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3D Printing Types: What are the Different 3D Printing Technologies?

In the last decade, 3D printing technology has profoundly reshaped the landscape of manufacturing and prototyping. This innovative process, transcending traditional boundaries, has unlocked new possibilities in design and production. From intricate components in aerospace to custom biomedical implants, different 3D printing types stand as a testament to human ingenuity, offering unparalleled flexibility and precision.

This guide by the experts at Raise3D examines the most popular 3D printing types and their applications, and explains how you can benefit from applying 3D printing technology in your manudacturing business.

What Exactly Is 3D Printing?

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a process where objects are created by depositing materials, layer by layer, based on digital models. This technique has revolutionized traditional manufacturing, offering a leap in customization, speed, and material efficiency.

What are the Main 3D Printing Types and Technologies?

3D printing consists of a diverse array of methods, each with strengths and applications. This section delves into the various types of 3D printing, unraveling their complexities and showcasing their unique capabilities.

Stereolithography (SLA)

Stereolithography, commonly known as SLA, is a pioneering 3D printing technique. It works by curing photopolymer resin layer by layer using ultraviolet (UV) lasers. This method is renowned for its precision and ability to produce objects with fine details and smooth surface finishes.

Supported Materials

  • Photopolymer resin
  • Composite blends

A diverse range of photopolymer resins and composite blends are compatible with SLA, each tailored for specific properties like strength, flexibility, and transparency.

Common Applications

  • Dental and medical models
  • High-detail prototypes

SLA finds its niche in industries demanding high precision and detail, such as dental and medical modeling, and in creating intricate prototypes.

Advantages

  • High-resolution detail
  • Smooth surface finish

The advantages of SLA lie in its exceptional resolution and the ability to achieve smooth surface finishes, ideal for complex models and prototypes.

Limitations

  • Limited material choice
  • Post-processing requirements

Despite its precision, SLA’s limitations include a relatively narrow selection of materials and the need for post-processing, such as washing and curing.

Dimensional Accuracy in mm

SLA printers offer a dimensional accuracy typically within ±0.1 mm, making them suitable for high-precision applications.

Print Speed

  • Average speed: 10-20 mm/h

SLA’s print speed, while not the fastest, is offset by its precision and quality, making it a preferred choice for detailed projects.

Layer Resolution

  • Resolution range: 25 to 100 microns

The layer resolution in SLA printing is adjustable, impacting the balance between surface finish and print time. Lower layer thickness results in finer details but increases printing time.

Post-Processing Requirements

SLA-printed objects often require rinsing in isopropyl alcohol and post-curing under UV light to achieve their final properties and strength.

Support Structures Requirements

SLA printing frequently necessitates support structures for overhangs and complex geometries. Operators must remove these post-printing.

Surface Finish Options

SLA is acclaimed for its smooth surface finishes, with options ranging from matte to high gloss, depending on the resin used and post-processing techniques.

Digital Light Processing (DLP)

Digital Light Processing (DLP), a technology closely related to stereolithography, stands out in 3D printing for its unique approach to object creation. Utilizing digital micromirror devices (DMD), DLP directs UV light onto a vat of photopolymer resin, curing it layer by layer. The precision and speed of the digital light process make it a standout choice for various applications.

Supported Materials

  • Standard resins
  • Castable resins
  • Flexible resins

DLP printers can handle a range of materials, including standard, castable, and flexible resins, each offering different properties for specific applications.

Common Applications

  • Jewelry design
  • Dental prosthetics
  • Engineering prototyping

DLP’s precision makes it ideal for industries like jewelry design and dental prosthetics, where detail and precision are paramount. It is also ideal for engineering prototyping for small, intricate parts.

Advantages

  • High-speed printing
  • Excellent resolution

The advantages of DLP include its rapid printing capabilities and excellent resolution, making it a go-to choice for detailed and time-sensitive projects.

Limitations

  • Limited material compatibility
  • Post-processing needs

While DLP excels in speed and resolution, it sometimes faces limitations in terms of material compatibility and often requires complicated post-processing steps. The Raise3D DF2 solution minimizes the complications of post-processing by creating a traceable, end-to-end, semi-automated workflow.

Dimensional Accuracy in mm

DLP printers boast a dimensional accuracy of ±0.05 mm, catering to high-precision tasks.

Print Speed

  • Speed: 15-35 mm/h

The print speed for DLP varies, but it generally offers faster production times compared to other 3D printing technologies, particularly for smaller and more intricate objects.

Layer Resolution

  • Layer thickness: 30-100 microns

The layer resolution in DLP printing, impacting detail and surface finish, can be finely tuned, allowing for a balance between speed and intricacy.

Post-Processing Requirements

Objects printed via DLP often require cleaning and curing, similar to SLA, to attain their final properties and appearance. The Raise3D DF2 Solution allows for a traceable workflow through the wash and cure process, reducing labor time and complications.

Support Structures Requirements

Like SLA, DLP also necessitates support structures for some designs, particularly those with overhangs or complex geometries.

Surface Finish Options

DLP printing is known for its smooth finishes, offering options from matte to glossy, depending on the resin and post-processing methods.

Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)

Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), a cornerstone in the 3D printing industry, operates on a relatively straightforward yet ingenious principle. This technology involves the melting and material extrusion of thermoplastic filaments through a heated nozzle, layer by layer, to construct a 3D object. The popularity of FFF stems from its accessibility, cost-effectiveness, and versatility, making it a favorite in both industrial and domestic settings.

