There are two main liquid-based materials primarily used in 3D printing: resins and thermoplastic filaments.
FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) printers use filaments, while resins are primarily used for Stereolithography Apparatus (SLA) technology.
When it comes to quality, resin wins; simply because resin printing packs much better quality when compared to filament printing. To achieve the same printing standard using an FDM 3D printer, you would need to increase printing time, resulting in higher costs. SLA printing has a powerful and precise laser that makes even the tiniest of movements count, leading to a higher print resolution and better overall quality.
The minimum layer height is also much smaller for SLA 3D printers than FDM printers, contributing to quality and detail. While the quality of pricey FDM printers such as PLA, PETG and Nylon is still very good, resin printers are generally superior in quality since resin printing allows for the finer details to come through.
Considering what we've discussed in the previous paragraph, SLA 3D printers' higher pricings should come as no surprise. Varying types of FLM printers have different prices. However, they are generally less expensive than resin 3D printers, especially when comparing higher-quality resin and filament 3D printers.
3D printing using resin is usually a lot messier than if you're using thermoplastic filaments. Therefore, the latter material is usually recommended for beginners. Resin printing requires a lot more effort, especially when getting your resin model off the build platform. To get to the final product, you need to wash the resin off by immersing the part in isopropyl alcohol. Then, you need to cure it under UV light. Printing filament parts is more manageable since you only need to purchase a magnet-built to extract the finished piece. Moreover, filament parts don't need to undergo further processing.
While premium resin 3D prints are quite strong, a run-of-the-mill SLA 3D printer produces stronger filament parts than a super expensive FDM 3D printer - simply because of filament's inherent properties. Strength is primarily why large-scale manufacturers prefer FDM technology and strong filaments such as Polycarbonate. In fact, Polycarbonate is the go-to material used for 3D printing durable and resistant mechanical parts. While resin prints are much more detailed, they are fragile because resin 3D printing still has a long way to go when it comes to product strength.
Both resin and filament pose health and safety risks. FDM 3D printing results in the emission of toxic fumes and the use of high temperatures. Resin 3D printing runs the risk of fume emission as well as unexpected chemical reactions. Therefore, both types of 3D printers should be used in well-ventilated spaces. Furthermore, you should also invest in a sound filtration system that minimises the risk of skin irritation and long-term respiratory issues. Moreover, make sure that you always use Nitrile gloves when handling uncured materials and safety glasses to protect your eyes from toxic chemical by-products.
Deciding whether to purchase an SLA 3D printer or an FDM 3D printer largely depends on what you're going to use it for. Opt for an FDM 3D printer if you're looking for a printer that can print many low-cost prototypes in a short amount of time and if precision and surface finish aren't vital product features. Use an SLA 3D printer if you're creating casting moulds for detailed products such as jewellery pieces and if model strength and durability aren't at the top of your priority list.
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