Choosing A 3D Printer

There are various 3D printing methods which were developed to build 3D structures and objects. There are a large number of machines widely available today that have driven the prices down where there is sure to be a model that will fit almost any budget.

3D Printer Buying GuideThis guide focuses on the available 3d printing technologies, or in layman's terms, types of 3D printers. Below find a list of the most common technologies used in 3D printing today:

The seven different types of 3D printers

  • Fused deposition modeling (FDM)
  • Stereolithography(SLA)
  • Digital Light Processing(DLP)
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
  • Selective laser melting (SLM)
  • Laminated object manufacturing (LOM)
  • Digital Beam Melting (EBM)
  • Fused deposition modeling (FDM)

FDM 3D Printers

FDM technology is currently the most popular 3D printing technology used in affordable 3D printers.  

This technology was originally developed in the 1980s. With the assistance of FDM, you can print not just operational prototypes, but also ready-for-use products such as parts, plastic gears and much more.

FDM is the only 3D printing technology which uses high quality thermoplastics, so items printed have excellent mechanical, thermal and chemical attributes.

3D printers which use FDM Technology construct objects layer by layer from the very bottom up by heating and extruding thermoplastic filament. Similiar to how a hot glue gun works.  It pushed the filament thru a heated nozzle which squirts out the liquid like material into layers which quickly cools and sticks to the layer below.

Specialized programs or Slicers cut CAD models into layers and computes the manner printer's extruder would assemble each layer.  Most of the maker 3D printers come with a free slicer program and there are many available for download.

Then objects may also be painted, plated or even hammered afterward. FDM technology is widely spread today, and used in industries such as automobile manufacturers, food producers, and toy manufacturers.

We can use many different types of thermoplastics with FDM printers.

The most common of these are:

  • ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)
  • PLA(Polylactic Acid) plastic
  • Wood Filaments

Stereolithography (SLA)

SLA is a 3d printing method which could be used to execute your projects that involve the 3D printing of items. SLA printing machines do not function like normal desktop printers that extrude some quantity of ink to the surface. SLA 3D printers operate with an excess of liquid plastic that after a while hardens and forms to a solid object.

Parts printed by stereolithography 3D printers usually have smooth surfaces, but its quality depends on the quality of SLA printer used.  After the plastic hardens a stage of the printer drops down in the tank a fraction of a millimeter and laser forms another layer until printing is finished. After all, layers are printed, the item has to be rinsed using a solvent and then put in an ultraviolet oven to complete processing.

Digital Light Processing(DLP)

DLP is another 3D Printing process quite much like stereolithography.  DLA functions with photopolymers but requires an additional source of lighting. 3D printing amateurs frequently use more traditional sources of lights like arc lamps for DLP printing. DLP also includes a LCD (liquid crystal display) panel, which gets applied to the entire surface of the 3D printed layer during a single run of the DLP procedure. The substance used for printing is a liquid plastic resin that's set in a transparent resin container.

The resin hardens quickly when exposed to bright light.  The printing speed for DLP is the advantage where a layer of hardened material can be produced with this kind of printer in few seconds. 

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

SLS is a technique that uses a laser as power supply to form strong 3D printed objects. SLS uses powdered material in the vat rather than liquid resin in a cube. SLS does not have to use some other support structures as the object being printed is surrounded by unsintered powder.

The material used for printing  can range from nylon, glass and ceramics to some metals such as aluminum, silver or steel.

Due to large selection of materials which may be used with this sort of 3d printer that the technology is quite popular for 3D printing customized goods.

SLS is more dispersed among manufactures instead of 3D amateurs at home as this technology requires using high-powered lasers, resulting in these printers being rather expensive. However there are quite a few startups working on cheap SLS printing machines. 

SLM, LOM and EBM 3D Printers

The last three types of 3D printing technologies are Selective laser melting (SLM), Laminated object manufacturing (LOM)  and Digital Beam Melting (EBM). Through the last two decades, these technologies have went away.  If you are considering purchasing a used machine using this technology – you should research available parts and consumables needed for these machines to ensure you can get replacements.