Supported Materials [Add all Materials]
  • PLA (Polylactic Acid)
  • ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)
  • PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol)
  • TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane)

FDM printers can process various materials, each offering unique properties like durability, flexibility, and ease of use, catering to a broad spectrum of applications.

Common Applications
  • Prototyping
  • Educational models
  • Custom tools and parts

Due to its adaptability, FDM finds widespread use in creating prototypes, educational aids, and customized tools or parts across various industries.

Advantages
  • Material diversity
  • User-friendly operation
  • Cost efficiency

Key benefits of FDM include its broad material compatibility, ease of use, even for beginners, and cost-effectiveness, especially for small-scale production and prototyping.

Limitations
  • Lower resolution compared to SLA or DLP
  • Visible layer lines

While FDM is versatile, it may not match the resolution of technologies like SLA or DLP and often results in visible layer lines on the final product.

Dimensional Accuracy in mm

FDM printers typically maintain a dimensional accuracy of ±0.5 mm, sufficient for a range of practical applications but less precise compared to some resin-based methods.

Print Speed
  • Average speed: 40-100 mm/s

FDM’s print speed is among its strong suits, offering faster production times than resin-based printers. Faster rendering is especially beneficial for larger objects.

Layer Resolution
  • Range: 100-300 microns

The layer resolution in FDM, affecting the surface finish and detail, can be adjusted. Lower micron levels result in finer details but increase the print duration.

Post-Processing Requirements

Post-processing for FDM prints may include sanding, painting, or acetone vapor smoothing, especially to achieve a smooth surface.

Support Structures Requirements

FDM printing often requires support structures for overhangs or complex geometries, which are printed alongside the main object and removed afterward.

Surface Finish Options

The typical surface finish of FDM prints includes visible layer lines, usually minimized through post-processing techniques for a smoother appearance.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is a sophisticated additive manufacturing technology that fuses small particles of polymer, metal, or ceramic powders using a high-power laser. The process begins with a thin layer of powder spread across the build platform.

A laser then selectively sinters the powder, solidifying the material where the object is to be formed. This layer-by-layer approach allows SLS to produce parts with complex geometries and internal features that other methods struggle with.

Supported Materials
  • Nylon (Polyamide)
  • Polystyrene
  • Alumide (Aluminum-filled Nylon)
  • Flexible TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomers)

SLS is compatible with diverse materials, including various nylons and composites, offering flexibility in mechanical properties and applications.

Common Applications
  • Functional prototypes
  • Aerospace components
  • Custom medical devices

SLS excels in applications requiring complex designs and mechanical functionality, such as aerospace parts and bespoke medical devices.

Advantages
  • No need for support structures
  • High detail and complexity
  • Strong mechanical properties

The key strengths of SLS lie in its ability to produce parts without support structures, allowing for greater design freedom and complex geometries, along with durable mechanical properties.

Limitations
  • Limited color and surface finish options
  • Higher costs compared to FDM or SLA

While SLS offers considerable design flexibility, it falls short in color options and surface finishes and generally incurs higher costs than FDM or SLA.

Dimensional Accuracy in mm

SLS printers typically achieve a dimensional accuracy of ±0.3 mm, making them suitable for applications where precision is key.

Print Speed
  • Speed: 20-40 mm/h

SLS’s printing speed can vary, but it generally offers a balance of speed based on the complexity of designs.

Layer Resolution
  • Resolution range: 60-120 microns

The layer resolution in SLS affects the level of detail and surface finish. Finer resolutions result in smoother surfaces but require more time.

Post-Processing Requirements

Post-processing for SLS may include brushing off excess powder, sandblasting, or dyeing to achieve the desired aesthetic and functional properties.

Support Structures Requirements

One of the significant advantages of SLS is that it does not require support structures, even for complex and intricate designs.

Surface Finish Options

SLS typically results in a slightly grainy but uniform surface finish, which can be smoothed or colored post-production for specific needs.

Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)

Multi Jet Fusion, developed by HP, represents a significant leap in 3D printing technology. MJF operates by laying down a fine layer of powder material and then applying fusing and detailing agents across the bed with inkjet array nozzles.

These agents delineate the area to be solidified. Then, an energy source, such as infrared light, passes over the bed, fusing the powder where the agents are applied. This process can create parts with high detail and structural integrity faster and more efficiently than most other 3D printing methods.

Supported Materials
  • PA 12 (Nylon 12)
  • PA 11 (Nylon 11)
  • TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane)
  • Polypropylene

MJF is compatible with various materials, including different types of nylons and thermoplastics, offering a range of mechanical properties suitable for diverse applications.

Common Applications
  • Functional prototypes
  • High-volume end-use parts
  • Complex assemblies

MJF excels in producing functional prototypes, high-volume end-use parts, and complex assemblies, providing versatility across multiple industries.

Advantages
  • Exceptional part quality and detail
  • High throughput
  • Material efficiency

Key benefits of MJF include its ability to produce parts with high detail and quality, achieve higher production rates, and maintain material efficiency, making it a cost-effective solution for large-scale manufacturing.

Limitations
  • Limited material options compared to other methods
  • Post-processing requirements

While MJF offers several advantages, it is currently limited in terms of the variety of materials available and often requires post-processing for desired surface finishes.

