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Fabricate, Processes & Materials

3D Printing Technologies Overview

There are 4 main types of 3D printing technologies: FDM, SLS, SLA, and Polyjet. In this post I'm going to outline the strengths and weaknesses of each 3D printing technology to help you choose the best one for your prototyping needs.

Picking the Right Technology

Similar to picking the right material, understanding your technology options can help speed up development, save costs, and most importantly, produce higher quality hardware products. Below is a chart comparing important metrics when deciding what 3D printing technology to use for your prototypes:

 

FDM

SLS

SLA

Polyjet

Materials

PLA, ABS, Thermoplastics

Nylon

Visiclear/VisiJet

Vero, VeroClear, Rubber

Process

Plastic/metal filament extruded out of nozzle to build a 3D object

High power laser fuses particles of plastic/metal/ceramic/glass powder

Ultraviolet laser cures liquid resin layer by layer

Photopolymer deposited onto bed, UV light cures resin after each layer

Surface texture

Low resolution, visible layer lines

Slightly rough surface feel

Smooth, often shiny

Smooth, high resolution, matte finish

Functionality

Strong and durable

Strong and parts with some flex

Strong and brittle

Capable of both rigid and flexible parts

On mechanical failure

Almost no deformation until sudden fracture

Gradual deformation until fracture

Almost no deformation until sudden fracture

Slight deformation until fracture

Post-process

Hand remove support material

Polishing

Heated to melt support material

Hand cleaned by water-jet

Cost

$

$$

$$$

$$


When to Use FDM

  • Rapid prototyping
  • Low-cost models
  • Strong and durable parts
  • When precision and surface finish are not crucial

When to Use SLS

  • Robust and functional parts
  • When surface finish is not crucial
  • Design would use a lot of support material to cope with intricacy

When to Use SLA

  • Translucent pieces
  • For creating molds for casting to facilitate mass-production
  • When intricate details and/or a very smooth surface finish is crucial
  • When strength and durability of the model is not crucial

When to Use Polyjet

  • Acrylic plastics, elastomers and transparent option
  • Smooth surface finish and fine details
  • Final product look and feel, great for visual models
  • Multi-material printing

Check out the individual pages on Polyjet, SLA, SLS, and FDM to learn more about their specific properties, and as always if you have any further questions feel free to reach out to the Fictiv support team!

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