What Are the Different Types of 3D Printers?
Updated · Aug 04, 2022
When most people hear about 3D printing, they picture something large, expensive, and challenging to use.
However, nowadays, there are many different types of 3D printers available on the market. So many that, in fact, shopping for one can be quite overwhelming.
Below, we'll go over everything you need to know about 3D printers and how to utilize them effectively.
What Is a 3D Printer?
3D printing is a type of additive manufacturing technology that creates three-dimensional objects by laying down successive layers of material.
3D printers are generally faster, more affordable, and often easier to use than other manufacturing technologies.
Additionally, they can create more complex shapes, well-suited for prototyping and custom manufacturing applications.
The applications of 3D printing are virtually limitless—it has found its way into various industries, from aerospace to medicine.
Furthermore, the technology is becoming more and more accessible and affordable, making it a viable option for hobbyists and businesses of all sizes.
How Do 3D Printers Work?
The successful production of 3D models requires you to follow these steps:
Design a Model
The first thing you need to do is design the item you want to print.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind when designing:
- Ensure you have a solid foundation to prevent the object from toppling over or collapsing during the printing process.
- Pay attention to the wall thickness. Often, models are unprintable because their walls are too thin, causing them to be extremely fragile and break. Alternatively, they may be too thick, which builds up the internal pressure, resulting in cracks.
- Consider the types of 3D printing materials. Different materials have different benefits, so choosing the one that will work well for the desired final product is essential.
Keeping those factors in mind, almost anything can be designed and printed in 3D.
Now, it's time to print the object.
You'll need to upload your model to your chosen printing software and ensure everything is appropriately adjusted.
The printing process depends on your printer type. We'll go over the available technologies in detail below.
Furthermore, the printer also determines the type of materials you can use. Some standard options include plastics, metals, ceramics, and composites.
Once the object is printed, you'll need to add some finishing touches. That typically involves removing support structures and smoothing the surface of the object.
You may also paint your creation, which is a whole other challenge and skill.
Types of 3D Printing Technology
3D printers use several different methods to produce the objects of your design.
All of them have different benefits and applications, so let's see which one would serve you best.
One of the most popular 3D printing techniques is material extrusion.
It works by depositing molten plastic filament through a small nozzle. The nozzle moves across a platform, following a predetermined path to create the desired shape.
It's often used for prototyping and small-scale models, as it's the most affordable 3D printing method, and the material waste is minimal.
Another benefit is that it works with a wide range of materials, including plastics, metals, bio gels, and even chocolate.
Vat polymerization is a process in which a liquid photopolymer is cured inside a vat by exposure to a light source.
The 3D laser printers that use this technology differ depending on the light source, which affects the production time, costs, and degree of accuracy.
Vat polymerization is typically suitable for projects that require a lot of precision, such as jewelry or dental models. It can also make prototypes and parts with complex geometries.
Powder Bed Fusion
Powder bed fusion uses a laser to melt and fuse together powdered materials and create a solid object. It works with thermoplastic, metal, and ceramic powders.
This printing technology can produce complex shapes and functional parts with excellent mechanical properties.
That makes it ideal for prototype development and small-scale production runs.
Material jetting is a process of selectively depositing droplets of molten types of 3D printer filament onto a platform layer by layer to create a three-dimensional object.
These systems generally use a print head that moves back and forth across a platform while setting down successive layers of material. The material is deposited through a nozzle with a diameter of fewer than 200 microns.
Additionally, the print heads can be configured to lay down different materials simultaneously, allowing for designs with complex colors or multiple material properties.
However, a drawback of material jetting is that it's generally slower and more expensive than other methods.
Binder jetting is a type of 3D printing that uses a liquid binding agent to combine powder particles. It can create prototypes and functional production parts for various industries.
It uses an inkjet-style printhead to deposit the binding agent onto the powder bed and selectively combine the 3D printer powder particles in the desired shape.
Once the part is printed, it needs to be sintered or cured to further improve its mechanical properties.
Binder jetting can print large parts with complex geometries from various materials, such as metals, polymers, and sand.
Direct Energy Deposition (DED)
DED systems use a focused beam of energy (usually a laser or an electron beam) to melt metals in powder or wire form as they're deposited onto a platform.
The molten material then cools and solidifies, bonding to the layer below. These additive manufacturing types of printers are well suited for creating large, complex objects with delicate features and detail.
Additionally, DED can build objects from multiple materials, giving designers greater freedom to create complex functional parts.
Micro 3D Printing
Micro 3D printing uses microscopic nozzles to deposit material in extremely fine layers.