Dimensional Accuracy in mm

MJF is known for its impressive dimensional accuracy, typically within ±0.2 mm, making it suitable for intricate and precise components.

Print Speed
  • Speed: Varies significantly based on part size and complexity

MJF’s print speed is one of its standout features, generally faster than other powder-based 3D printing methods, offering enhanced efficiency for large-scale production.

Layer Resolution
  • Layer thickness: 80 microns

The layer resolution of MJF, which affects surface detail and finish, is fine-tuned for optimal performance, balancing speed with quality.

Post-Processing Requirements

MJF printed parts often require cooling, followed by bead blasting or air cleaning to remove excess powder, and may also need dyeing or painting for aesthetic purposes.

Support Structures Requirements

One of the significant advantages of MJF, similar to SLS, is that it does not require support structures for most designs, allowing for more freedom in part geometry.

Surface Finish Options

Parts produced by MJF typically have a slightly grainy surface texture, which can be finished post-process to achieve various appearances and textures.

Electron Beam Melting (EBM)

Electron Beam Melting (EBM) is a sophisticated form of additive manufacturing that uses a high-power electron beam to fuse metal powder into solid parts. The process takes place in a vacuum and begins with spreading a thin layer of metal powder onto a build platform.

An electron beam then scans the powder layer, following a pre-programmed path, melting and fusing the powder to form a solid layer. This process is repeated, layer by layer, to build a complete part. EBM is known for its ability to produce parts with excellent mechanical properties and is particularly effective for complex geometries and internal cavities that are challenging to fabricate with traditional manufacturing methods.

Supported Materials
  • Titanium alloys
  • Cobalt Chrome
  • Stainless steel
  • Nickel alloys

EBM technology supports a range of metal materials, primarily focusing on high-strength and temperature-resistant alloys.

Common Applications
  • Aerospace components
  • Medical implants
  • High-performance automotive parts

EBM finds its niche in industries requiring parts with high strength and complexity, such as aerospace, medical implants, and high-performance automotive sectors.

Advantages
  • Excellent material properties
  • Ability to create complex geometries
  • High precision

The advantages of EBM include creating parts with superior material properties and intricate geometries without the need for support structures. EBM also delivers high levels of precision.

Limitations
  • Limited material choices
  • Higher operational costs
  • Slower than some other metal AM technologies

EBM is a powerful technology but is limited by its material choices, tends to have higher operational costs, and is generally slower than other metal additive manufacturing technologies.

Dimensional Accuracy in mm

EBM typically achieves a dimensional accuracy of ±0.1 mm, although this can vary based on the material and part geometry.

Print Speed
  • Varies, generally slower compared to technologies like SLS or MJF

EBM’s print speed depends on several factors, including part size and complexity. It is generally slower than other methods like SLS or MJF but excels in precision and material properties.

Layer Resolution
  • Layer thickness: 50-100 microns

Operators can finely control EBM’s layer resolution, enabling detailed and intricate designs while prioritizing between surface finish and build time.

Post-Processing Requirements

Post-processing for EBM parts often includes removal from the build plate, heat treatment to relieve stress, and surface finishing techniques like sandblasting or machining.

Support Structures Requirements

EBM often requires minimal support structures because its high-precision electron beam reduces the need for extensive post-processing.

Surface Finish Options

Parts produced using EBM typically have a rougher surface finish compared to other metal AM technologies, necessitating post-processing for applications requiring smooth surfaces.

Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)

Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) is an advanced 3D printing technology primarily used for metal parts. This technique employs a high-powered laser to sinter powdered metal, melding the particles together to create a solid structure. DMLS starts with applying a thin layer of metal powder over a build platform. A laser then selectively sinters the powder, melting and fusing it to create a solid layer. After completing each layer, the build platform descends slightly, and a new powder layer is applied. This process repeats layer by layer to fully construct the part. DMLS is renowned for its precision and ability to create parts with complex geometries and high-density materials, typical in the aerospace and automotive industries.

Supported Materials
  • Stainless steel
  • Aluminum
  • Titanium
  • Nickel alloys

DMLS is compatible with a broad range of metal materials, each offering distinct properties for various industrial applications.

Common Applications
  • Aerospace components
  • Automotive parts
  • Medical implants
  • Custom tooling

Given its precision and material versatility, DMLS is ideal for sectors demanding high-strength, complex components, such as aerospace, automotive, and medical industries.

Advantages
  • High precision and complexity
  • Strong and durable parts
  • Versatile material options

The strengths of DMLS lie in its capacity to fabricate complex geometries with high precision, resulting in strong and durable parts.

 Limitations
  • High operational costs
  • Limited build size
  • Post-processing needs

DMLS faces limitations in operational costs, restrictive build sizes, and parts often require extensive post-processing.

Dimensional Accuracy in mm

DMLS achieves remarkable dimensional accuracy, typically within ±0.1 mm, making it suitable for intricate and precision components.

Print Speed
  • Varies based on complexity and part size, generally slower than FDM

DMLS’s print speed is influenced by the part’s complexity and size, generally slower than FDM but excels in precision and material properties.

Layer Resolution
  • Layer thickness: Approximately 20-50 microns

The layer resolution in DMLS allows for highly detailed parts and smooth surface finishes, albeit at a slower build rate.

Post-Processing Requirements

Post-processing for DMLS parts may include stress relief, removal of support structures, surface smoothing, and precision machining.

