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There are numerous types of printers that range from low-cost plug-and-play desktop 3D printers, to industrial $100k+ machines. There are two main processes used among desktop 3D printers, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)and Stereolithography (SLA). Although they both serve to create a physical product from a 3D model, these technologies work quite differently. Let’s look at the main ways in which FDM and SLA 3D printers differ.


FDM Technology

FDM stands for Fused Deposition Modeling, which simply means that material is deposited in single layers that fuse together to create a 3D object.

How it works:

A 3D model file (usually a .STL or .OBJ) is imported into a program called a slicer. Cura, Slic3r, and Simplify3D are all great examples of slicer programs. This program will “slice” the object into single layers and create gcode that tells the printer where to move and also controls parameters like print speed and temperature.

Gcode is sent to the machine

The printing nozzle heats and melts filament that’s forced through the nozzle

The object is built layer by layer with each successive layer fusing on top of the one below it until the 3D object is complete

SLA Technology

Stereolithography (SLA) printing was first invented in the 1980’s and works by curing resin with light. The light solidifies a liquid resin via a process called photo-polymerization and builds objects layer by layer. Currently, SLA is among the most accurate forms of 3D printing.

There are two main types of SLA Technology: laser based (typically abbreviated as SLA) or projection based (abbreviated DLP for Digital Light Projection).
Laser SLA 3D Printing

How it Works

The 3D Model is imported into a slicing program like PreForm

A tank is filled with liquid photo-polymer resin

A build platform lowers into the tank and one layer of the design is traced by a UV laser. The laser is positioned using galvanometers which are sets of mirrors that rotate and reflect the laser.

The liquid resin hardens into a solid creating a single layer of the object. This process is repeated and the build platform raises until the object completes.

FDM Materials

Polylactic Acid (PLA)

It is probably the easiest to work as well as environment friendly. It is basically bio degradable plastic that has been derived from sources such as corn starch and sugar canes. This is available in soft and hard grades. With the increase in the popularity of PLA, this material is expected to overtake ABS in the near future.

Polylactic acid (SOFT PLA)

It belongs to the softer version of the PLA that was discussed in the earlier point. It is rubbery and quite flexible but is available in limited colors and sources.

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)/ Home printers

It is popularly known as Lego plastic and is considered to be the best material to work with as it is strong and very safe. It is made from spaghetti like filaments. It is available in a wide range of colors and is used for making of toys, bumper stickers etc.

Polyvinyl Alcohol Plastic (PVA)

It is a type of plastic that is used as dissolvable support materials or is used for special applications. Makerbot and Shapeways are manufacturing lower-cost desktop printers like the Makerbot replicator 2; the material that these printers are using is PVA.

Polycarbonate (PC)
t requires a high temperature nozzle design and is not widely used.

Alloy 910

It requires a high temperature nozzle design and is not widely used.

The higher end printers use powder based materials for the construction of 3D models. The various powders available by which printing can be done are:

Polymide (Nylon)

It is a strong and flexible material that allows a high level of detailing on the model. It is commonly called as white, strong & flexible / durable plastic / white plastic. It is a very strong and highly flexible plastic that is very fine and is basically a white granular powder. Due to these characteristics it is used in the interlocking and moving parts of the model. 3d printing service Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu,india,chennai,bengaluru,kolkata,lucknow,Andhra Pradesh,india

SLA Resins

High detail resins

Models that use this material are constructed from a photo polymeric liquid. This material is apt for models that require fine detailing and are small.

Paintable resin

Models that have been constructed using this material have a very smooth surface and are beautifully painted.

Transparent resin

investment casting

When to use FDM

Rapid prototyping

Low-cost models

For experimenting

When precision and surface finish are not crucial

When to use SLA

When intricate details and/or a very smooth surface finish is crucial

When strength and durability of the model is not crucial (models made from resin may suffer when exposed to the sun for extended periods)

For creating molds for casting to facilitate mass-production (e.g. by jewelry or toy makers)

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