Each 3D printing technology has it’s own advantages and disadvantages. Here is what you should look out for when deciding on your prototyping needs.

 

Filament based printers

 

Strengths

  • Relatively inexpensive printers as a result of low manufacturing costs and expired patents
  • Several printer manufacturers to choose from
  • Build size can be fairly large
  • Relatively inexpensive material depending on the printer
  • Moderate-high choice of materials to print with- most popular are PLA and ABS of different colours. But there are composites such as wood, bronze, carbon fiber, stone etc that are available. There is a lot of research going on to expand the choice of materials.
  • Multiple extruder printers allow multi-colour or multi-material prints

 

Weaknesses

  • Not a plug and play technology yet. Learning the printer settings takes some time
  • Extremely small details not possible. Accuracy on the x-y axes is determined by the nozzle size which varies from 0.3mm to 0.8mm.
  • Designs with multiple small cylinders or details difficult to print because the printer head has to move to the location, extrude, and then retract. Settings need to be extremely fine tuned and even then it is sometimes impossible.
  • Cannot print overhangs and as a result support structure is required. Support structures increase the material used, time of the print, and are sometimes difficult to remove cleanly.
  • Clean up and post processing of the print is often required to get a smooth surface.

 

Resin based printers

 

Strengths

  • Extremely fine details possible. On X, Y, and Z axes, accuracy can be as high as 30 micron (0.03mm).
  • Fairly quick. Especially if printing multiple items of the same height. Whether 1 part is printed or 5 are printed at a time, the print time stays the same. Makes printing multiple parts very quick.
  • No issues with retractions or small cylinders. It can print almost any small detail.
  • Very smooth finish. Often post print processing not required.
  • Castable resin is available which makes printing one off pieces for casting very easy.
  • The number of manufacturers and choice of machines are increasing rapidly due to patent expiry. As a result machine prices have drastically fallen.

 

Weaknesses

  • Resin is more than three times the cost of filament and can sometimes be much more.
  • Handling print is very messy. Care has to be taken to handle resin. After the print, excess resin needs to be removed, and part has to be cured.
  • Fairly limited choice of materials currently. This should change in the coming few months.
  • Small build volume. Currently limited to a small print size but this should also change soon.
  • Cannot print overhangs and as a result support structure is required. Supports can be made smaller than filament printers and are thus easier to remove but the lack of enough properly placed support would ruin the rest of the print.

 

Powder based printers

 

Strengths

  • Prints can be large.
  • Material choice and strength is high. Nylon primarily used but flexible materials are possible and metal printing is also becoming popular. Can be easily used as a prototype in the field for direct testing.
  • No overhang problems. Powder naturally acts as support structure and can be easily brushed or blown off.
  • No problems of retraction so small details can be printed.
  • Very rare to have problems with printing. Fairly good at plug and play.
  • Print time especially with multiple objects in the same print is quite fast.

 

Weaknesses

  • Extremely expensive machines. Can be over 100 times more expensive than filament or resin printers.
  • Very few manufacturers to choose from.
  • Materials are fairly expensive compared to filament.
  • Requires a large setup. They are not desktop printers. The laser is powerful and consumes a lot of electricity.
  • Print quality is not as good as resin printers. Texture is often rough and needs to be sanded to get a smooth finish. Excess powder needs to be brushed off and then blown off using compressed air.