If you’re going to solve your biggest design, engineering and manufacturing challenges with 3D printing, you’ll need the right technology.
Different 3D printing technologies use different print processes that print different materials.
These variances have created what is unarguably the most diverse, exciting and useful manufacturing technique in the world.
In this article, we will run through FFF, SLA and MJF 3D printing technologies, which often have overlapping use cases but excel in different environments.
FFF technology (also known as FDM)
FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) melts and extrudes thermoplastic filament.
Printer brands include Ultimaker, Markforged, Essentium, 3DGENCE and Builder 3D.
FFF is capable of making parts with excellent surface detail and quality. It can also produce relatively complex shapes and geometries.
You can make parts in a variety of plastics*, including:
*You should only use materials your manufacturer officially supports.
FFF has the lowest price of entry of all 3D printing technologies, although prices can exceed other technologies depending on the size and specification of the printer.
Layer lines are visible on printed parts. Also, the quality of layer adhesion can influence the mechanical strength of the part.
FFF has the lowest resolution and accuracy compared to SLA, and because of this, it is not as good for making complex designs and intricate parts.
The biggest limitation is the mechanical movement of the extruder. FFF 3D printers often use soluble supports to mitigate this issue.
SLA (Stereolithography) cures photopolymer resin with a laser.
The most reputable name in SLA 3D printing technology is Formlabs.
SLA produces parts with no layer lines. It achieves a higher level of detail than FFF and it is capable of producing parts of greater complexity.
SLA 3D printers print with resin. These are nearly always proprietary. Formlabs has the best SLA materials library. It includes:
- Standard Resins (Greyscale Resins, Clear Resin, Draft Resin)
- Engineering Resins (Grey Pro, High Temp Resin)
- Flexible and Elastic Resins (Flexible 80A, Flexible 50A)
- Tough and Durable Resins (Tough 2000, Tough 1500, Durable Resin)
- Jewellery Resins ( Castable Wax Resin, Grey Resin, High Temp Resin)
- Speciality Resins (Ceramic Resin, Rebound Resin)
- Medical Resins (BioMed Clear Resin, BioMed Amber Resin)
Resins often need curing with UV light. This increases the processing time.
SLA technology is more expensive than FFF technology. It is also only available on a smaller scale, making it unsuitable for large models.
Support structures are nearly always necessary. Parts must be prepared with holes so that uncured resin can drain out of closed structures.
Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) heats nylon powder and binds it with a fusing agent.
This is a proprietary technology to HP. It is not the same as SLS (Selective Laser Sintering). The key distinction is MJF doesn’t use a laser.
This is the only 3D printing technology in the world that can print nylon models and parts in full colour. This is achieved with colour impregnation.
MJF offers up to 10 times faster printing than FFF and SLA. It is also faster than SLS. Parts require no post-processing. Similarly to SLS, parts printed with Multi Jet Fusion technology require no support structures.
Multi Jet Fusion has some of the lowest per part costs of any 3D printing technology, and powder waste is collected with up to 70% reusability.
A wide range of HP 3D printing materials are available. These include:
- Rigid polymers (HP 3D High Reusability PA 11, HP 3D High Reusability PA 12, HP 3D High Reusability CB PA 12)
- Elastomeric polymers (HP 3D High Reusability TPA enabled by Evonik, ESTANE® 3D TPU M95A, BASF Ultrasint® TPU01)
MJF technology is expensive and there are extra costs for printing in full colour.
The material list is limited compared to FFF and SLA, limiting the potential use cases.
Layer lines are visible, although slightly less so than with FFF. Surface quality is good overall, although it isn’t quite on the same level as SLA.
Get help choosing the right technology
Hopefully, this guide will help you choose the right 3D printing technology.
If you have any more questions, call us on 01765 694 007 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for professional advice.