This process allows for the creation of parts and structures with intricate detail and high resolution.
In addition, micro 3D printing works with a wide variety of materials, including metals, plastics, and ceramics.
As a result, this example of the latest 3D printing technologies is becoming increasingly popular in medical implants and electronic components production.
This technique uses sheets of material, usually paper, plastic, and metal, to build up objects. They are laminated together using adhesive, heat, or ultrasonic energy.
The process is commonly utilized to produce non-functional prototypes and multicolor prints.
Its main advantages are the low costs and the quick printing times.
What Are the Different Types of 3D Printers?
Now that you know the principles 3D printers operate on, let's take a look at some of the most popular and widely available models on the market.
Digital Light Processing (DLP)
DLP printers use the vat polymerization technique. Namely, an array of light sources cure a photopolymer resin, layer by layer, into a solid object.
The process is similar to SLA 3D printers, another popular choice among enthusiasts, but this one uses a digital projector instead of a laser to cure the resin.
This technology is well-suited for printing high-detail objects, such as medical models and prototypes.
DLP printers typically have a smaller build volume than the SLA ones but are generally faster and more affordable.
SLA printers also utilize the vat polymerization method. With the help of strategically positioned mirrors, a laser beam is directed to cure and solidify liquid resin into an object.
The process starts by selectively scanning the cross-section of the model image onto the surface of a vat filled with photopolymer resin.
For each layer, the laser beam traces a cross-section of the part pattern on the platform submerged in the liquid resin.
During scanning, the laser moves in both horizontal and vertical directions and crosses over itself many times to achieve the desired effect.
The areas where the beam hits solidify almost instantly while the rest remain liquid. The process continues until all layers have been built up.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
FDM 3D printer types use material extrusion technology to create the desired objects.
It's one of the most popular methods of 3D printing due to its relative simplicity and affordability. It's also fast and can produce objects with good levels of accuracy.
However, FDM has some limitations and might require you to add support structures. Nonetheless, it remains a popular choice for hobbyists and professionals alike.
These printers are relatively easy to use and maintain. Another key benefit is that they work with a wide range of materials, including PLA, ABS, PETG, nylon, bio gels, etc.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
SLS is among the 3D printer types that use powder bed fusion technology.
This additive manufacturing process starts by heating a bin of polymer powder to right before the point of melting. Then, a very thin layer of it is deposited on a platform to be scanned.
Afterward, a laser solidifies a select cross-section of the material, and a new layer is added. The process repeats until the object is complete.
SLS printers can create prototype parts or objects with complex geometries that would be difficult and time-consuming to make with traditional manufacturing methods.
Selective Laser Melting (SLM) & Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
DMLS and SLM printers also utilize powder bed fusion technology.
Both use a laser to melt and fuse together metal powder particles to build three-dimensional parts layer by layer. However, the way they do it differs.
With SLM, the powder is deposited and then completely melted by the laser. In comparison, with DMLS, the powder isn't melted; rather, it's heated so that it can fuse on a molecular level.
Both processes can produce parts with intricate shapes and fine details but from different materials. SLM uses single-element materials like titanium, while DMLS works with metal alloys.
Electron Beam Melting (EBM)
As you can see, powder bed fusion technology is one of the most commonly chosen methods of 3D printing among enthusiasts and professionals.
EBM is another example. It uses an electron beam to melt and fuse metal powder particles.
It's similar to SLM, but instead of a laser, it uses an electron beam as its energy source.
This technology is suitable for producing objects with a larger size, layer thickness, and surface finish.
Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
And for the last of the powder bed fusion technology, we have MJF printers. They work with powdered materials and jetted inks to create the designed object.
The process begins by spreading a layer of powder material over a platform. Then, an inkjet print head selectively sprays fusing and detailing agents onto the powder.
That is followed by an infrared unit that heats the layer of material. Everywhere the fusing agent has been applied fuses with the underlying layer. Meanwhile, the detailing agent prevents the rest from melting.
This 3D printing process repeats until the achievement of the desired result. MJF-printed objects have increased strength or stiffness and minimal material waste.
Material Jetting (MJ)
Material Jetting uses an inkjet printhead to selectively jet droplets of material onto a platform.
It's a relatively slow process as each layer needs to be cured with UV light before depositing the next one.
It works with many photopolymer resins and provides the best surface finish.
Metal Binder Jetting
This 3D printing technology produces objects from metal powder with a polymer binding agent.
Once the printing process is complete, the platform is removed, and the object is sintered in an oven. That removes the binding agent as well and fuses the powder particles together to form a solid metal object with good mechanical properties.
