Types of 3D Printers – The Definitive Guide

Want to know what types of 3D printers there are? You’ve come to the right place!

Each technology has different applications, prices and target groups. That’s why we’ve brought them all together in this article and explained what each one is for.

If you want to jump to a particular technology (FDM, SLA, SLS… there are plenty!) you can use the article summary below to check them all at a glance. If you prefer to soak up everything, read on and immerse yourself in the world of 3D printing technologies with us

FDM Filament Printing – The Most Popular Option

For starters, you can find printers that use FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) technology. FDM is a term trademarked by Stratasys, the company that invented this technology, which is why some circles also use the acronym FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication).

After being exclusively controlled by Stratasys for many years, in 2004 the RepRap movement began to create and release free FDM printers, which are the ones that have caused the 3D printing boom of our decade and thanks to which today we can enjoy such varied desktop printers of this technology:

How do these printers work? As the name suggests, they use a thermoplastic filament and melt and extrude it through a nozzle, to deposit the piece layer by layer, from the bottom to the top.

What are the advantages of FDM printers?

The 3D FDM printers are the cheapest, most accessible and most popular of all the different types of printers available. Besides, they are the simplest machines and there is a lot of information online about them, so it is the most suitable technology for those who want to start with 3D printing.

All these advantages make it the ideal printer for companies, offices, workshops, SMEs in general and also very suitable for private users.

What types of 3D FDM printers can we find?

Within this category, you can find several subcategories that you should take into account when purchasing a 3D printer.

Cartesian: it uses the Cartesian X-Y-Z axis, with three axes perpendicular to each other. Its main advantage is in its ease of use, since it is the type of printer with the simplest mechanics and is the easiest to calibrate and correct errors that may arise during use.

Delta: Delta robots contain a static circular printing bed. Its 3 articulated arms at different elevations move up and down to do the job. They stand out for their printing quality at higher speed and for the simplicity of their mechanics, but they are more difficult to calibrate.

Polar: it is based on the polar coordinate system, in which the system starts from a point to go through an angle, a line and the Z axis. The print bed rotates and the extruder and print head move up and down. The printing bed rotates and the extruder and print head move up and down. Its main advantage is that it works with only 2 motors plus the extruder, which means lower costs. It also works a larger volume in a smaller space, although they are the least used.

Robot arm: it is indicated for industrial use and assembly of parts. Among its most outstanding characteristics is the tracking of lines and curved profiles, although it is not at all rigid and does not usually allow the precision of other more specialized machines.

Core XY: it is of Cartesian style, but its mechanism is different. It is ideal to manufacture your own original designs such as the famous DIY “Do It Yourself”, because of its mechanical configuration it allows more speed and reduces inertia, as it does not have the mass of the motors in movement.

How much does it cost to print at FDM?

3D filament printing parts are the most economical to produce, suitable for prototypes, short series and large format 3D printing.

The cost of filament printing is the lowest of all the technologies we are going to talk about, so if you are curious about this topic you can go to our article on the price of 3D printing or ask us directly for a quote so that we can tell you how much your project will cost:

SLA or Stereolithography – Impeccable Finish

SLA or stereolithography technology (also commonly called resin printers) is the one that was created the longest ago. They are the pioneering printers, but they have not stopped advancing and today they are still one of the most used and versatile.

SLA resin printing works with a photopolymer resin tank and a UV laser beam that passes through the shape of the layer and results in the part, which grows on the printer platform. The video in this section can help you understand the process.

The biggest advantage of SLA printers, especially compared to filament printers, is that we can obtain high quality parts without the need for post-processing. It is a technology that allows us to obtain great finishes and details for parts such as prototypes, figures, complex or small parts.

In addition to their great finish, SLA printers have been used for a long time in the industry and in the dental sector, so they have advanced materials to print high added value pieces: biocompatible, sterilizable, high temperature resistant, flexible, transparent, optical materials, etc… It is the technology with more high performance materials available.

They have the disadvantage that it is necessary to wash and cure the parts so that they harden after printing, which requires handling the resins and having a washing and curing station. In addition, the resin stains everything that comes in contact with it and has a strong smell, so it is usually necessary to have a separate, ventilated space for these printers.

DLP – More Resin!

DLP stands for Digital Light Processing. This technology is the twin sister of SLA, the only difference being that the UV light source is a projector or LED spotlight and a screen to draw the image of the coating onto the resin tank.

DLP printers are bringing 3D resin printing to a domestic audience. They work with the same materials as SLA printers, but are easier to manufacture, as they use mobile screens to cure the resin instead of the complex SLA laser system. So right now there are many DLP printers on the market in the low-cost segment that any individual can buy.

They have the same advantages as other resin printers, a great finish and an advanced material ecosystem available to professional users. Like SLA printers, they require a dedicated space to clean and cure the parts.

This technology is known as Selective Laser Sintering. It works similarly to SLA, but the printer’s laser is used to sinter (fuse but not melt) a bed of polymer powder, which is usually nylon (polyamide).

This printer is mainly used in the creation of products for industry, such as educational institutions, research centres, laboratories, etc. They are usually used for functional prototyping and small series production, mainly by companies.

Although it is a technology dominated by large machines, the most famous manufacturer is the German manufacturer EOS, recently new desktop SLS machines have started to emerge that many companies will be able to buy as the Fuse 1 from Formlabs.

HP Multi Jet Fusion – Nylon End Pieces

HP Multi Jet Fusion technology is very similar to the SLS, both are printers that use powder (usually nylon) and a heat source to create the printed parts.

The fundamental difference is the way the powder is sintered (fused at a high temperature): SLS printers use a laser and Multi Jet Fusion printers have an ink jet that “paints” the powder black, so that when a powerful light source passes over it, the black painted particles, which absorb more light, fuse together to form the part.

Multi Jet technology is designed for long runs of parts and produces strong nylon parts, making it one of the most suitable technologies for industrial use and increasingly popular for additive manufacturing of series.

SLM – 3D Metal Printing

This printer is called Selective Laser Melting and is used for manufacturing metal parts.

When we talk about metal printers, we usually talk about SLM technology (Selective Laser Melting), which many people consider a subtype of SLS technology. The procedure is the same, a laser irradiates a surface of metal powder, only in this technology it sometimes goes as far as melting the material.

Among the metals used by this printer are aluminum, silver, steel, titanium…

It is ideal for the creation of pieces with complex structures or in very small quantities, which is why it is a type of printer that stands out in the implant industry, aerospace… and all those that require unique pieces or pieces with special properties.

Binder Jetting Printers

Binder Jetting (BJ) technology printers are one of the most interesting because of the large amount of materials (and even colour!) they offer. Unfortunately for home users these are usually industrial machines.

They are the printers that most resemble a 2D paper printer you have in your home or office, these machines also use cartridges that instead of ink project a binder on a bed of dust of the material we want to use to make our parts.

With this technology, plastic or metal parts can be manufactured (which are then sintered – “fused” – in an oven). Coloured parts can also be made by adding a dye to the powder at the same time.

Some of the most famous BJ printers are the ExOne industrial printers or the also very famous ZPrint.

What type of 3D printer is best suited to your needs?

After explaining the different types of 3D printers you can find, do you know which 3D printer you need?

As you have seen, the different types of technology these printers have respond to different needs, and of course, different budgets. It can be difficult to decide for yourself without having all the information.