Support Structures Requirements

Support structures are often necessary in DMLS for overhanging geometries, usually removed in post-processing.

Surface Finish Options

Parts produced using DMLS typically have a slightly rough surface finish, although post-processing techniques like polishing or machining can remove this.

Selective Laser Melting (SLM)

Selective Laser Melting (SLM) is a sophisticated additive manufacturing technology primarily used for producing high-density metal parts. The process involves using a high-powered laser beam to melt and fuse metallic powders together. SLM begins by applying a thin layer of metal powder onto a build platform.

A laser beam then scans the powder, selectively melting it according to the digital design. As the laser moves across the powder bed, it completely melts the material, creating a solid layer.

The build platform lowers, and a new layer of powder is applied. This cycle repeats various times to construct the entire part. SLM is particularly effective for complex geometries and parts that require high strength and durability.

Supported Materials
  • Stainless steel
  • Titanium alloys
  • Aluminum
  • Cobalt Chrome

SLM is compatible with various metal materials, making it ideal for applications that require specific mechanical properties.

Common Applications
  • Aerospace components
  • Automotive parts
  • Medical implants
  • High-performance engineering projects

Sectors such as aerospace, automotive, medical, and engineering requiring complex, high-strength components use SLM widely due to its precision and the quality of parts produced.

Advantages
  • High part density and strength
  • Ability to create complex geometries
  • Excellent material properties

The main advantages of SLM include the production of parts with high density and strength, the capability to create complex and intricate geometries, and the attainment of excellent material properties.

Limitations
  • Relatively slow process
  • High operational costs
  • Limited to metal materials

Despite its strengths, SLM’s limitations include its slower production speed compared to other 3D printing methods, higher operational costs, and restriction to metal materials.

Dimensional Accuracy in mm

SLM achieves high dimensional accuracy, typically in the range of ±0.05 mm to ±0.1 mm, depending on the machine and material used.

Print Speed
  • Speed: Varies, generally slower than less precise methods

The printing speed of SLM depends on the part’s complexity and the settings used. It is generally slower than other 3D printing technologies but compensates with superior precision and quality.

Layer Resolution
  • Layer thickness: Typically around 20-50 microns

SLM’s layer resolution allows for a high level of detail and a smoother surface finish, albeit at a slower build rate.

Post-Processing Requirements

SLM post-processing may include heat treatment for stress relief, removing support structures, and surface finishing like sandblasting or machining.

Support Structures Requirements

SLM often requires support structures for complex geometries and overhangs, usually removed in post-processing.

Surface Finish Options

The surface finish of SLM-produced parts is generally rougher than that produced by traditional manufacturing methods and may require post-processing to achieve the desired smoothness or texture.

Binder Jetting

Binder Jetting is a distinctive 3D printing technology that uses a liquid binding agent to join powder particles, layer by layer, to form a solid object. Unlike methods that melt materials, Binder Jetting deposits a liquid binder onto a thin layer of powdered material.

The process begins with spreading a layer of powder onto the build platform. A print head then moves across the powder bed, depositing droplets of the binding agent in specific locations, adhering the powder particles together.

After completing one layer, the build platform lowers before spreading a new layer of powder on top. The process repeats, depositing the binder where needed to form the object. After printing, the unbound powder is removed, leaving the ‘green’ part, which often requires post-processing, such as curing or infiltration, to reach its final strength and properties.

Supported Materials
  • Metals (stainless steel, bronze)
  • Sand (for casting molds)
  • Ceramics
  • Composite materials

Binder Jetting’s versatility lies in its ability to work with diverse materials, from metals to ceramics and composites.

Common Applications
  • Functional prototypes
  • Sand casting molds
  • Intricate jewelry
  • Architectural models

This technology is suitable for producing functional prototypes, intricate jewelry designs, casting molds for metal casting, and detailed architectural models.

Advantages
  • Material versatility
  • High speed of printing
  • No need for support structures

Key advantages of Binder Jetting include its broad material compatibility, relatively high printing speeds compared to other powder-based technologies, and elimination of the need for support structures.

Limitations
  • Lower mechanical strength
  • Post-processing requirements
  • Limitations with fine details

Despite its versatility, Binder Jetting parts may have lower mechanical strength than fully melted materials and often require extensive post-processing. Additionally, achieving intricate details can be challenging.

Dimensional Accuracy in mm
  • Accuracy: ±0.2 mm

Binder Jetting can achieve good dimensional accuracy, suitable for many applications although not as precise as some other additive manufacturing technologies.

Print Speed
  • Speed: Relatively fast, depending on the material and part complexity

Binder Jetting is known for its speed, significantly faster than technologies like SLM or DMLS, but the exact speed can vary depending on the material and complexity of the print.

Layer Resolution
  • Layer thickness: Approximately 50-100 microns

The technology offers a decent layer resolution that balances detail and printing speed, suitable for many applications.

Post-Processing Requirements

Binder Jetting’s post-processing typically includes depowdering, infiltration (with a secondary material like epoxy or metal), and thermal treatments for enhanced strength.

Support Structures Requirements

One of the main benefits of Binder Jetting is that it typically does not require support structures, as the unbound powder supports overhangs during printing.

Surface Finish Options
  • Natural finish: slightly rough, sand-like
  • Post-processed: can be polished or coated for a smoother finish

The natural finish of Binder Jetting parts is somewhat rough, akin to sandstone, but post-processing techniques can refine this for various aesthetic or functional purposes.

