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Types of 3D printing

Learn about the main categories of additive manufacturing along with a detailed explanation of each of the 3D printing methods that currently exist in industry.

Written by Ben Redwood

Additive Manufacturing Technologies: An Overview

This introductory overview of the seven official types of 3D printers specifically addresses:

  • How they work

  • Available materials

  • Price and speed of part production

  • Geometric properties: size, complexity, and resolution

  • Mechanical properties: accuracy, strength, and surface finish

  • Common commercial applications

Our goal is to simplify the complex 3D printing landscape and provide a solid foundation on which to build deeper understanding of all the types of 3D printing.

If you want to learn more about 3D printing available through Hubs, check out our online 3D printing service .


What are the different types of 3D printers?

  1. Vat polymerization: liquid photopolymer (resin) cured by light

  2. Material extrusion: molten thermoplastic (filament) deposited through a heated nozzle

  3. Powder bed fusion (PBF): powder particles fused by a high-energy source

  4. Material jetting: droplets of liquid photosensitive fusing agent deposited on a powder bed and cured by light

  5. Binder jetting: droplets of liquid binding agent deposited on a bed of granulated materials, which are later sintered together

  6. Direct energy deposition: molten metal simultaneously deposited and fused

  7. Sheet lamination: individual sheets of material cut to shape and laminated together.


Each type of process has distinct technologies. And for each distinct technology, many manufacturers sell similar printers. The most common 3D printing processes are Stereolithography , Fused deposition modeling (FDM) and Selective laser sintering (SLS) .

The entire landscape of additive manufacturing technologies is depicted in this tree diagram.

Additive manufacturing technologies poster


1. Vat photopolymerization


How it works

Vat photopolymerization produces parts by selectively curing liquid photopolymer resins with light, which is standardly UV light. A build platform is submerged in a tank that is filled with the resin. The light is selectively directed across the resin surface with mirrors. Once a layer is cured, the platform is raised or lowered a small increment to allow new liquid to flow. The next layer is then cured and adjoins the previously cured one.

Schematic of SLA printer
Schematic of SLA printer
SLA part printed upside down
Some SLA methods of printing print parts upside down as they are drawn out of the resin

After the final layer is cured, the print is removed from the resin. At this stage, it is fully formed though can be strengthened with further curing in a UV oven.


Different types of printers

Vat photopolymerization has a few distinct printing technologies. The three most common are stereolithography ( SLA ), direct light processing ( DLP ), and continuous liquid interface production (CLIP). They are very similar, though differ in terms of light source and how light is directed at the resin. SLA is by far the most popular, so we have written an Introduction to SLA 3D printing .

  • SLA uses a single-point laser to trace a thin line along the surface of the resin, filling in the shape of the cross-sectional layer to be cured. It is highly accurate but can be time-consuming.

  • DLP uses a digital light projector to flash a single image of an entire layer all at once. This makes it faster than SLA. However, because the projector is a digital screen, the image of each layer is composed of square pixels, resulting in slightly lower resolution.

  • CLIP is the same as DLP except the build platform moves in a continuous motion. This allows for even faster build times and smoother contours along the z-axis.


Available materials

All vat photopolymerization printers use photopolymer resins, most of which are proprietary. There are countless different kinds available, including standard resins for general purpose prototyping. Other common types include tough ABS -like resins; flexible rubber-like resins; transparent castable resins with zero ash content after burnout; ceramic-filled resins for very rigid prints; and biocompatible resins for medical devices. Some resins, such as those that are transparent, require additional post-processing to achieve best visual results or, in the case of clear resins, optical clarity.

With so many materials to choose from, we wrote a guide on comparing different SLA 3D printing materials .


Price and speed of production

Vat polymerization is the oldest 3D printing technology . Competition between printer manufacturers continues to drive prices down, but it remains expensive, costing around the same as plastic powder bed fusion (PBF). These machines are cheaper than those for SLS, but the material is more expensive.

Many factors affect print times, but vat polymerization is generally considered one of the fastest technologies.


