3d printer types

The Ultimate Guide: 3D Printer Technology Types

Table of Contents

What Is This Guide For?

We are upon the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This revolution is known as the automation of manufacturing and industrial practices. The world is blending the physical realm with the digital realm and we are making breakthroughs in technology at an exponential rate.

One way we are blending those 2 worlds is through 3d printers. We design our models through software and create it via our printer. We also use the cloud to get designs from others and print it via our 3d printers.

A big advantage 3d printers have over traditional manufacturing methods is efficiency. You can make a prototype with less time and money with a 3d printer. Efficiency like this transfers to other industries making 3d printers a major contributor to the Fourth Revolution. 

To understand the fourth revolution, we need to understand a pillar of the fourth revolution, 3d printers. And, to understand 3d printers, we need to understand the different 3d printer technology types out there.

What Is 3D Printing?

3d printing creates physical models taken from software and makes them three dimensional. 

It uses software called a slicer to convert instructions into prints. The different way 3d printers work is what this guide is all about.

There are different 3d printer types. No matter what printer you choose, there are some similarities between them. One similarity is the need for additive material. The most common materials amongst them are ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), PLA (Polylactic Acid), and PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate). 

To print three-dimensional parts, the printer adds these materials layer by layer until one part is completed. Some models need support parts which require multiple prints to print for completion while others can print the whole model in one go without support parts.

What Are The Different 3D Printer Components?

Let’s get into the design of a 3d printer. 

There are different types of designs for 3d printers, but all of them have these main components in common:

1. Build Area

2. Heated Bed

3. Print Bed Surface

4. Hot End

5. Nozzle

6. Extruder

7. Cooling Fan

8. LCD display

Build Area

The build area is the place where models get built. 

The more expensive your printer, the bigger this area is. When looking at build areas, there’s an important distinction to make. Don’t confuse the labeled build area and actual build area. Do some research on what people actually build with their 3d printer. This will give you an idea on how big the actual build area is. Another factor to keep in mind is the maximum print size. 

Looking at maximum print size and build area lets you know the limit on what you can print. That’s why it’s important to know what you’ll be printing.

There are different build area shapes too. You’ll see both rectangle and hexagonal print areas. The design of the build area doesn’t matter much. All that matters is how big the actual build area is.

Build Area

Heated Bed

We have to get the filament material warm if we’re going to have the model look right. The key to this is a heated bed. The responsibility of the heated bed is to keep the plastic warm to prevent warping. It also makes sure the layers stick together.

Print Bed Surface

There are different types of bed surfaces to look at in the 3d printer world. And, believe it or not, they’re pretty important. Not just in size, but in how the material interacts with it.

The main use of a print bed is to make sure the model can print safely. Another responsibility is to make sure the model sticks on it firmly while printing. 

Here’s a list of the different types of print beds:

  • Anycubic Ultrabase
  • Polypropylene
  • Easy-Peelzy
  • BuildTak
  • BuildTak FlexPlate System
  • LayerLock Build Surfaces
  • Gecko EZ-Stik Build Surfaces

Anycubic Ultrabase

The Anycubic Ultrabase is good. It’s made out of glass and is convenient for users. And, the reason I say it’s convenient is because of 2 reasons. 

The first is it sticks to the model while it’s hot, and the other reason is it’s easy to grab when the model is done. Print beds that make it hard to grab the model are damaged easily.

Polypropylene

Polypropylene offers the same advantages as the Anycubic Ultrabase. They cling easily to the model using adhesive, and release easily when it’s time to get the model. 

One advantage polypropylene has over the Ultrabase is durability. It’s durable relative to its cost. One thing to worry about is the scratches. The surface of the polypropylene looks like glass, but it’s not as flat as glass. There are times where the sheets curl up or warp over time.

Easy-Peelzy

The Easy-Peelzy is similar to the polypropylene in that it’s easily replaceable. All you have to do is peel the build surface off, and peel it off again once you’re finished with the other one.

The Easy-Peelzy has 2 parts to it. There’s the base layer and a top layer. The top layer has a polymer sticker which makes it easy to stick with PLA filaments and the base layer sticks to your existing 3d printer bed. 

One problem with the Easy-Peelzy is the built-in adhesive on the flexible sheet. Similar to polypropylene, it wears out with use. You’ll have to replace this consistently if you use your 3d printer a lot.

BuildTak

BuildTak has multiple products in the print bed line. But, right now, I’ll be focusing on the original print bed product. This print bed surface is able to work with multiple materials. Some of those materials include PLA, ABS, wood, and more.