Material Jetting

Material Jetting operates similarly to traditional inkjet printing, but instead of ink, it jets photopolymer layers onto a build platform. These materials instantly cure and solidify using ultraviolet (UV) light. The process starts with the 3D printer warming the photopolymer material until it becomes liquid. Then, it jets thousands of tiny droplets of the material onto the build platform. UV light is applied to cure and harden the material and this cycle repeats, layer by layer until the object is printed. Material Jetting is distinct for its ability to print in multiple materials and colors simultaneously, offering significant versatility.

Supported Materials
  • Photopolymers
  • Biocompatible materials
  • Transparent materials
  • Flexible materials

This technology’s strength lies in its versatility with materials, especially various photopolymers offering different colors and mechanical properties.

Common Applications
  • Dental models
  • Architectural models
  • Multicolored prototypes
  • Educational models

Material Jetting is particularly beneficial for applications requiring high detail and accuracy, such as dental models, multicolored prototypes, and intricate architectural models.

Advantages
  • High-resolution printing
  • Full-color capability
  • Multi-material printing

The main advantages of Material Jetting include high-resolution printing, full-color outputs, and the ability to print with multiple materials in a single print run.

Limitations
  • High material costs
  • Limited material options compared to other methods
  • Post-curing requirement

However, the technology faces limitations like higher material costs and a limited range of materials compared to methods like FDM or SLS. Parts typically require post-curing for strength and stability.

Dimensional Accuracy in mm
  • Accuracy: ±0.1 mm

Material Jetting is renowned for its precision, offering high dimensional accuracy suitable for detailed models and prototypes.

Print Speed
  • Speed: Varies based on model complexity and material

While not the fastest printing method, its speed is adequate for detailed work, though it can be slower when printing complex models or using multiple materials.

Layer Resolution
  • Layer thickness: As low as 16 microns

One of Material Jetting’s standout features is its fine layer resolution, enabling smooth surfaces and intricate details, essential for high-quality prototypes and models.

Post-Processing Requirements

Post-processing steps may include removing support material, UV curing for additional strength, and surface smoothing or painting for aesthetic purposes.

Support Structures Requirements

Material Jetting often requires support structures for overhangs and complex geometries. These are typically printed with a dissolvable or breakaway material, making removal easier.

Surface Finish Options
  • Natural finish: Smooth and detailed
  • Post-processed: Can be enhanced with painting or polishing

The natural surface finish of Material Jetting parts is usually smooth and of high quality, often requiring minimal post-processing for aesthetic purposes.

PolyJet

PolyJet technology functions akin to inkjet document printing, but instead of jetting drops of ink onto paper, it dispenses layers of curable liquid photopolymer onto a build tray. The process involves a print head that emits thousands of tiny droplets of the photopolymer in layers. Each layer is immediately cured and hardened by UV light. This process can create complex geometries and intricate details with a smooth surface finish. PolyJet printers can jet multiple materials simultaneously and print parts with varying textures, materials, and colors.

Supported Materials
  • Various Photopolymers
  • Rigid Opaque Materials
  • Simulated Polypropylene
  • Rubber-like Materials
  • Transparent Materials
  • High-Temperature Resistant Materials

PolyJet technology supports a range of materials, from rigid to rubber-like materials, offering extensive versatility in applications.

Common Applications
  • Prototyping
  • Concept Models
  • Medical Models
  • Dental Applications
  • Complex Engineering Parts
  • Overmolded Prototypes

This technology is ideal for many applications, especially those requiring intricate detail and multiple materials or colors.

Advantages
  • Exceptional Detail and Surface Finish
  • Multi-material and Full-Color Printing
  • High Accuracy and Precision

The key advantages of PolyJet include its ability to produce parts with high detail and excellent surface finish, along with its multi-material and color capabilities.

Limitations
  • Higher Operating Costs
  • Limited Material Durability
  • Post-Processing Requirements

Despite its advantages, PolyJet technology has limitations: higher operating costs, limited material durability compared to other technologies, and specific post-processing requirements.

Dimensional Accuracy in mm
  • ± 0.1-0.2 mm or higher, depending on part geometry and size

PolyJet is renowned for its high dimensional accuracy, making it suitable for applications where precision is critical.

Print Speed
  • Varies with model complexity and material

While not the fastest printing method, PolyJet is efficient for high-quality, detailed prototypes and models.

Layer Resolution
  • Layer thickness: 16 to 30 microns

PolyJet technology offers fine layer resolution, allowing for smooth surfaces and high-detail features.

Post-Processing Requirements

Includes removal of support material, washing, and UV post-curing for specific materials to achieve the final mechanical and aesthetic properties.

Support Structures Requirements

PolyJet often requires support structures, especially for complex models. These use a gel-like support material easily removed by water jetting or hand.

Surface Finish Options
  • Natural finish: Smooth and detailed
  • Post-processed: Enhanced by painting, sanding, or assembling

PolyJet parts have a naturally smooth and detailed surface finish, with options for further enhancement through various post-processing techniques.

What Are Other 3D Printing Technologies & Methods?

This section delves into less commonly discussed yet equally significant 3D printing technologies, ensuring a thorough understanding of how each process works along with their applications and technical parameters.

Sheet Lamination

Sheet lamination, or Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM), involves layers of adhesive-coated paper, plastic, or metal laminates being successively glued together and cut to shape with a knife or laser cutter. It’s popular in rapid prototyping and for parts not requiring high strength.