Geometrics properties: size, complexity, and resolution

Build volumes vary a lot between desktop and industrial printers, but are typically smaller than those for FDM or PBF. They print a maximum of about 300mm in any one dimension. Vat photopolymerization can print highly complex parts, though not as complex as those achieved by PBF due to the need for supports.

What it lacks in build volume and complexity, vat photopolymerization makes up for in resolution. It can print highly fine details.

Models printed in SLA, FDM and SLS


Mechanical properties: accuracy, strength, and surface finish

Vat photopolymerization printers have very tight tolerances and allow for consistent repeatability. If parts are fully cured after printing, they can also be fully isotropic, unlike with FDM prints . But the surface finishes this technology can achieve make it extraordinary. Vat photopolymerization can print extremely smooth contours, comparable to injection molding .

Another major advantage over other technologies is that fully cured parts can be made watertight and airtight. However, the curing process is irreversible, so heated parts burn instead of melt.


Commercial applications

The wide range of available materials gives vat photopolymerization processes a wide range of applications, from prototyping to production parts.

High resolution and tight tolerances make the technology ideal for jewelry , low-run injection molding , and many dental and medical applications . The property of being watertight makes vat photopolymerization very popular or use in the automotive, aerospace, and healthcare industries. Smooth surface finishes make it good for prototyping injection-molded parts.


2. Material extrusion


How it works

Material extrusion produces parts by layering extrusions of molten thermoplastic filament. A spool of filament is fed through a heated extrusion nozzle and melted. It is continuously deposited at precise locations, where it cools and solidifies. The mechanism works like a hot glue gun being carefully moved over a flat surface.

Schematic of a FDM printer
Schematic of a typical FDM printer
FDM extrudes thermoplastic out of a heated nozzle over a predetermined path to build up parts

The nozzle can move along three axes in relation to the build platform. It traces the shape of a single cross-section of the print along the x- and y-axes, thereby layering cross-sections on each other along the z-axis to build up the full print.


Different types of printers

There is only one type of material extrusion printer. It is known as a printer for fused deposition modeling (FDM) or fused filament fabrication (FFF). Relatively simple, these printers are by far the cheapest and most widely available, and come in many different shapes and sizes. To learn more, read Introduction to FDM 3D printing.


Available materials 

Because FDM is so widely used, thousands of different filaments have appeared on the market. By far the most common are ABS and PLA, but nylon, PC, PETG, TPU, and PEI are also widely available. Filaments also come reinforced with fibers, such as carbon, Kevlar‍, fiberglass, wood, and metal. We wrote a guide comparing different FDM 3D printing materials.


Price and speed of production

FDM is known for being low-cost. Simple desktop machines cost between $500-$5,000 and even industrial machines are affordable.

Standard FDM materials are widely available and competition keeps prices down. Printing times are fast for single parts but, unlike vat photopolymerization or PBF, there are no economies of scale. That makes FDM relatively slow for high-volume runs.

The machines are cheap to own and easy to run, but outsourcing is equally popular because the ubiquity of the technology makes one-day lead times common practice.


Geometrics properties: size, complexity, and resolution

There are thousands of brands of FDM printers, coming in all shapes and sizes. The largest have build platforms of about 1,500mm in all dimensions. 

Because parts are built from the bottom up, certain features, such as overhangs, require supports built along the actual part. This limits FDM when it comes to printing complex parts.

The resolution is a function of the filament, with the thinnest filaments being around 0.15mm thick. The fact that filament is round means that sharp corners cannot be printed and walls are never flat unless processed after printing.


Mechanical properties: accuracy, strength, and surface finish

There are exceptions, but FDM printers are generally not suited to produce functional end parts. They are slightly inaccurate printers that make anisotropic parts (weak along the z-axis) with very clear layering on every surface.


Commercial applications

FDM’s variety of available materials, speed, and cost-effectiveness also make it very attractive for certain types of production parts as long as resolution and surface finish are not critical factors. Industrial FDM printers can easily produce functional prototypes and end parts from robust materials, such as grips, jigs, and fixtures. In recent years, FDM has become an increasingly common solution for grips, jigs and fixtures, reducing traditional costs by 90 percent.