A few advantages BuildTak provides is the ease of installation. Another advantage BuildTak provides is the ability to protect the build plate. Unlike some of the other print beds on this list, you can reuse this for a lot of models. You don’t even have to worry about the different filaments. 

The ability for it to cling and remove models easily contributes to its longevity. If you’re looking for a print bed that has heat resistance and durability, this is a quality investment. 

If you go on their website, you’ll see the advantages they promote.

BuildTak FlexPlate System

The FlexPlate is great for taking models out and popping them right off. To explain, you have to understand the FlexPlate’s function. The FlexPlate can convert to a removable print bed.

For example, when you’re model is done, instead of grabbing the model, you can grab the FlexPlate, and bend it until the model comes off. What’s cool about the FlexPlate is it can fit different 3d printers. It doesn’t have to be the same brand of printer, or same size.

All you have to do to make sure the FlexPlate fits your printer is install the magnetic base. Install that on top of your current print bed and add a BuildTak sheet and you’re good to go.

LayerLock Build Surfaces

The build surface of a LayerLock bed makes it easy to print models warp-free. Typically, nylon material is susceptible to warping, but not with LayerLock.

In addition, you can print standard filaments such as PLA and PETG without warping too. What helps print these models without warping is the coated PEI plates.

LayerLock’s powder coated PEI build plate is resistant to scratches. It doesn’t damage easily and doesn’t require additional installation of adhesives.

Gecko EZ-Stik Build Surfaces

Gecko EZ-Stik is another great alternative. GeckoTek as a company specializes with hot, cold, and magnetic base surfaces. It works with a variety of filaments. You have your standard filaments like ABS and PLA, then you have nylon and more.

Some advantages you get with this bad boy is models sticking fast. There’s a caveat though. You have to level the printer for it to print quickly.

Other advantages include the ease of installation, and it’s cheap. Although it’s cheap, it’s not like the BuildTak FlexPlate where you can use it for a while. You might have to replace it consistently depending on your use.

Another disadvantage worth mentioning is finding the right settings. You might have to fiddle with the temperature settings and level before you can use this.

Hot End

The hot end has 2 responsibilities.

The first is to melt the filament so it goes through the extruder. And, the second is to maintain a consistent temperature to create successful models. When looking at hot ends, there are components consistently found in them. One of them is the nozzle which I’ll talk about later.

Other components are the heater block and heat cartridge. The heater block is responsible for holding the thermistor and heater cartridge together. All the while the heater cartridge is responsible for heating up the hot end.

What keeps the temperature in check is the thermistor. This component checks the temperature for the heath block. But, that’s not all the heat components. We also have the heat break and heat sink. The heat break connects the heat sink to the heat block. This tries to keep the filament in a molten state for as minimal time possible.

There’s also the heat sink. It’s responsibility is to cool the cool area of the heat break. There are a lot of components so the printer can get overheated. Having a heat sink is necessary.

This next component isn’t as common as the others. What I’m talking about is the teflon liner. It acts like the chaperone guiding the filament all the way to the nozzle. A teflon liner makes specific filaments easy to print, but it also limits temperatures you can print at.

Nozzle

Both the hot end and nozzle are connected. The nozzle is the last part before the plastic comes out. The most important part about the nozzle is the size when it comes to your prints. Different sizes affect the quality of the print.

For example, smaller nozzles mean more precision. Smaller nozzles create smaller layer height. The thinner the layers, the more detailed your models will be. Smaller nozzles also create a stronger foundation. Thinly placed layers stick together better since their measurements make them precise making it easy to stack on each other. But, there’s also advantages with bigger nozzles.

Bigger nozzles provide a good foundation in another way. Instead of the base, I’m talking about the actual first layer you make. Thicker pieces cover more surface area of the print bed. Another advantage with bigger nozzles is faster printing, Bigger nozzles don’t have to be as precise which means it can go faster.

The biggest advantage with bigger nozzles is reliability. Bigger filaments mean there’s more room for error. Smaller nozzles means the print has to be exact. A bigger nozzle doesn’t have to be rigid. You can have some variation for the layer, and the whole model will be fine.

Smaller nozzles also cause over-extrusion and jamming. It’s possible your filament gets stuck in the nozzle which is annoying. Over-extrusion happens when the 3d printer brings too much material. This affects the whole model and ruins them. Specific examples of over-extrusion are blobs and dimensional inaccuracy.

nozzle

Extruder

The process of extrusion is taking a material (plastic, metal, etc.), and pushing it through all the way to the nozzle and through the die.

