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FDM vs SLA Printer: Cost, Material, Print Quality, and More

Spencer Hill
Spencer Hill 10:56 11-30-2022
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FDM and SLA are the two types of 3D printers. Even with no tech background or knowledge of printers, it is easy to understand how each of these 3D printers works.

Should you go for an FDM 3D printer or an SLA 3D printer? Let’s have a look at FDM vs SLA and their applications to make you reach an informed final decision.

FDM vs SLA Printer

Part 1: What is an FDM printer?

FDM, or Fused Deposition Modeling, is one of the forms of 3D printing which uses an additive manufacturing process. Additive manufacturing is the opposite of subtractive manufacturing, wherein a 3D object is created from raw material instead of a solid object, leading to less wastage.

An FDM printer uses the same concept in creating 3D objects by adding filament (material) layer by layer.

  • Pros: The biggest advantage of an FDM printer is that there is less to no wastage of thermoplastic materials.
  • Cons: On the other hand, one of its downsides is it leaves slight blemishes or layer lines on the finished product. That is to say, the product’s surface is not smooth. This is due to the heating and cooling of material as it passes through extrusion nozzles.

An example of FDM 3D printer: Creality Ender 3 - Best value for money.

 

Part 2: What is an SLA printer?

SLA or Stereolithography Printers, instead of filaments, make use of photopolymers. Photopolymers are light-sensitive materials that alter their physical properties in the presence of light. An SLA printer allows consumer product companies to develop complex and delicate objects.

SLA printers are often confused with DLP and LCD 3D printing technologies as they all use photopolymers and light sources. The only difference is SLA printers use UV lasers as the light source. DLP printers use the digital projector as a UV light source, and LCD printers use LCD for projecting light patterns.

  • Pros: The main advantage of SLA printers is that laser technology enables the creation of pinpoint designs. The parts developed are of high quality and highly aesthetic.
  • Cons: The downside is the lack of durability. This does not mean SLA is not suitable for any industry. SLA printers are better used for biotechnology, healthcare, and other industries.

An example of SLA 3D printer: Creality HALOT-SKY

 

Part 3: Main differences between FDM and SLA 3D printing

We are going to compare FDM and SLA printers in the following 6 dimensions:

3.1. FDM vs SLA materials
3.2. FDM vs SLA build volume
3.3. FDM vs SLA print speed
3.4. FDM vs SLA quality
3.5. FDM vs SLA strength & durability
3.6. FDM vs SLA Cost

3.1. FDM vs SLA materials

The 3D printing material is the key to any 3D printer. It forms the basis of any 3D object and influences the quality and strength of the prototype.

  • FDM makes use of fused filament as the main material. For this reason, such 3D printer technology is called fused filament fabrication (FFF). The filaments are extracted from different thermoplastic polymers like ABS, PETG, PLA, and PEI. The material is melted and filled in the spool and is extracted through the material extrusion head and nozzle.
FDM materials
  • On the other hand, SLA uses liquid/melted photopolymers and is therefore also known as resin 3D printing. The melted polymer is placed layer by layer using lasers (instead of extrusion head and nozzle). SLA is thus also termed a vat photopolymerization technology. The quality of resin used in SLA 3D printers can vary depending on the purpose.
SLA materials

For instance, a standard resin provides a smooth finish but is brittle. The castable resin is used for mold patterns, the dental resin is used for making dental fixtures, and the flexible resin has a rubber-like texture. These are some commonly used resin materials for making different prototypes. Each of these resins has a unique property that makes them viable for specific parts.

3.2. FDM vs SLA build volume

FDM printers are predominantly used for their build volume. No other 3D printer can create large shaped parts like an FDM 3D printer. This is possible because FDM printers are large.

On the other hand, SLA printers are known for developing objects of smaller sizes. There are two types of SLA printers - one follows a top-down approach, while the other follows a bottom-up approach. A top-down printer creates objects facing upwards, whereas the object is built facing upside down in a bottom-up SLA printer. In the latter type, the build platform is placed at the top and moves upward as the objects start to take their shape.