3. Powder bed fusion (PBF)


How it works

PBF produces parts by using an energy force to selectively melt or sinter powdered particles together to form a whole object. Powdered material is heated to just below its melting point and spread over the build platform in a very fine layer. A laser or electron beam is then directed across the powder’s surface, fusing particles together to form a single cross-section of the print.

After each layer, the build platform is lowered and the process repeated. Each new layer is fused to the previous until all the layers have been fused into one object.

As layers are built on top of one another, the unfused particles act as a support structure for the print, thereby eliminating the need for most separate support structures. Once the print is complete, the excess supporting powder is removed and recycled.

Schematic of SLS printer
Schematic of a SLS printer


Different types of printers

Lots of 3D printers use PBF technology. Many different types can print in many different materials, but the most common are selective laser sintering ( SLS ), direct metal laser sintering ( DMLS ), selective laser melting (SLM), HP’s multi-jet fusion ( MJF ), high speed sintering (HSS) and electron beam melting (EBM). SLS is the most common for plastics, and DMLS and SLM are the most common for metals, leading us to write an what is SLS 3D printing and an Introduction to SLM & DMLS 3D printing.

  • SLS produces solid plastic parts using a laser to sinter particles together.

  • DMLS produces porous metal parts using a laser to sinter particles together.

  • SLM produces solid metal parts using a laser to melt particles together, not just sinter them. Since this is only possible when the particles have the same melting point, SLM can only print in single metals, not alloys.

  • MJF is so similar to SLS that it is often considered an interchangeable technology. It produces solid plastic parts through a combination of SLS and material jetting technologies. After a layer of plastic powder is spread over the build platform, a printhead with inkjet nozzles selectively deposits agents that encourage and inhibit fusing. A high-power infrared beam then passes over the layer, fusing only areas where the fusing agent was dispensed.

  • EBM produces solid metal parts using an electron beam to melt particles together, but parts must be produced in a vacuum. The process can only be used with conductive metals.

  • HSS uses an inkjet print head to deposit an infrared-absorbing fluid directly onto a thin layer of  plastic granulate that’s spread across the heated surface of a build platform, outlining the area where sintering is desired. An infrared light is then used to fuse the powder under the fluid into a layer.

  • MJF uses an inkjet array to selectively apply fusing and detailing agents across a bed of nylon powder, which are then fused by heating elements into a solid layer. 


Available materials

DMLS can print many metals, including alloys, while SLM can only print single-metal parts. The most common metals are aluminum, stainless steel, tool steel, titanium, cobalt-chrome, and nickel.

For EBM to work, materials must be conductive or no interaction can occur between the beam and the powder. Titanium and cobalt-chrome alloys are the most frequently used.

MJF can only print in nylon. Because the fusing agent is black, in the past, parts could only be printed in gray. Today, however,  HP Jet Fusion 500/300 series printers can print parts in full color and white. This series is being phased out but will still be supported for years. 


Price and speed of production

PBF market competition continues to drive prices down, but it remains expensive. For metal 3D printing, it is still extremely expensive, usually costing more than CNC machining. For plastics, the cost is comparable to vat photopolymerization. MJF is usually around 10 percent cheaper than SLS.

When it comes to low volumes for plastics, SLS and MJF are slower than vat photopolymerization and FDM. However, they are the fastest for large batches because parts get printed directly on the build platform and in a cubic space.


Geometrics properties: size, complexity, and resolution

PBF printers can be manufactured larger than those for vat photopolymerization, but even large PBF printers rarely exceed 300 to 400mm in any dimension. These printers can also print parts in high resolution. Because unused powder acts as a support material as print layers are built up, PBF can achieve very complex models.

Potential complexity is the same for MJF and SLS, with both achieving better results than SLA. However, SLA has even higher resolution (its layer height can go down to 25 micron whereas SLS always prints at 100 micron and MJF at 80 micron). MJF can produce slightly better resolutions than SLS, but SLS offers a broader range of materials 

For metal, DMLS can print parts with some of the highest resolution available, followed by SLM and then EBM.


Mechanical properties: accuracy, strength, and surface finish

PBF can produce tolerances on par with vat photopolymerization, but PBF parts are much stronger. PBF can produce functional plastic parts with the best mechanical properties any 3D printing technology is capable of. MJF prints are slightly stronger than SLS and also have a smoother surface finish.