The die is important because it shapes the material coming out. You can think of an extruder as the piece that takes the whole extrusion process.

It heats up the material and brings it all the way through the die.

Extruder

Cooling Fan

This one is self-explanatory. But, for those wondering, a cooling fan brings the temperature down to prevent overheating.

Cooling fans have more responsibility than that though. You’re probably thinking what’s the need for a cooling fan when there’s a heat sink to cool the printer down, but your printer uses more energy depending on the material you’re using. The more energy it uses, the more heat it generates.

Some material is harder to break down than others which makes your printer work harder. Fans are also used to cool plastic filaments as soon as it exits the nozzle. This helps with warping, blobs, and more. Cooling plastic is designed to not have the plastic curl because that’s its tendency.

Other times, a fan can backfire when cooling specific materials. ABS is the one you need to avoid cooling. If you do, then you’ll warp it.

When a printer has an extrusion system working overtime, you’ll need 2 fans. This is the only time you’ll need 2. Cooling fans aren’t seen as a necessity though. Having a fan depends on the material you’re using, and the printer you’re using.

Cooling fan

LCD Display

The display is where you can adjust settings. It might be the first place you use to level the bed if you’re not manually leveling it. More importantly, the display is used to display important information. This includes temperature for your print bed and nozzle. It also includes the power your fan is using.

Regarding printing, you’ll know how long it has been since you started printing, and how long the model is going to take overall. Other useful things you should be able to do is reset your printer, or cancel a print if you wanted. The display is pretty similar to a regular printer in terms of functionality.

If you’re a beginner, look at getting yourself a touchscreen display.

LCD Display

The Benefits Of 3D Printing

I believe 3d printers will be in all households in the near future. And, the reason why is because how much value it provides.

There are 5 benefits when talking about 3d printing. Those 5 are:

  • Practicality
  • Cost
  • Speed
  • Customization
  • Innovation

Practicality

I just wrote a post on 100 useful things.

a 3d printer can make. If you look at that list, you’ll see there are products ranging from do-it-yourself tools to robotic arms.

Hopefully, in the near future, 3d printers can be cheaper and bigger so we can build more types of products.

Cost

Some people think 3d printers are still expensive (some of them are). But, you can get a low-budget one for hundreds of dollars. You’ll be limited in some things, but overall, you can still make a variety of products.

Another way this product saves money is in the long run. Being able to print stuff that you need around the house saves you money. Think about what a 3d printer can make and some of the small stuff we buy. Some examples include bag clips, screwdriver racks, and more.

The amount of money you’ll save is in the thousands given a long enough time frame.

Speed

You need to change your mindset for this benefit. Overall, printing models can take hours. It’s faster to head to the store. The speed factor applies for people prototyping. Prototyping is manufacturing and designing a product.

The standard prototyping time frame can easily last weeks. And, for anyone who has made something knows the first version is never the best.

After you make iterations, you’ll have to wait longer which can turn into months. All of this time includes designing, manufacturing, and improving. Sometimes it’ll even take a year. With a 3d printer, you can get through that process in your house and have something in days if not quicker. You don’t have to wait for shipping and outsourcing of complex designs. 

Customization

Imagine buying scissors that don’t fit you. They’re just too tight. You can print yourself a model in hours that fit you perfectly. Another example which we’ll cover in-depth later is medical equipment.

A surgeon who has difficulty using a specific scalpel can use a 3d printer that fits that surgeon better. And, having a 3d printer do it to print the specific size is worth it since, well, a surgeon is trying to make someone’s life better.

Innovation

Besides customization, you can innovate something unique. If you have the electronic skills, you can make even more products. Some of those include robots, lights, and more.

Where Are 3D Printers Used?

  • Medical
  • Engineering
  • Education
  • Fashion
  • Entertainment
  • Technology
  • Do-it-yourself tools

Medical

I briefly mentioned medical products a 3d printer can make for the medical field. A couple medical related products a 3d printer can make are a model fetus and organs. Hopefully, doctors can soon print organs on demand when patients need it.

 

The image below was used for the Coronavirus pandemic.

Engineering

The beautiful part about being able to print engineering items is it lets you make more products. Doing my research, I believe 3D printers might be made specifically for engineers to have fun. Look at all the things it can do.

Let’s say you make a ruler. Printing a ruler helps you make other products by setting up their measurements for your next print. You can also make a center finder to check if certain parts are balanced. There are tons of things you can make with a 3d printer.

