How Do 3D Printers Work? The 4 3D Technologies You Should Know

How Do 3D Printers Work? The 4 3D Technologies You Should Know


Ever wondered how 3D printers work? 3D printers have many different applications ranging from engineering to design and prototyping. With so many applications, there are a variety of 3D technologies that differ slightly, each catering to certain mechanical needs or budget limitations. 

These graphics cover the 4 Main 3D Printing Technologies – FDM, Stereolithography, DLP, SLS

How Do 3D Printers Work FDM Printer

 

How it works

FDM stands for Fused Deposition Modelling. Plastic filament is melted down and deposited through a small nozzle. The printer traces out one layer at a time and then raises to the next. This process continues until the full 3D object is created.    

Main Applications

Because of its lower cost and minimal barriers to entry compared to other technologies, FDM is the primary choice for hobbyists and professionals alike. FDM is capable of producing moderate levels of details and can create objects larger than those of the other technologies.

Material Options

FDM printers use strands of plastic called filament. The most typical material options include PLA and ABS but functional materials like PETG and nylon are becoming increasingly popular. FDM also has exotic filaments that are infused with materials like metal, wood, or even coffee!

Drawbacks

FDM machines have a large number of settings and parameters that need to be modified for optimal print results. The main mechanisms of FDM printing also keep it from achieving the same quality and feature resolution as its laser based counterparts.

 

How Do 3D Printers Work Stereolithography Printer

 

How it works

SLA is short for stereolithography. A laser traces a pattern onto liquid resin and hardens it. The object is raised and another layer is cured atop the last. SLA printers use a variety of orientations and methods but the basic mechanisms remain the same.

Main Applications

SLA is used most often by professionals and increasingly high-level consumers thanks to the drastically reduced barrier to entry in recent years. SLA is used for applications that require a high level of detail like jewelry, dentistry, and more intricate models.

Material Options

SLA printers use liquid resin that is hardened by a UV laser. There are multiple different colored standard resins and a number of functional resins including flexible, tough, castable, and dental materials.  

Drawbacks

SLA printers can be a bit more costly than many FDM machines and oftentimes have smaller build volumes. Finished models typically require some amount of post-processing in alcohol and support removal can be more difficult than with supports from FDM printers.

button 

How Do 3D Printers Work DLP Printer

 

How it works

DLP stands for Direct Light Processing. Instead of using a laser, DLP printers use a projector and cure entire layers at once. Much like the other technologies, the object raises and another layer is cured on top of it.  

Main Applications

The applications of DLP are very similar to those of SLA, though DLP machines typically have smaller build volumes. DLP printers are likewise useful for highly detailed models and sometimes print faster than their SLA counterparts. To see a full review of SLA v DLP technology, check out this post.

Material Options

DLP printers likewise use a liquid resin but they’re more restricted than SLA. Most DLP machines use blue light rather than UV light which limits material capabilities. A number of standard DLP resins exist with functional materials emerging.

Drawbacks

DLP machines have small build volumes and can be more costly than their FDM counterparts. They typically are restricted to blue light projectors because UV light rapidly degrades modern displays. This limits the material options for DLP printers.

 

How Do 3D Printers Work SLS Printer

 

How it works

SLS stands for Selective Laser Sintering. A high intensity infrared laser selectively melts powderized materials to create a layer. New powder is deposited above the previously formed layer and the laser melts the new powder to fuse the model together.

Main Applications

SLS is typically only available to professional firms because of its high cost. SLS prints are highly detailed and often mechanically superior to those produced by other technologies. SLS is used most often for fully functional prototypes in advanced materials.

Material Options

SLS printers can use a wide range of powderized materials including a number of standard thermoplastics like nylon and polycarbonate as well as metals like aluminum and steel. Fully functional metal parts can be produced using SLS.  

Drawbacks

SLS machines are incredibly costly and reserved almost exclusively for professional printing companies. The machines require professionally trained personnel to operate and the powder used in the machines can be dangerous if mishandled.

 
 
 
 If you’re looking to buy a 3D printer, we hope this helps in your decision as to what type of 3D printer is best for you! Feel free to leave us any questions below. 
 
 
 
 button
 

Sharing is caring! Feel free to share this infographic on your site:

Pinshape

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.

  • Love the break down, but I feel like you’re missing a few. What about Fortus printers that bind with an inkjet-like spray, curing nearly whole layers at a time, or the ones that lay down light curable resins in a similar manner, also by Fortus. These technologies are still protected by patents but they’re still relevant.

  • karl mayle

    Good Point, these similar technologies are also offered by 3D Systems

  • jdm8

    Fortus isn’t the name of a manufacturer, it is a line of FDM type printers by Stratasys. Jetting light curable resins sound like their Objet line.