EBM systems produce less residual stresses than DMLS and SLM, resulting in less potential distortion. The metal parts made by DMLS are not as strong as those by SLM, since the powder particles are only sintered and parts remain slightly porous. However, SLM parts can have mechanical properties on par with traditional manufacturing technologies such as machining and forging.

All PBF prints have a slightly rough finish due to being made from powders, though can easily be polished smooth with simple post-processing.


Commercial applications of PBF

The ability to produce strong functional parts makes PBF the preferred technology for producing low volumes of functional plastic parts across all industries. Common applications include one-off industrial hardware such as machine parts, jigs, grips, and fixtures as well as low-volume production runs of customized plastic components.

Because of how expensive they are, DMLS, SLM, and EBM are only used when a part’s geometric complexity is too expensive to be machined or surpasses what machining can produce. Being able to produce very complex parts makes PBF the go-to technology for rapid prototyping of complex parts.


4. Material jetting


How it works

One printhead can carry jets for multiple materials, allowing for multi-material printing, full-color printing, and dispensing disposable support structures, such as wax.

Schematic of a Material Jetting printer
Schematic of a Material jetting printer
Material jetting printer
A material jetting printer illustrating how big the machines often are


Different type of printers

Within the material jetting category there are a few distinct printing technologies. The three most common are PolyJet, NanoParticle Jetting (NPJ), and Drop-On Demand (DOD). PolyJet is by far the most popular, so we wrote an Introduction to material jetting 3D printing.

  • PolyJet, the first material jetting technology, is patented and owned by Stratasys . It dispenses liquid photopolymer resin and easy-to-remove support material from the printhead, which is then cured by a UV light.

  • NPJ is a technology patented by XJet . Unlike in PolyJet, where each layer is cured before the next is deposited, NPJ prints are cured once all the layers are deposited. Metal or ceramic nanoparticles are suspended in a liquid, which is deposited by the printhead along with support material. Heat in the printer causes the suspension liquid to evaporate as each layer is deposited, leaving only slightly bonded metal or ceramic and supports behind. Once the final layer is complete, the support material is removed and the whole part is sintered to bond all the nanoparticles.

  • DOD is a technology patented by SolidScape (acquired by Stratasys). It is very similar to PolyJet, but was developed specifically for high-precision printing in wax for investment casting and mold making, targeting the jewelry industry. Unlike in PolyJet, the printhead can print curves in high resolution by moving in both x- and y-axes. After the material droplets are deposited, each completed layer is skimmed with a fly cutter to ensure a perfectly flat surface. These factors improve the final dimensional accuracy.


Available materials

Due to the variety of technologies in the category, a wide range of materials is available for use with material jetting printers. The most common are photopolymers, flexible plastics, casting wax, metals, and ceramics.

PolyJet printers are known for being able to produce full-color, multi-material, multi-texture prints.


Price and speed of production

No matter the printer type, material jetting is expensive. The materials are expensive and supports are printed solid, which means there is a lot of material wastage per part.

Production speeds are comparable with PBF printers.


Geometrics properties: size, complexity, and resolution

Build platforms can get quite large—measuring up to 1 square meter, they are almost as large as those used in FDM. Individual parts can also be very large, filling out the whole print bed. Given that fully solid supports are built up around the part, they can also produce very complex parts. The resolution is the best offered by any 3D printing technology .


Mechanical properties: accuracy, strength, and surface finish

Material jetting printers are highly precise, able to produce parts with very high tolerances, although the strength of parts is typically less than what FDM or PBF can achieve. The surface finishes are highly smooth, but there is also an option to print in a matte setting.


Commercial applications

Material jetting is an expensive 3D printing technology, but its extremely high dimensional accuracy and smooth surface finishes make it the only viable solution when dimensional accuracy or impressive visuals are critical. This is often the case for highly realistic prototypes, anatomical models, complex and high-precision tooling, jewelry, medical devices, and surgical tools.

Multi-material printing is commonly used for haptic feedback prototypes, for example, a stiff case with flexible buttons.