3D printers give you the ability to be a full-fledged creator.

Education

3d printers are great for educational purposes too. Imagine all those concepts you didn’t understand. You could make a 3D version of it to get a better understanding.

One example is molecules in chemistry. Let’s say I didn’t understand it. I could just use a 3d printer to make a physical copy and play around with it. Doing this will help engrain what a molecule is actually like.

It also promotes creativity in the classroom. Students can design something and print it out via the 3d printer. Remember how I said you can make something unique with a 3d printer? Well, imagine when a student makes something cool. 

The interest in the subject they made the print model for will skyrocket if the product they make works.

Fashion

There’s a list of fashion products you can make with 3d printers. If you’re a fashion designer, then you can use 3d printers for prototyping a design concept you have. One fashion item you can start with is 3d printed fashion accessories. For example, you can make a button for a specific piece of clothing, or add something unique to it.

The best part about accessories is they’re fast to print. It shouldn’t take days like bigger models. Another fashion product that’s appealing are bikinis. Yes, it might seem weird to say you’ve printed out your own bikini right now, but if you look at how much money you can save, people might start printing one right now.

The best part about printing clothes is it’s eco-friendly. This is called “sustainable fashion”. 3D printers allow you to print only what you want and lets you control the manufacturing process.

What’s even better is 3d material is recyclable which means you can use it for future clothing. The ability to customize clothing while preserving the environment is a win-win.

Entertainment

There are a lot of ways you can entertain yourself.

One example I’ve used in my recent post is toys. If you have children, you can print small toys for them. I’ve seen people make “Groot” which is a fictional character from “Guardians of the Galaxy”. One thing I would make are Monopoly pieces because I always lose my favorite pieces.

Using a 3d printer to print Christmas toys is another good way to use a 3d printer. You save money in the long run and you can customize the toy to whoever you’re giving it to.

Technology

Tech products come with accessories. A quick example is the iPhone. You get it and guess what comes with it, a charger. I’ve lost mine a couple of times on vacation and it would’ve been nice to replace it without spending. This is where a 3d printer comes in handy.

You can use it to replace specific accessories. Besides accessories, you can use a 3d printer for parts that are damaged. Imagine if your headphones didn’t have the band that wraps around your head. You wouldn’t be able to use it right?

Well, a 3d printer can fix that for you. Whether you’re printing tech accessories or replacing parts, there’s a lot of directions you can go into.

Do-It-Yourself Tools

Creators, builders, and makers will love the 3d printer because it lets you create tools to help you create more products. 

There will be times when you’ll need extra parts or skills to complete them though. But, a 3d printer can build the design at least. I’ve seen 3d printers make hand-screw clamps, drills, and wrenches. There are a lot of tools you can make.

How To Choose Your 3D Printing Technology

There are different factors to consider when deciding what 3d printing technology to pick. The 3 are:

  • Cost
  • Speed 
  • Application

Cost

The first factor is easily the cost. It’s important to understand you get what you pay for. This doesn’t take away from low-budget 3d printers though. It’s just important to note that expensive 3d printers come with more features.

The cost isn’t indicative of print quality though. You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck with a cheaper printer. It’s important that new 3d printer users look into cheaper printers too as you’ll understand if 3d printers are something that interests you.

Speed

I wanted you to look at cost first because cost and speed have a positive correlation. The more money you can spend, the faster your printer is. For users, speed is something that you need to take into account. You don’t want to be spending hours waiting on a miniature product.

Application

The final factor is application. What are you going to print? This is important because it’ll lead you in the right direction. It helps you determine what type of technology you need, what materials you need, and more. Out of all 3, this is the most important factor to take into account.

3D Printer Types

  • Material extrusion
  • VAT Polymerization
  • Material Jetting
  • Powder bed fusion
  • Binder jetting

Material Extrusion

Material extrusion is the process of taking plastic and heating it. Then, once it’s heated, the printer will deliver it layer by layer.

Here are some advantages of material extrusion:

  • Variety of print material you can use
  • Easy-to-use
  • Low costs
  • Safe  

Here are some disadvantages of material extrusion:

  • Support parts needed
  • Longer print times
  • Warping
 

The printers and materials are cheap overall. The variety of material FDM can use is another reason why it’s attractive. You can use ABS, PLA, ULTEM, and more. The similarity between all these materials is the durability. Most of them are plastic which means it’s strong relative to its price.