Common Applications:
  • Concept Models
  • Rapid Prototyping
  • Architectural Models
Technical Parameters:
  • Layer Thickness: Varies, typically around 0.1 mm
  • Print Speed: Moderate, dependent on material and complexity

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD)

LCD 3D printing uses a digital light projector to cure photopolymer resin. It’s a form of vat photopolymerization where an entire layer is cured simultaneously, making it faster than traditional stereolithography (SLA).

Common Applications:
  • Dental Models
  • Jewelry Design
  • Prototyping
Technical Parameters:
  • Resolution: High, depending on the LCD quality
  • Speed: Faster than SLA, layer curing time in seconds

Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF)

LPBF selectively fuses powder particles using a high-power laser. Materials commonly used include metals, ceramics, and polymers. It’s known for producing strong and complex parts.

Common Applications:
  • Aerospace Components
  • Medical Implants
  • Automotive Parts
Technical Parameters:
  • Accuracy: ±0.1 mm
  • Material Range: Extensive, including titanium and stainless steel

NanoParticle Jetting (NPJ)

NPJ involves depositing nanoparticles in thin layers and then sintering them. It offers high resolution and is capable of printing with metals and ceramics.

Common Applications:
  • Electronic Components
  • Fine-detail Metal Parts
  • Biomedical Devices
Technical Parameters:
  • Layer Resolution: Down to a few micrometers
  • Material Compatibility: Metals and ceramics

Laser Directed Energy Deposition

This process involves feeding metallic powder into a laser beam, where it’s melted to form a deposit on a substrate. It’s used for repairing parts or adding material to existing components.

Common Applications:
  • Repair of High-value Components (e.g., Turbine Blades)
  • Adding Features to Existing Parts
Technical Parameters:
  • Build Rate: 5-20 cc/h
  • Material: Mostly metals

Electron Beam Directed Energy Deposition

Similar to laser deposition but uses an electron beam as the heat source. It’s conducted in a vacuum and is well-suited for reactive materials like titanium.

Common Applications:
  • Aerospace Manufacturing
  • Complex Geometries in Titanium and Tantalum
Technical Parameters:
  • Accuracy: High for electron beam processes
  • Vacuum Environment Required

Wire Directed Energy Deposition

This method feeds metal wire into a heat source (laser, plasma, or electron beam) to melt and deposit it. It’s highly efficient for large structures.

Common Applications:
  • Heavy Industry
  • Large Aerospace Components
Technical Parameters:
  • Deposition Rate: Varies, generally high
  • Materials: Broad range, including aluminum and steel

Cold Spray

Cold Spray technology involves accelerating a mixture of micron-sized metal or non-metal powders to high velocities in a high-pressure gas stream. Upon impact with the substrate, the particles undergo plastic deformation and adhere to the surface, building up to form a solid material.

Common Applications:
  • Repair of Aerospace Components
  • Coating for Enhanced Surface Properties
  • Medical Implants Manufacturing
Technical Parameters:
  • Material Compatibility: Wide range, including metals and polymers
  • Surface Finish: Varies based on particle size and material

Molten Direct Energy Deposition

Molten Direct Energy Deposition involves feeding metal wire or powder into a molten pool created by a focused thermal energy source, such as a laser or electron beam. The material solidifies to form a dense, metallurgically bonded structure.

Common Applications:
  • Repair and Overhaul of High-value Components
  • Fabrication of Complex Geometries
Technical Parameters:
  • Layer Thickness: Typically 0.5 to 2 mm
  • Material Range: Extensive, including high-strength alloys

Drop on Demand (DOD)

Drop on Demand (DOD) printing ejects tiny droplets of material in a controlled manner onto a substrate. It’s commonly used for multi-material 3D printing, enabling precise placement of different materials.

Common Applications:
  • Multi-material Parts Manufacturing
  • Printed Electronics
  • Bioprinting
Technical Parameters:
  • Resolution: High, capable of printing intricate details
  • Material Variety: Includes conductive inks, polymers, and biological materials

Continuous Fiber Reinforcement (CFR)

Continuous Fiber Reinforcement involves embedding continuous fiber strands within a thermoplastic matrix during the 3D printing process. This reinforcement significantly enhances the strength and stiffness of the printed parts.

Common Applications:
  • Aerospace Components
  • Automotive Parts
  • High-strength Engineering Applications
Technical Parameters:
  • Strength: Exceptionally high, especially in tension and bending
  • Materials: Carbon fiber, glass fiber, Kevlar within thermoplastics

Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing (ADAM)

Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing (ADAM) prints metal parts using a bound metal powder sintered in a furnace. This process allows for complex geometries with significant material density and strength.

Common Applications:
  • Industrial Parts
  • Tooling
  • Functional Prototypes
Technical Parameters:
  • Accuracy: High, comparable to traditional metal manufacturing methods
  • Material Density: Near 100% density achievable

Light Curing

Light Curing uses ultraviolet (UV) light to cure and solidify a photosensitive polymer resin. Vat polymerization (like SLA) and jetting technologies use this process.

Common Applications:
  • Dental and Medical Models
  • Prototyping
  • Jewelry and Artistic Creations
Technical Parameters:
  • Resolution: Very high, with intricate details achievable
  • Speed: Relatively fast due to whole-layer curing

Powder Adhesion

Powder Adhesion technology, often a part of binder jetting processes, involves selectively depositing a liquid binding agent onto a powder bed. The binder glues the powder particles together, layer by layer, to form a solid object.

