a not so human challenge when you want to keep calibration (dimension accuracy) ok. THE GOOD: the teflon FEP film on top of a transparent silicone gel seems to bring more reliability to this VAT design, Once you’ve captured the good settings, you can expect quality builds as advertized in their website, but the learning curve is much much too steep. To my observer eyes – intellectual value set aside – the value of this printer should be no more that 500 US$ in terms of assembly, electronics and software. I would not recommend it to anyone. My Kudo Titan1 will be on sale asap to be replaced with a more qualitative FormLabs2 (same price!). Fed up with poorly designed products and DIY trial & errors. Now, next step… it’s time for predictability and ease of use !

  • Sean

    the form 1 had the same problems as the kudos titan.
    The update kit for the titan 2 is like 300 bucks…
    And it seems to have addressed the same issues that were resolved with the form 2.
    Any new technology like this will have a steep learning curve. maybe you should have done a little more research before blasting a good product for the not equivalent from another company…
    Just sayin…