Industrial SLA systems use the top-down approach, whereas prototypes are created in bottom-up SLA systems. The bottom-up approach is usually found in desktop printers. In short, top-down SLA printers can build large sizes compared to bottom-up SLA printers but still fall far behind FDM printers in terms of build volume.

In short, FDM printers have the upper hand about build volume. If you want to print big, go for FDM printers.

3.3. FDM vs SLA print speed

The print speed depends on the requirements of the parts printed. FDM printers can be faster, but you would have to compromise with the quality and precision.

Therefore, in terms of print speed, SLA printers are about 5 to 10 times faster than FDM printers. They can print down to 200 microns in 8 to 10 hours. Whereas, with an FDM printer, the same parts will take about 80 to 90 hours, which is ten times slower. The speed in FDM printers can be increased with the size of the nozzle head (0.6mm to 2mm). However, it will still fail to achieve the same precision as lasers.

3.4. FDM vs SLA quality

FDM vs SLA quality

Up to now, it’s quite clear that SLA printers reign in terms of quality and precision. However, it also depends on the type of product niche. It’s very important to understand the design and intent of your product at this stage.

In industries where precision and quality can’t be compromised, like dental fixtures, manufacturing components, consumer products etc., you should use SLA printers over FDM printers. In industries like automotive, aerospace, and education, where the strength of the parts is given priority over quality, FDM printers should be used.

3.5. FDM vs SLA strength & durability

As already mentioned, FDM cannot be defeated in terms of strength and durability. The quality and strength can vary depending on the material used in an FDM printer. For instance, nylon is suitable for developing automobile parts and tends to have long-lasting durability. ASA materials used in FDM printers are also suitable for outdoor appliances like lawnmowers, kitchen appliances, and more.

There is a difference between quality and tolerance. While SLA 3D printers are known for accuracy and quality, the end product lacks tolerance and strength. SLA materials tend to degrade when exposed to a harsh environment. For this reason, they cannot be used as the end consumer product. The prototype from SLA printers looks appealing and nice in the laboratory but cannot be used in real life.

3.6. FDM vs SLA Cost

FDM is comparatively cheaper than SLA 3D printers. Not to forget, there are several factors too that determine the overall costs of the printer. Before reaching a decision, the cost per part, the material cost, labor costs, and other hidden costs should also be considered.

Talking about the cost of the printer, FDM printers are more affordable. For beginners, an FDM printer can even be bought under $1000. A professional FDM printer may vary in price from $2000 to $8000 depending on build volume, size, print quality, etc.

On the contrary, SLA 3D printer costs start from around $4000 and go up to $11000 and more.

Comparing the cost of materials used in both printers, FDM filament and other materials used in FDM printers, like ABS and PLA, cost lower than the material used in SDL printers. Even the most standard ones start from $150 to $200 per kg against $100 per kg for FDM filaments.

Part 4: FAQs about FDM vs SLA printer

4.1. Is FDM or SLA better?

There is no straight answer to the question. For manufacturing large parts with durability as the top priority, FDM 3D printers are better. SDM printers are better for building intricate and accurate parts of high quality. SDM products lack strength, while FDM products lack accuracy and precision.

4.2. Is SLA stronger than FDM?

Is SLA stronger than FDM?

No, SLA is not stronger than FDM. SLA parts lack strength and durability as they are made by throwing laser over resin. When exposed to harsh conditions, the SLA material loses its strength and breaks easily. On the contrary, FDM material is of high quality and has high tolerance power. Thermoplastics used as FDM materials, like ABS and nylon, have high durability.

Conclusion

Depending on the application of the product, both FDM and SLA 3D printers have their own uniqueness. With the uniqueness to perform well even in a rugged environment, FDM 3D print material is best used in manufacturing parts of space, satellite, and aviation industries.

The uniqueness of SLA 3D printers to produce accurate and precise parts made them more suitable for manufacturing consumer products like kitchen appliances, toys, handheld devices, electronic devices and more. Similarly, the dental industry uses SLA 3D printers to create prototypes like dentures, crowns, splints, and guards.

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