5. Binder jetting


How it works

Binder jetting produces parts by selectively depositing a binding agent over a powder bed. The build platform is first covered with a very thin layer of material powder. A printhead covered in inkjet nozzles then passes over, depositing a binding agent where the print is to be formed. Binder jetting printers can also print in color by depositing colored ink after the binding agent, before a new layer of powder covers the previous one.

Schematic of Binder Jetting printer
Schematic of a Binder Jetting printer

Once the final layer is finished, the part is left to cure in the powder and let the binding agent gain strength. Once removed from the powder bin, some kinds of materials are ready. However, if parts are for functional use, most need to be infiltrated and sintered, causing them to shrink by up to 40 percent.


Different types of printers

Binder jetting is achieved by only one technology, though there are many different kinds of printers, differentiated by the kinds of materials and binders they can use. To learn more, read our Introduction to binder jetting 3D printing.


Available materials 

Because prints are held together by a binding agent—as opposed to bonds between particles of the build material—many materials that can be powdered can be printed with binder jetting. The most common materials are sands, ceramics, and metals, though plastics can also be used.


Price and speed of production

Binder jetting is an affordable technology, costing even less than vat photopolymerization and PBF. Print speeds are comparable to PBF and in line with other technologies for low-volume runs, but fast for higher volumes.


Geometrics properties: size, complexity, and resolution

Binder jetting is best suited for parts smaller than the size of a fist.

Because the unused powder serves as a natural support structure, complex parts are also possible. However, one constraint is that thickness should never exceed 10mm because the filtration may be inconsistent.

The resolutions are high, on par with PBF.


Mechanical properties: accuracy, strength, and surface finish

Binder jetting can produce parts with good tolerances, but the final tolerance can be hard to predict since shrinkage occurs with post-processing.

Before infiltration, metal parts are extremely weak and can crumble if not handled carefully. After infiltration, they are close to fully dense, but their mechanical properties do not meet the higher quality of traditionally manufactured parts.

The surface roughness of these metal parts is better than that achieved with DMLS and SLM.


Commercial applications

Because it can produce complex parts quite quickly and cost-effectively in a variety of colors, binder jetting is ideal for full-color prototyping. The price point of binder jetting is lower than material jetting and, despite its mechanical-property limitations, it can still achieve resolutions suitable for most prototypes.

This is also one the fastest and most affordable techniques for producing complex, high-precision metal and ceramic parts. Many different powders are available, and print beds can be relatively large. The mechanical properties of binder-jetted metal parts do not match the strength or tolerances of PBF prints but they can still be functional if infiltrated and sintered.

Binder jetting is especially attractive for producing complex casts from sand because it can print large, complex geometries at relatively low cost. And the process is simple enough to be integrated with most traditional foundry processes.


6. Direct energy deposition


How it works

Direct energy deposition (DED) produces parts by layering beads of molten material, which is usually metal. The technology is very similar to that used in plastic material extrusion printers, but for metal. The feedstock material, which is either powder or wire, is continuously pushed through a nozzle and melted by a laser or an electron beam or arc at the point of deposition, where it cools and solidifies.

The nozzle can move along multiple axes in relation to the build platform. Three-axis machines trace the shape of a single cross-section of a print along the x- and y-axes, layering cross-sections on one another along the z-axis to build up the full part. Five-axis DED printers are not limited to building up parts layer by layer because they can deposit material from any angle. This means they can do more than simply build up parts from scratch and are often used to deposit material on multiple sides of existing objects.

The DED family of 3D printing may seem confusing at first. It is often referred to as direct metal deposition (DMD). There are also many different proprietary technologies whose names are often used interchangeably, even though they differ in their materials and energy sources. All work according to very similar principles. Laser Engineered Net Shaping (LENS) by Optomec is the best known example of a technology that fuses powders with a high-powered laser. Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing (EBAM) by Sciaky is the best known example of a technology that fuses extruded wire with an electron beam.


Different types of printers

  • LENS utilizes a deposition head consisting of a laser head, powder dispensing nozzles, and inert gas tubing. The laser travels through the center of the head to create a melt pool on the build area and powder is sprayed from the sides where it is melted and then solidified. The inert gas forms an oxygen- and moisture-free shroud, which prevents surface oxidation and promotes better layer adhesion.