Common Applications:
  • Architectural Models
  • Sand Casting Molds
  • Full-Color Prototypes
Technical Parameters:
  • Material Range: Sands, ceramics, metals, polymers
  • Surface Finish: Porous, often requiring post-processing

Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM)

Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) is a rapid prototyping system that involves layering adhesive-coated paper, plastic, or metal laminates and cutting them into shape with a knife or laser cutter.

Common Applications:
  • Conceptual Models
  • Patterns for Casting
  • Large Prototypes
Technical Parameters:
  • Material Used: Paper, plastics, metal foils
  • Layer Thickness: Typically between 0.1 to 0.2 mm

Directed Energy Deposition (DED)

Directed Energy Deposition (DED) involves feeding material, typically metal powder or wire, into a melt pool created by a high-energy heat source like a laser or electron beam.

Common Applications:
  • Repairing and Adding Material to Existing Parts
  • Manufacturing Large Components
Technical Parameters:
  • Material Compatibility: Wide range of metals
  • Print Resolution: Relatively low compared to other methods

Photopolymer Jetting (PolyJet or PJ)

Photopolymer Jetting (or PolyJet) works by jetting layers of curable liquid photopolymer onto a build tray and instantly curing them with UV light.

Common Applications:
  • High-detail prototypes
  • Complex geometries with intricate details
Technical Parameters:
  • Materials: Wide range of photopolymers
  • Layer Thickness: As low as 16 microns

Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP™)

Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP™) is a photochemical process. It harnesses light and oxygen to grow parts from a resin pool.

Common Applications:
  • End-use Parts
  • Biocompatible Applications
  • High-volume Prototyping
Technical Parameters:
  • Speed: Rapid production times
  • Materials: Range of custom resins

Powder Bed and Inkjet Head (PBIH) 3D Printing

Powder Bed and Inkjet Head 3D Printing involves depositing a binding agent via an inkjet print head onto layers of powder material, usually gypsum or polymer-based.

Common Applications:
  • Full-color Concept Models
  • Educational Models
  • Art and Decorative Items
Technical Parameters:
  • Material Options: Gypsum, polymers
  • Surface Finish: Full-color capabilities, but requires post-processing for durability

Plaster-Based 3D Printing

Plaster-based 3D Printing, a subset of binder jetting technology, involves the layer-by-layer deposition of a binder material onto a plaster powder bed. The binder solidifies the powder to form a 3D object.

Common Applications:
  • Architectural Models
  • Decorative Art
  • Educational Tools
Technical Parameters:
  • Material: Plaster, composite powders
  • Surface Finish: Matte, requiring post-processing for durability

ColorJet Printing (CJP)

ColorJet Printing (CJP) operates similarly to plaster-based printing but stands out for its ability to print in full color. It jets a binding agent onto a gypsum-based powder, which can be mixed with colorants.

Common Applications:
  • Full-Color Prototypes
  • Figurines and Statues
  • Educational Aids
Technical Parameters:
  • Materials: Gypsum-based powder
  • Color Capabilities: Full-color spectrum printing

Selective Heat Sintering (SHS)

Selective Heat Sintering (SHS) is a technique where a thermal printhead selectively applies heat to a thermoplastic powder, fusing particles to create a solid object.

Common Applications:
  • Functional Prototypes
  • Low-Volume Production Parts
  • Complex Geometrical Components
Technical Parameters:
  • Material Compatibility: Thermoplastic powders
  • Layer Resolution: Medium to high

Laser Metal Deposition (LMD)

Laser Metal Deposition (LMD) is a form of directed energy deposition that uses a laser to fuse metallic powder or wire fed into the laser’s focal point, typically used for repairing or adding material to metal components.

Common Applications:
  • Aerospace Component Repair
  • Tool and Die Repair
  • Custom Part Fabrication
Technical Parameters:
  • Material Used: Metal powders or wire
  • Print Area: Suitable for large-scale components

Multi-Jet Modeling (MJM)

Multi-jet modeling (MJM) works by jetting tiny droplets of photopolymer, which are instantly cured by UV light. This method is known for its high precision and smooth surface finish.

Common Applications:
  • High-Resolution Prototypes
  • Medical Models
  • Complex, Detailed Parts
Technical Parameters:
  • Materials: Wide range of photopolymers
  • Accuracy: High precision and complexity

Ultrasonic Consolidation (UC)

Ultrasonic Consolidation (UC) involves joining thin metal sheets through ultrasonic welding. The sheets are bonded under high pressure and ultrasonic vibrations to form a solid object.

Common Applications:
  • Metal Composite Structures
  • Embedded Electronics in Metals
  • Functionally Graded Materials
Technical Parameters:
  • Materials: Thin metal foils
  • Bonding Technique: Ultrasonic welding

How to Choose a 3D Printer Machine and Method for Your Business?

Selecting the right 3D printer for your business is crucial. It involves understanding your specific needs and aligning them with the capabilities of various 3D printing technologies. Here’s a detailed guide on the factors to consider:

1. Purpose and Application

  • Determine what you intend to print. Prototyping, end-use parts, or artistic designs require different types of printers.
  • For example, Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) is excellent for prototypes, while Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) excels in end-use parts.

