3D printing is the process of converting a computer model into a physical model, and there are two main technologies you should know: FDM and SLA 3D printing. Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is also known as fused filament fabrication (FFF). The acronym SLA stands for stereolithography apparatus. Both strategies are popular, yet they are extremely different. They each have their own approaches, benefits, drawbacks, outcomes, and applications. If you’re considering how to choose the right one for you, here’s a comparison of FDM vs. SLA printers.
SLA vs. FDM: Printing Methods
If you view a video about 3D printing, you’ll almost certainly see an FDM printer, as it tends to be the technology most people use. It’s a dependable, user-friendly, and cost-effective way to make layers that stick together to form an item. Let’s have a look at how that works.
First, the printer must obtain the correct data. This is done with the use of a 3D model file that details how an object is “sliced” into layers. Cura, Slic3r, and Simplify3D are just a few of the cutting tools that users may employ to make these files. This application “cuts” the item into individual layers and generates gcode instructions for the printer.
From there, the FDM 3D printer knows which layers to make, one by one. Of course, the finer these layers should be, the more intricate or small the object. The computer file (typically a .STL or .OBJ) contains all of the information necessary for the 3D printer to begin printing. The layers, on the other hand, must be made of substance. This is referred to as material filament in FDM printers.
FDM printers can print a wide range of strong, plastic-like materials. This filament is introduced in the form of a wire. The 3D printer heats the material, making it semi-liquid. The material is then extruded through the nozzle as it moves back and forth. The next layer is repeatedly placed on the previous layer until the 3D object is complete.
Stereolithography equipment, or just stereolithography, is abbreviated as SLA. SLA is an additive process, similar to FDM, in which models are constructed layer by layer. Stereolithography employs a liquid resin substance instead of plastic filament. The resin permanently hardens to a new shape upon exposure to the correct type of light.
SLA printers zap a tank full of resin solution instead of extruding material. The resin solution and a light source focused precisely at the bottom resin layer start the process. Then, the SLA printer uses a 3D file containing instructions for targeting that light source. A basis for the 3D object is normally included with the printer.
As the object forms layer by layer, the base moves through the tank (photopolymer box). After that, each layer solidifies into a rigid layer. Then, the print bed rises slightly to allow the next layer to solidify, causing the item to progressively rise from the depths.
However, there is a layer difference between SLA and FDM. You can print a model with exceedingly fine details using SLA. The layers are only a few hundred microns thick and develop rapidly. Rather than fusing FDM wires, these layers are chemically connected. As a result, the thing is essentially made of one consistent substance. After the print is finished, it goes into a chemical bath to remove any excess resin before being exposed to UV radiation to harden it.
One downside is that SLA 3D printers often have smaller construction plates than FDM printers, preventing the creation of larger things. In addition, they can work with fewer types of materials. In fact, SLA printers should be handled with caution because the resin they use to create your high-definition prints is highly poisonous and not suggested for inexperienced users.
SLA vs. FDM: Printing Costs
Operating expenses vary for SLA and FDM printers, as they do for any equipment. Most of the expenditures associated with FDM printers revolve around the nozzles and filaments. As previously stated, most FDM printers use standardized materials, so you’re not reliant on a single manufacturer. In recent years, the cost of these materials has fallen. For $25, you can get 1 kilogram of PLA filament. Specialized materials are more expensive.
SLA printers have greater operating expenses, which comprise more than just the materials. The resin tank will need replacement after printing 2–3 liters of resin. Because the tank will stain inward over time, the light source will be unable to project the picture accurately into the resin. As a result, the printing quality suffers significantly. A resin tank can cost anywhere from $40 to $80, depending on the maker and model.
SLA vs. FDM: Printing Speed
You can configure FDM to print at a quicker rate than SLA. Print speed and print quality, on the other hand, are a trade-off. You can, for example, select to print thicker layers to speed up the construction process. The lower the quality of the finished product, the faster you want to print. FDM printers produce a lot of heat, which requires the user to take the time to cool and cure the material. Of course, the type of material impacts the amount of time it takes to heat and cool.
Because SLA machines use light sources directed at specific target locations, they are quick. The use of photopolymer allows the material to cure in a short amount of time using UV light. The faster the curing process, the brighter the light source. In addition, the procedure produces less heat.
SLA vs. FDM: How To Choose the Right Printer
The answer to this question is entirely dependent on your usage. Because of the pricing and quality differences between SLA and FDM, their application is concentrated in distinct industries. SLA is the best option for high-quality and precise detailing in jewelry and dentistry. However, you wouldn’t want to use SLA to manufacture objects that will be exposed to light or heat because sun exposure will alter them. FDM is utilized for design, quick prototyping, and even the manufacturing of functioning components in various sectors.
We hope this article has helped you understand FDM vs. SLA printers and how to choose the right type of 3D printer! If you are looking to utilize an FDM 3D printing service, reach out to Tangible Creative today!