  • EBAM feeds metal welding wire through the nozzle and melts it with an electron beam at the contact point with the build area. Essentially, EBAM is FDM for metals.


Available materials

LENS technology can print in both metals and ceramics, although ceramics are by far the more common material in use. Available materials for both LENS and EBAM include almost any weldable metal, such as aluminum, steel, titanium, Inconel, tantalum, tungsten, nickel, and niobium.


Price and speed of production

The two most important advantages of DED are print speed and material cost. All DED technologies are relatively fast at laying down material, with the fastest machines printing 11kg per hour, (albeit it with very low resolution). The metal feedstock used is also cheaper than that used by other metal 3D printers. The powders are usually commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) materials designed for welding and thus widely available. But for simple parts, traditional manufacturing is still almost always cheaper.


Geometrics properties: size, complexity, and resolution

Another key advantage of DED is the very large print bed sizes. It is not uncommon for large manufacturers to build customer DED printers with build envelopes that are multiple meters long along any dimension.

Support structures are possible but difficult because the large liquid melt pool at the deposition point does not allow for overhangs. The same attribute means complex geometries are also not possible. Resolution is very poor compared with other metal 3D printers. Powder particle sizes are between 50 and 150 microns and welding wire ranges from 1 to 3mm in diameter.

Sharp corners, for example, can only be achieved in post-processing, typically by a CNC mill. This is very common practice, as new material is built up with DED and then machined to the desired precision.


Mechanical properties: accuracy, strength, and surface finish

The high amount of energy required to maintain a melt point at the point of deposition creates large thermal gradients that can cause a lot of residual stress, but DED produces fully dense parts with mechanical properties that are as good as forged metal parts.

The low resolution, however, means parts tend to have poor surface finish, requiring secondary machining to achieve most desired results.


Commercial applications

The three main applications of DED are part repairs, feature additions, and near-net-shape part production. Essentially a form of welding, DED can print onto existing parts. This makes it ideal for repairing broken parts and adding feature that cannot be added via other processes. Tool repair is by far the most common use, and companies turn to DED when expensive machinery proves more cost-effective to fix than reorder, such as in heavy industry.

Because the resolutions are so low, most parts also require post-processing with a CNC mill. Parts are therefore printed near to net shape, with the expectation that they will be machined to proper tolerances. Because conventional manufacturing is almost always cheaper, near-net-shape DED printing is only used when traditional manufacturing is very slow, expensive, or simply not possible.


7. Sheet lamination


How it works

Sheet lamination produces parts by stacking and laminating sheets of material cut to match a part’s single-horizontal cross-sections. In some printers, the sheets are first cut and then laminated. In most, the sheets are first laid and laminated and then cut to size.


Different printers types

This is one of the simplest methods of building up 3D models. Despite its simplicity, there are many different proprietary technologies based on material, lamination method, and cutting method. In most cases, the process is a simple variation of paper laminated object manufacturing (LOM). Ultrasonic consolidation (UC) is the only radically different technology, as it uses ultrasonic welding rather than a separate bonding agent.

  • LOM laminates sheets together with a bonding adhesive and then subtracts features layer by layer, using CNC milling, laser cutting, or water-jet cutting.

  • UC follows the same process at LOM, except the lamination is achieved through ultrasonic vibrations as a form of friction welding.


Available materials

Across all the different types of printers, there are many available materials: papers, most polymers, fiber-reinforced polymers, ceramics, and just about any metal. Multi-material layers can also be achieved with all these materials, provided each layer can be laminated and shaped with the same methods.

Using colored sheets enables full-color prints across the color spectrum.


Price and speed of production

LOM is very cost effective thanks to the ready availability of all the raw materials. The lack of pre-production preparation means the printers are also very fast.


Geometrics properties: size, complexity, and resolution

Print beds sizes vary highly, but are comparable to SLA and SLS printers. Large-format printers are not common.

Because the sheet cutting methods are relatively simple, highly complex shapes are not possible. However, because support structures are not necessary, internal structures are possible.