Plastic like this can be formed into what you want using high temperature. The difference is when plastic like this melts, it maintains its strength. Having durability allows you to make a variety of products.

The process for FDM makes it easy for kids to use too. If schools were to place a 3d printer for kids, their best bet is to bring a printer that uses FDM. 

Fused Deposition Modeling

The most common 3d printing technology which uses this is fused deposition modeling (FDM).

FDM takes plastic material like PLA or ABS and takes them through an extrusion nozzle. The nozzle then “draws” the design moving horizontally and vertically stacking layer by layer.

Fused deposition modeling is used the most because of 4 factors:

1. Reliability

2. Simplicity

3. Affordability

4. Application

 

These 4 factors are the reason why it has been used in different sectors. You’ll see FDM in academics and industry. FDM is commonly used for prototyping. It’s used for early product development since it has a short development time.

FDM is also used to produce end-use parts. Remember when I was talking about your headphones needing the band around it, that’s the example of an end-use part.

3d printers can produce end parts good enough to plug in like nothing happened. This also applies to the product development stage.

If you have an idea for the last part to a product, you can use a 3d printer to print it out and integrate it yourself. A lot of the low-budget printers that are durable and easy-to-use use fused deposition modeling.

VAT Polymerization

VAT polymerization is a printing process that uses a light to cure photopolymer

I’ll be talking about 4 different 3d printing technologies relating to vat polymerization. Those 4 are stereolithography (SLA), masked stereolithography (MSLA), digital light processing (DLP), and liquid crystal display (LCD).

I’ll show you the differences between those 4 after discussing the advantages and disadvantages of this printing process.

Here are some advantages of vat polymerization:

  • Accuracy
  • Flexible printing set up
  • Build area

Here are some disadvantages of vat polymerization:

  • Model strength
  • Print time
  • Limited use of materials

VAT polymerization has good precision because of the size of its laser. The laser it uses focuses on more detail creating quality models. Although good quality is the end goal, it comes at a price. That price is print time. Getting a highly-detailed model means print speed is slower. Each layer takes more time to develop.

The light source this printing process uses derives from UV radiation. This versatility with UV radiation contributes to a flexible printing setup. Unlike FDM, VAT polymerization cures resin by moving downward building layers on layers.

Some downsides to this printing process is the model strength and variety of material. These 2 cons go hand in hand.

Since you can only use resin material, the strength of each product you make isn’t as durable. Resin isn’t as reliable as metal or plastic, but you can still make interesting models. Another consequence of being able to only use resin is it limits your creativity.

Stereolithography

SLA works by using a laser to harden resin. The laser is controlled by a computer-controlled mirror. What you don’t know is the laser is pointed up. It’s not pointing down to design the models. The liquid is contained in a dedicated area in a printer where the laser shapes them up into the desired design. The whole process converts the liquid resin into designed plastic layer-by-layer until the model is finished. Resin that’s not used remains in the vat which can be reused for future prints.

An advantage with SLA is its accuracy. It’s one of the most precise 3d printing technologies compared to the rest. A downside to SLA is you’re limited to resin which limits your creativity. Being able to print using resin affects durability also. 

Resin is known for its fragility which means it’s not the most practical for products like household items. Some see it as a worthy tradeoff though since prints are accurate and efficient.

SLA is known for a smooth print surface which some printing technology don’t provide. SLA is also known for creating prototypes that are highly detailed. It’s popular for prototypes because it provides the tightest dimensional tolerances. In other words, it’s really precise. With SLA, you don’t have to sacrifice your build area for precision. SLA gives you both.

Of course, there are disadvantages though. In general, if you have great precision, you sacrifice print time. And, SLA is no exception. The great precision doesn’t mean it’s perfect though. All 3d printing technology isn’t perfect when creating models. There are too many factors to consider.

Some examples of those flaws for SLA are evident when you see overhangs. A good way to test for this is to have your printer do a standard print like “3DBenchy”.

 

Some prints might need support structure too which can be a downside. Support structure means more money to spend and more time printing. Overall, SLA technology is still a great option and it’s one of the most popular ones out there.

Masked Stereolithography

The next version of stereolithography takes the projector away and uses an LCD in combination with an LED light to print models. This version is called the masked stereolithography.

What happens is the LCD displays the shape by creating a “shadow” of the desired design. It does so by turning off pixels where the resin needs curing. Everywhere else, the pixels are on.

The masked SLA process is quicker than the regular SLA process. It covers the whole design similar to the DLP and LCD technologies.