Metal binder jetting is well suited for large build volumes and prototyping applications.
In addition, it offers a wide range of design freedom, as it can create parts with complex geometries.
Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing (EBAM)
EBAM uses the direct energy deposition method to build 3D printer products.
In this process, an electron beam melts and depositions material onto a substrate. Additionally, a vacuum chamber helps keep the environment around the platform clean and free of contaminants.
However, this technology is quite expensive compared to other more mainstream options. On the plus side, it doesn't require any support structures for the objects and allows a mixture of metals.
EBAM also works well for repairing different high-end components and creating functional prototypes.
Microstereolithography, or µSLA, uses a focused UV laser to cure photopolymer resin into tiny solid objects.
µSLA printers are well-suited for creating high-accuracy parts with complex geometries and delicate features.
In addition, these prints are dimensionally stable and have low warping compared to similar technologies.
These 3D printing techniques find application in medicine and electronics production.
Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) (Sheet Lamination)
LOM is a 3D printing process that uses sheets of material bonded together and cut to shape using a laser or blade.
That is an affordable and fast technique, but it's low in accuracy and requires much post-production work.
LOM is typically used for non-functional prototypes and multicolor prints. It works well with paper, polymer, and metal materials.
How To Choose From All Types of 3D Printers?
3D printers have come a long way in recent years, and now consumers have a wide variety of options to choose from.
So how do you select the right 3D printer for your needs?
Here is what you should focus on:
- Consider the type of material you want to print with. 3D printers can generally handle PLA and ABS plastic, but some also support materials like wood, metal, or glass.
- Think about the size and resolution of the prints you want to create. Some 3D printers can print huge objects, while others are better suited for smaller, more detailed items.
- Resolution is another critical factor—if you need very precise prints, go for the type of 3D printing technology that ensures high-resolution capabilities.
- Determine a budget. 3D printers can range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, so selecting a model that falls within your price range is essential.
Once you clear your needs and priorities, you'll be able to choose the best 3D printer for your projects.
There are many kinds of 3D printers available on the market today. Each technology has its strengths, making it perfect for a particular application. Though, they also come with certain limitations.
When choosing a 3D printer, it's important to consider the specific requirements of your future projects.
That includes the materials you want to use, the complexity of your designs, and the cost of production you can afford.
What does a 3D printer use?
3D printers use additive manufacturing processes to create three-dimensional objects from a digital file. The printer deposits successive layers of material, typically plastic or metal, until the item is complete.
Unlike traditional manufacturing processes, which require extensive tooling and setup time, a 3D printer can produce complex objects quickly and cheaply.
As a result, the technology is often used for the creation of prototype models and one-of-a-kind parts.
Today, 3D printers are widely available in various settings, from schools and small businesses to large factories.
What type of manufacturing is 3D printing?
3D printing is a type of additive manufacturing that builds objects by adding materials layer by layer.
Unlike traditional machining processes (like milling or lathing), additive manufacturing doesn't require extensive material removal, which makes it much more efficient.
3D printing can be used to create objects of almost any shape or size, from small medical implants to large aircraft parts.
The technology is also well suited for mass customization since each object can be easily altered to meet the customer's specific needs.
What to print on a 3D printer?
When it comes to 3D printing ideas, the sky's the limit. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing your next project.
- First, consider the material you'll be using. For example, PLA is a good choice for detailed prints, while ABS is more durable and better suited for functional items.
- Second, think about the size and scale of your print. Smaller prints are generally more challenging, but choosing a design that will fit your printer bed is essential.
- Finally, determine the complexity of the design. If you're new to 3D printing, starting with a simple model is best.
Once you have a few successful prints under your belt, you can start experimenting with more complex designs and different materials.
What are 3D printed objects made of?
3D printed objects are made of a variety of materials, including plastic, metal, and even human cells.
3D printing allows for the production of highly detailed and complex shapes that are challenging to create with traditional manufacturing methods.
Commonly, the materials used in additive manufacturing are in the form of a fine powder, but that depends on the types of 3D printers used.
In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on the creation of functional objects made of metal, ceramics, and even human tissue.
While the technology is still in its early stages, it's already revolutionizing how we manufacture products!
Deyan has been fascinated by technology his whole life. From the first Tetris game all the way to Falcon Heavy. Working for TechJury is like a dream come true, combining both his passions – writing and technology. In his free time (which is pretty scarce, thanks to his three kids), Deyan enjoys traveling and exploring new places. Always with a few chargers and a couple of gadgets in the backpack. He makes mean dizzying Island Paradise cocktails too.
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