This page may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through any of these links I will make a small commission.
What are the Different Types of 3D Printer?
3D printers are able to print objects of almost any size and shape but there are different types of 3D printers that each have their own strengths and weaknesses.
When you’re choosing which 3D printer you want to buy it’s important to know which type is best for your project or application before you get carried away just imagining what you can accomplish with all that 3D printing offers.
The ability to print in 3D has made the technology very attractive to a wide array of parties, from hobbyists to museums, and especially businesses that would like to carry on with their practices in more efficient and superior ways, many of us stand to gain a lot.
3D printing is catching on much faster than you might expect in a variety of important areas outside of manufacturing too, such as in education and culture.
Museums are using it as a tool to reach out to more people and to bring the past closer to people than ever
It is also increasingly becoming an integrated part of our home lives as a hobbyist and DIY too, particularly as 3D printers have become quite affordable.
Another reason for this is that there are models that are coming out that are much more portable than thought possible just 20 years ago.
The sheer number of things that can be printed with less expensive models is driving a lot of curiosity and interest from everyday people.
An important thing to understand is that not all 3D printers work in the same manner and, if you would like to use one yourself, you should first learn about the different ways that they actually work.
There’s no doubt, it is garnering attention from all over the world, even for the sake of addressing societal concerns such as low-cost home construction. You’d be amazed at what 3D printing can do nowadays to complete projects of all scales.
There are different applications that are available for everybody, even those who are too familiar with 3D printing itself. To understand what roles they can play in our society, it is a good idea to know how the most popular 3D printers function. So, let’s take a look at the most popular kinds of printing methods around.
Fused Deposition Modeling
If you’re wondering about the most common type of printer that can be found on the market, the answer is fused deposition modeling, or Fused Filament Fabrication, printers.
This is in large part because it is the cheapest way to print because the way it works is quite simple.
FDM uses a spool of filament that’s fed through a heatable nozzle which melts and liquifies it. Then, with the help of a series of computer-controlled motors, it pushes the melted plastic through an extrusion head onto a plate, building up the printed object layer by layer.
Like all 3D printers, this printing process takes programming input and applies it accordingly into specified coordinates.
When you compare FDM to other printing processes, you’ll clearly note that it is the simplest way to go and it delivers some pretty spot-on results too.
If you would like a 3D printer to use at home with your family, you should check out this type before looking into others, if only to acquaint yourself with a 3D printer that you can relatively easily wrap your head around.
These are also the most compact and as such are quite ideal for school projects, toy production, printing out decor pieces and other objects of this nature.
SLA and DLP Vat Polymerization
When you’re looking at the industrial applications that 3D printing offers, the methods get a whole lot more varied.
Many companies have turned to vat polymerization that in turn branches off into two major forms, Stereolithography and Digital Light Processing. The former is the most widely used and was actually the first 3D printing technology to be developed way back in 1986 by way of 3D Systems, a company that is still a major player to this very day.
The way that SLA works is by positioning mirrors called galvanometers at certain points along the Y and X axes in such a manner that they work together to aim a laser beam across a vat of resin that will harden at the exact point where the lasers touch it.
As each layer hardens, you’re able to build up a geometry by adding one layer on top of another in an orderly fashion, revealing the design.
Digital Light Processing differs in that instead of using a mirror guided laser, it counts on a digital screen projector that flashes a single image wherein an entire single layer is produced all at once. It’s very similar to a high-powered television projecting a still frame.
Many businesses rely on these two types of printing technologies because they are highly accurate, particularly when they’re compared to most FDM printers around. These are used for a wide range of purposes that include jewelry casting, dentistry, hearing aids, and mold-like polymer prototypes, just to name a few.
Material Jetting is another 3D printing process and it distinguishes itself by being able to allow for the printing of different materials at the same time.
The way that it works is that droplets of material are deposited through a printhead and cured on a build platform. A good way to think about this is that it is the printing method that most closely resembles how 2d inkjet printers work.
However, instead of using ink, thermoset photopolymers, or acrylics, are used in a liquid form to then print out.
This is a big advantage when you’re trying to grapple with a particularly complex design or one that requires a certain consideration for its weighted integrity.
at different stages of the construction process as you can use different materials to secure your print with structural supports.
These supports can be made from a material that melts away when in contact with alcohol or water which means they can be removed from your model without damaging it or leaving blemishes.
With Material Jetting, you get a high degree of accuracy as well as an especially smooth finish on the surface of the object that you’re looking to produce.
Selective Laser Sintering
Several heavy-duty industries rely on selective laser sintering which conducts the fabrication of thermoplastic powder, making it an effective way to come away with some truly tough and durable results.
The printing process itself is called powered bed fusion technology and it produces some of the best results that you can get for projects that include ship and car building by using thermal energy to fuse plastic powder particles together.
As heat is used in a concentrated manner it directs formation with certain designated orientations in order to create a truly solid piece that features a high precision within 0.2 millimeters of accuracy.
This is why when companies need to make functional parts with quality, reliable mechanic properties and/or a complex geometrical makeup, they often turn to this process despite the fact that it yields longer lead times and more expensive machinery when compared to other printing methods.
With this method, you must use either thermoplastics or metals as your starting raw materials.
The latter of these can use as its heat source either a laser or an electron beam, that’s very hot, which direct the reformation of powder and for this reason, it is expensive stuff, but when you’re building a prototype for something that’s meant to go inside of an airplane or a piece of medical equipment, ideally you would want to get the finest detail down to a T as well as a thoroughly stable product.
The sheer number of applications that SLS offers is so numerous that it looks to have a very bright future, particularly when costs start to go down and smaller size businesses can afford access to it.
From complex ducting designs to low run part production, for things like motor racing, it is a very reliable form of production that is growing right along with a number of important industries.
As you can see there are many routes you can take when choosing a 3D printer.
It is a very different story from where this technology was just twenty years ago. There are all kinds of consumers that are being targeted, including schools that want to offer a better-rounded educational experience, businesses that want to provide their customers with better products, and individuals who just like the idea of being able to print the things that they design on a CAD program from the comfort of their homes.
Hopefully, our society as a whole we will stand to benefit a lot from the 3D printing processes that have been developed for us to use. One thing is for sure, there’s plenty to choose from out there and making our ideas a 3-dimensional reality is much easier and close to our reach than ever before.