Some of the disadvantages to take note of are the durability and design roadblocks. The LCD itself isn’t durable. You don’t just have a laser, but a crystal display and an LED light separated by a thin sheet of FEP film. For those who don’t know, FEP film is a transparent foil attached to the resin tank. It’s an essential part for a SLA printer to make successful models.

The problem with FEP film is the durability. Once that breaks, the resin is affected.

Furthermore, the design of the printer makes it hard to capture curves because of the pixel technology. The printer tries to approximate the curves to get as close as possible to the design. This is where having a laser comes in handy.

Although you might not notice a difference, it’s important to know this because there might be some differences between your design and the actual model. It’s more likely to happen for complex designs though.

FEP film
FEP film

Digital Light Processing

Digital light processing (DLP) is similar to SLA with some differences. 

One of the commonalities between them is both of them use resin. But, the way DLP cures resin is different.

DLP uses a light source called a “digital light projector screen” to cure the resin. This digital projector screen flashes an image of a layer across the printer curing every angle of the resin.

To do this the printer has to get the light reflected across the whole area. This printer uses what is called a “Digital Micromirror Device”, also known as DMD. DMD contains small mirrors in a semiconductor chip and this is where it directs the light to where it needs to go. Each layer is made up of square pixels which gives the model its three-dimensional look.

The DLP advantages and disadvantages share a lot in common with SLA. A couple advantages that are the same is the precision and print quality. Since both printer technologies use the same material, models come out with smooth surfaces. The light source technology allows it to also be accurate with its layering.

Unlike SLA though, you get a faster printer with DLP. The light source technology lets you hit all angles of resin curing it simultaneously. Similar to SLA, you’ll deal with durability issues. Resin material is known to break or crack over time. 

Resin is also more expensive than other filaments. For those on a budget, you might want to go with FDM as it not only saves money, it’s beginner-friendly.

Liquid Crystal Display

LCD technology is one of the newer print technologies. It’s hard to know what LCD really is because its name is interchangeable. It’s also known as DUP, or LCD shadow masking, and more.

It uses a fluid crystal panel in combination with a lens and mirror. It’s similar to DLP in that it uses a light source, but that light source is a steel halogen light. Be careful with halogen lamps. They’re not like LED lights. They get hotter than normal bulbs which makes them a fire hazard.

LCD printers differ from DLP printers in that they use an LCD screen to shine light instead of a projector. LCD printers bring light in but have a barrier that blocks the light in. This barrier helps cure all the resin at once. The barrier idea might make it seem like the printer is less accurate, but that’s not the case.

LCD printers maintain a high degree of accuracy. It can design up to the micron level which is similar to DLP technology.

This method is less expensive, but comes with some disadvantages. Those downsides include less durability and print quality. LCD screens wear out faster than projectors. Some advantages that come with LCD printers are they’re more affordable and come in a more compact size.

Steel halogen lamp
Steel halogen light

Material Jetting

Material jetting is a print process using resin and pours them into a material container. The print head is a big part of this printing technology. Its responsibility is to jet hundreds of resin droplets similar to how a printer jets ink. After, UV light sources cure the resin until the layer is complete. This process continues until the print is done.

Material jetting is used a lot to create prototypes. You’ll see it in the dental and medical field. What makes it appealing is they can make models look realistic. Take organs for example. Print one out using material jetting and you’ll surprised by how real it looks.

Material jetting model
Material jetting model

Here are some advantages of material jetting:

  • Accuracy
  • Support structures
  • Full-color and uses multiple layers

Here are some disadvantages of material jetting:

  • Slow printing
  • Mechanical properties

Thanks to components like the fly-cutter (which I discuss below), material jetting is one of the most accurate 3d printer technologies. Material jet printers are also accurate for material deposition. Printed layers come with smooth surfaces because of the accurate material deposition.

The second advantage deals with support structures. Material jetting needs support structures like other printing processes, but the advantage is it doesn’t show. The final print doesn’t show any remnants because the supporting material dissolves easily.

The final advantage is the ability to print parts that use a variety of materials and color. I view this as an advantage because there are some products you don’t want looking bland.

3d printing is still in the early stages and saying you printed your clothes will have people confused or curious. Popping out with 3d printed products that actually look nice will help (in my opinion) the 3d printer movement.

What’s going to encourage the 3d printer trend is being able to use more color and more parts. What enables material jetting to do so is the multiple nozzles it uses. One nozzle can print one color with a specific material while the other nozzle uses another color and material.