One additional design option is to lay embedded wiring between sheets. Most processes do not require heat, so there is not the risk of high temperatures destroying them.

Typical layer resolution depends entirely on the material feedstock


Mechanical properties: accuracy, strength, and surface finish

Dimensional accuracy and surface finishes are on par with what can be achieved with a simple CNC mill , laser cutter , or water-jet cutter. The weakness of the bond between sheets, however, means that these parts are unsuitable for structural or functional purposes.


Commercial applications

LOM was originally used in architecture for building models. Today its most common use is for highly detailed, colored objects, typically for proof-of-concept and look-and-feel prototyping.

Which 3D printing technology is the best for your project?

There are many determining factors when it comes to picking the right technology for 3D printing parts , including functionality, required material, the physical and/or visual characteristics of the end part, and process capabilities (accuracy, build size etc.). We've collected several easy-to-use tools in this article about selecting the right 3D printing process, and highlighted some key considerations below.

  • Decide if functionality or visual appearance is the top priority.

  • Look at complexity of your design. Parts with complex geometry should generally be produced with a Powder Bed Fusion Technology (SLS or MJF).

  • When more than one process can produce parts in the same material, select the best fit by comparing the cost versus properties.

  • For functional polymer parts, go for thermoplastics (SLS or FDM) over thermosets (SLA/DLP or material jetting).

  • For visual appearance and aesthetics, thermosets (SLA/DLP or material jetting) are the best option.

  • For metal parts, we generally advise going with CNC machining , but for parts with extreme complexity, DMLS and SLM are options.

Want to learn more? Read our comprehensive guide to 3D printing.

 

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FDM Rapid Prototyping Service

What is rapid prototyping?

Rapid prototyping uses 3D computer-aided design (CAD) and manufacturing processes to quickly develop 3D parts or assemblies for research and development and/or product testing.

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SLA 3D Printing materials compared

SLA 3D printing materials compared

Compare the main SLA 3D printing resins - standard, tough, durable, heat resistant, rubber-like, dental and castable - by material properties and find the best option for your application.

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Introduction to CNC machining

Introduction to CNC machining

Learn the basic principles and fundamental mechanics of CNC machining and how these relate to its key benefits & limitations.

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Introduction to Binder Jetting 3D printing

Introduction to binder jetting 3D printing

In this introduction to Binder Jetting 3D printing, we cover the basic principles of the technology. After reading this article you will understand the fundamental mechanics of the Binder Jetting process and how these relate to its benefits and limitations.

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Selecting the right 3D printing process

Selecting the right 3D printing process

Decision making tools and generalized guidelines to aid you select the right 3D printing process for your application.

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Introduction to Metal 3D printing

Introduction to metal 3D printing

In this introduction to metal 3D printing, we cover the basic principles of SLM and DMLS. Learn the fundamental mechanics of SLM and DMLS and how these relate to the key benefits and limitations of 3D printing.

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HP MJF vs. SLS: A 3D Printing Technology Comparison

What is the difference between Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D printing?

What is the difference between MJF and SLS 3D printing technology in terms of accuracy, materials, cost and lead times? Here’s how to choose the right additive manufacturing technology for your custom part needs.

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Introduction to Material Jetting 3D Printing

Introduction to material jetting 3D printing

In this introduction to Material Jetting 3D printing, we cover the basic principles of the technology. After reading this article you will understand the fundamental mechanics of the Material Jetting process and how these relate to its benefits and limitations.

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3D printed Injection Molds: Materials Compared

3D printed injection molds: Materials compared

We compare critically two industrial 3D printing materials used for low-run injection mold manufacturing.

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Introduction to SLS 3D Printing

What is SLS 3D printing?

Learn about the basic principles of selective laser sintering, also known as SLS 3D printing. Discover how SLS 3D printing works, the advantages of SLS techniques for rapid prototyping and low-production runs, and the various materials and options available that will suit your part or project.

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Introduction to SLA 3D Printing

What is SLA 3D printing?

Get to know the basics of stereolithography, also known as SLA 3D printing. Find out why the original 3D printing technique is still so popular and cost-effective, learn about how SLA printing works and its parameters, and discover which materials and options will best suit your 3D-printed part or project.

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