2. Material Compatibility

  • Different 3D printers work with various materials. Consider the properties you need in your final product, like strength, flexibility, or color options.
  • Materials range from plastics in Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) to metals in Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS).

3. Print Quality and Resolution

  • Print resolution, expressed in microns, affects the smoothness and detail of the printed object. Lower micron numbers mean higher resolution.
  • Technologies like Stereolithography (SLA) offer higher resolution than others like FDM.

4. Print Speed and Volume

  • Speed is critical for high-volume production. Consider how fast the printer can produce parts without compromising quality. Technology like Hyper FFF™ can cut production time in half without any loss in quality.
  • Build volume, the size of the area where the printer can create objects is also important for larger parts.

5. Ease of Use and Maintenance

  • User-friendliness and maintenance requirements vary. Some printers need regular calibration and maintenance, while others are more ‘set and forget’.
  • Automated features like auto-bed leveling and filament detection can simplify operation.

6. Cost Considerations

  • Budget for the initial purchase and ongoing expenses, including the cost of materials, spare parts, and maintenance.
  • Balance between upfront costs and long-term value. Cheaper printers might cost more in the long run due to higher maintenance and material costs.

7. Post-Processing Requirements

  • Some 3D printing techniques require significant post-processing, like removing supports, sanding, or curing.
  • Consider the time and resources needed for post-processing when choosing a technology.

8. Safety and Environmental Factors

  • Safety features like enclosed build chambers and air filters are essential, especially with materials that emit fumes.
  • Consider the environmental impact of the materials and the recyclability options.

9. Software Compatibility

  • Ensure the printer is compatible with your design software and offers the necessary software tools for slicing and printer management. Raise3D printers already offer a complete ecosystem with ideaMaker slicing software and RaiseCloud management software.
  • Some printers work best with proprietary software, while others are more open-source friendly. ideaMaker by Raise3D is an open-source software that can be many printers.

10. Support and Community

  • A strong user community and manufacturer support can be invaluable, especially for troubleshooting and tips.
  • Check for the availability of customer service, warranty, and online forums or groups.

Conclusion

3D printing technologies like Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Stereolithography (SLA), and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) each offer unique advantages and cater to different needs. When choosing a 3D printer for your business, it’s essential to consider factors such as the intended application, material compatibility, print quality, cost, and post-processing requirements.

Understanding these aspects ensures you select a printer that fits your immediate needs and aligns with your long-term business goals. Remember, the best 3D printer is the one that meets your specific needs most effectively and efficiently.

FAQs

1. What is the most accurate 3D printing method?

The most accurate 3D printing method is Stereolithography (SLA). SLA printers utilize a laser to cure liquid resin into hardened plastic (photopolymerization). This technique provides exceptionally high resolution and accuracy, making it ideal for applications requiring intricate details and a smooth finish.

2. What is the most common 3D printing type?

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the most common 3D printing type. FDM printers work by extruding thermoplastic filaments, such as ABS and PLA, layer by layer to build an object. This method’s popularity stems from its affordability, ease of use, and the wide range of available materials.

3. What is the most popular method of 3D printing for professionals?

For professionals, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is highly popular. This method uses a laser to sinter powdered material, often nylon or polyamide, to create strong, durable parts. SLS doesn’t require support structures, allowing for complex geometries and freedom in design.

4. What is the smoothest 3D printing method?

Many experts consider Digital Light Processing (DLP) the smoothest 3D printing method. Similar to SLA, DLP uses a digital light projector screen to cure photopolymer resin, resulting in parts with a very smooth and high-quality surface finish.

5. What is the cheapest 3D printing method?

Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) is generally the cheapest 3D printing method. FFF printers are widely available at various price points, making them accessible for hobbyists and professionals alike. Additionally, the materials used in FFF, such as PLA and ABS, are relatively inexpensive.

6. What is the most expensive type of 3D printing?

The most expensive type of 3D printing is typically Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS). DMLS printers use a high-power laser to fuse metal powder particles, creating robust and high-precision metal parts. The advanced technology and expensive materials drive up the cost.

7. What’s the best 3D printing type for beginners?

Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) is the best 3D printing type for beginners. FFF printers are user-friendly, affordable, and support a wide range of materials, making them ideal for those new to 3D printing.

8. What’s the best 3D printing type for industrial applications?

For industrial applications, Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) is known to be highly effective. MJF provides high-speed printing, excellent part quality, and the ability to produce complex geometries and parts with fine details, suitable for functional prototyping and end-use parts in various industries. Industrial FFF printers like the Raise3D RMF500 are also well-suited to industrial applications at an affordable price.

9. What 3D printing method is best for complex geometries?

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is best for printing complex geometries, closely followed by DLP. This technology allows the creation of intricate and complex designs without additional support-related constraints.

10. What 3D printing process provides the best cosmetic appearance?

Stereolithography (SLA) and digital light processing (DLP) provide the best cosmetic appearance in 3D printing. SLA can produce parts with extremely smooth surfaces and high detail resolution, making it ideal for applications where aesthetic qualities are paramount.

11. What is the best 3D printing type for metal parts?

One of the most well-known 3D printing methods for metal parts is Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS). DMLS can produce high-precision, strong, and durable metal parts. It is popular in aerospace, automotive, and medical applications for its ability to create complex, high-quality metal components. However, metal FFF printing is also possible with a solution like Raise3D MetalFuse, which offers a more cost-effective method of metal production.