This process also allows a variety of material properties. You can get prints that are flexible and translucent. Or, you can get prints that are stiff and opaque. This brings us to the different types of tech this printer uses.

There are 3 methods for depositing liquid material:

  1. Drop-on-demand (DOD)
  2. Nanoparticle
  3. Polyjet
Material Jetting

Drop-On-Demand

Drop On Demand has 2 print jets for the process. The first brings the material, and the other dissolves the support material. What’s unique about DOD printers is the fly-cutter. It uses the fly-cutter to scan the print bed to make sure the layers are flat. 

DOD is best known for its great surfaces and versatility with print materials. The downside of this technology is it’s not the most cost-efficient, and it’s not durable. DOD printers are commonly used for wax-like objects. One of the reasons why is wax objects need accurate layers and DOD does that. If you’re looking to print wax models, then DOD is for you.

Nanoparticle

It all starts with loading the printer with a cartridge. This cartridge contains the liquid material which is deposited by droplets.

To get the liquid into droplet form, the temperatures inside the printer have to be high. This causes the liquid to evaporate and leave stuff from the liquid in the cartridge.

Nanoparticle 3d printing offers multiple advantages.

The first is you can use metal to print. Those metals include silver and copper. Being able to use metal means you can print different types of products too. Some of those products can be chargers or robots since metal is conducive to electricity.

PolyJet

PolyJet is patented by Objet.

This is another printing technology that brings thin layers. Once the layers hits the build area, then the UV light comes in to solidify it. Processing very thin layers to the build area and hitting them with the UV light for each layer produces a final product that’s ready for use once it’s done.

Some of the benefits of polyjet printing is the smooth surfaces, precision, and material versatility.

Powder Bed Fusion

Powder bed fusion is the printing process of melting metallic powder bed.

It uses a high-power source to melt the powder onto the print bed. A couple of ways it melts the powder is through lasers or a thermal print head.

Here are some advantages of powder bed fusion:

  • Resolution
  • Support
  • Material efficiency
  • Uses a variety of material

Here are some disadvantages of powder bed fusion:

  • Print time
  • Structural properties
  • High power usage
  • Surface
 

Powder bed fusion produces great models. The process itself is the reason why. Similar to material jetting where it goes layer-by-layer, powder bed fusion goes through each layer. This produces models that have quality resolution.

Another advantage with powder bed fusion is that they don’t need support structure. This means you can print complex designs. In addition, you can also save on material as you don’t need to use it on support. You also have the option of using different material. Some of the materials you can use are glass, plastics, ceramics, metals, and more. This means you can print everything from electric components to mini figurines. 

The powder bed fusion printing process uses a lot of power. If you plan to get a printer that uses this process, then find its own dedicated area. Make sure it has its own outlets as you don’t want it overheating other devices.

Another thing to consider is the print time. It takes a long time to print something. This is because you have to preheat the powder, let the vacuum do its thing, and make sure it cools off. 

Some other worries of this type of printing are the structural properties. You have to make sure the model holds up well when done. Test it out right away if you printed a product that is meant to help you with something.

It’s also important to test the surface. Powder isn’t strong by itself. It’s made stronger through multiple layers. Even when you make the final print though, look at how it holds up by itself.

Powder Bed Fusion

Selective Laser Sintering

Selective laser sintering, also known as SLS uses different materials like plastic, glass, ceramics, and more.

SLS uses a laser controlled by a computer to determine what parts to print. The laser heats the powder below its boiling point to get to its sintering point. 

This fuses the powder particles into a solid form. Once it’s in solid form, the machine repeats the process while stacking layers together until the model is done.

Selective Laser Melting

Selective laser melting (SLM) melts metals. 

Printers that use this technology have a chamber filled with metal powder. SLM technology uses a melt pool and fuses the unmelted powder together.

A laser goes through the metal powder by melting it and distributing it through the nozzle layer-by-layer until the product is done.

SLM technology is used for a lot of helpful products. It’s able to produce orthopedic parts which means patients can get bone implants if needed. The ability to customize the size of the implant on demand is what separates this technology from regular prosthetics.

Electron Beam Melting

EBM, or electron beam melting is very similar to all the other laser technology we just went through.

It uses metal powder and is melted using an electron beam. The melted powder is then put into thin layers which are stacked upon one another. The electron beam sounds pretty cool, and researching the process, it is.

Basically, the electron beam is an electron gun which extracts free electrons from a tungsten filament and brings them towards the powdered raw material. This only works for metals though. This process heats the metal in a way which is fast, but stable.

An advantage of EBM is its faster than laser sintering or melting. And, the reason why is it can heat multiple places at the same time. Another advantage is it doesn’t need structural support.

Some of its downsides include only being able to use metals, and limited use. EBM machines aren’t used as much because of the exclusivity to metal. You won’t find as many EBM machines as laser machines.

Binder Jetting

Binder jetting uses a liquid binder to combine with powder particles layer by layer similar to these other processes.

This printing process puts droplets of binder onto thin layers of powder. A difference between this and other processes is the post-production process.

 

You need to do this to make sure the part is solid. The post-production process includes 4 steps:

  1. Curing
  2. Sintering
  3. Infiltration
  4. Finishing

Every part of this process is aimed to strengthen the printing parts.

Curing

Curing is taking a part and heating it at high temperatures to solidify it.

Sintering

The curing part will make your part strong enough to stand on its own. The sintering part fills in any weak spots. You reduce this by sintering and infiltration which I’ll talk about below. The sintering process takes your part and places it in a heated area.

The part is then placed in that high temperature area for roughly a day or two to make sure the material is tight. It’s important to plan for this from the beginning though. Sintering can cause your parts to shrink if you’re not careful.

Infiltration

Infiltration’s mission is similar to sintering. Its aim is to fill in the voids. You do this by using bronze and applying it in the open parts if you’re using metal material.

Finishing

This part isn’t required, but it makes your piece nicer. People have used paint or other metal to add decorations to their model. It’s up to you on how you want to make it look.

This part isn’t required, but it makes your piece nicer. People have used paint or other metal to add decorations to their model. It’s up to you on how you want to make it look.

Let’s focus on the advantages and disadvantages of binder jetting now.

Here are some advantages of binder jetting:

  • Uses a variety of material
  • Economical
  • Support isn’t required
  • No warping/shrinking
  • Full color 3D printing

Here are some disadvantages of binder jetting:

  • Print time
  • Model strength

One of the main appeals of binder jetting is the different type of material you can use. You’re able to use metal, ceramics, and sand. The beautiful part of this is you can reuse these parts if they’re not used. Not only will you be saving money, you’ll be saving resources in the long run.

Another way you’ll save money is not having to use supports. This means you need less material to make models unlike other printing processes. The overall process for binder jetting makes it so you don’t experience warping or shrinking. The only way you’ll experience shrinking is if you’re not careful of the post-process. 

Not having to worry about warping is great for scaling product design. You don’t have to plan your way around it. One of the most appealing features of binder jetting is full color 3d printing. Don’t confuse multi color printing with full color printing. Multi color printing means you can print using a variety of colors. Full color printing means you can print the whole spectrum of colors. You can mix RGB and CMYK colors to get even a small change in color. 

The downside of binder jetting is the overall print time. If it wasn’t for the post-process, it would be on par with other printing processes as far as overall time, but that isn’t the case.

You also have the issue of model strength. A lot of how strong a model is depends on you. Usually, the printer defines how strong a model is. Since you have to manually strengthen it yourself, model strength varies.

Sand Binder Jetting

Sand binder jetting is appealing because it’s cost effective while being able to make exceptional models.

A disadvantage with binder jetting is the print time. With sand binder jetting, you don’t have to worry about the post-process. 

Sand binding is useful for creating full color products or different molds. You can also try using it for prototypes, but not so much for end-use parts because I’m not sure how it’ll hold up compared to metal binding.

Metal Binder Jetting

Metal binding allows you to use a variety of different metals. This includes steel, copper, titanium, and more.

Similar to sand binding, you can create great prints at a relatively low price. You also have different material to create prints with. The downside is the post process. 

Metal binder jetting is used for multiple applications. You can print prototypes or create end-use parts for current products.

What Printer Technology Works For You?

Each printing technology has its own advantages and disadvantages. There will be situations where you might have to decide between speed and precision. For beginners, I recommend fused deposition modeling (FDM) as it’s beginner-friendly, and you can find some that are low budget.

Other printer types can be used for more specific projects. One example is material jetting printers. They’re perfect for creating realistic models like human organs because of the combination between its material and technology.

Whichever printer type you go with, make sure you understand the pros and cons. In addition, please remember to do research on the actual build area. Whatever’s on the box isn’t the actual build size.

Hopefully, I gave you enough information to make a decision. Please let me know if something needs changing in this post. I’ll be more than happy to fix it!

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