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Comparing FDM, SLA, and SLS Technologies: Pros and Cons

Blog  /  Comparing FDM, SLA, and SLS Technologies: Pros and Cons

Comparing FDM, SLA, and SLS Technologies: Pros and Cons

Jan 02,2024

What is Additive Manufacturing/3D Printing

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is creating three-dimensional physical objects from digital designs or models. It operates by building objects layer by layer, gradually adding material until the final object is formed. This differs from traditional manufacturing methods, which involve removing material from a solid block.

To begin the 3D printing process, a digital 3D model is first created using computer-aided design (CAD) software or obtained through 3D scanning. We then divided the model into thin cross-sectional layers, and the 3D printer utilizes this information to guide the fabrication process.

In FDM, a plastic filament is melted and extruded through a nozzle, which moves in a controlled manner to deposit material layer by layer. Other techniques include stereolithography (SLA), selective laser sintering (SLS), and digital light processing (DLP), each with its unique approach and materials.

3D printing has a wide range of applications across different industries. It is used in rapid prototyping to quickly create physical models for design validation and testing. We also employed it in manufacturing customized products, such as prosthetics, dental implants, and consumer goods. Additionally, 3D printing is utilized in architecture, aerospace, automotive, and medical fields.

This technology has made manufacturing more accessible, allowing individuals, small businesses, and hobbyists to create objects without expensive industrial equipment. It has also fostered innovation and unlocked possibilities for complex designs and geometries that were previously challenging or unattainable with traditional manufacturing methods.

What is Fused Deposition Modelling(FDM)?

A common 3D printing technique called fused deposition modeling (FDM) involves melting thermoplastic filament and depositing it layer by layer to produce three-dimensional objects.

There are numerous uses for fused deposition modeling (FDM) in various sectors. Rapid prototyping is a popular application that enables engineers and designers to quickly produce physical models for validation and testing. In low-volume production or customized manufacturing, FDM is also used to fabricate functioning parts and components. It is used in jig fabrication and tooling, helping to increase productivity and efficiency in assembly lines. FDM printers are used in research and education to facilitate experimentation and hands-on learning. FDM is used in consumer products production, engineering and product development, art and design, aerospace and automotive industries, medical and healthcare applications, and architectural modeling. Due to its affordability and adaptability, it is a well-liked option for a range of 3D printing requirements.

JLC3DP FDM sample product - black and white

Pros of FDM

· Cost-effective· Material Variety

· Widely Available & User-friendly

· Rapid Prototyping

· Customization and Personalization

· Support Structures

· Good Mechanical Strength & Durability

· Large Build Volume

· Eco-Friendly

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) offers several advantages when compared to other 3D printing technologies like Stereolithography (SLA) and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). In terms of print quality and surface finish, SLA and SLS are superior to FDM in terms of cost-effectiveness, material diversity, accessibility, handling support structures, cleanliness, scalability, and mechanical strength. For many applications, these benefits make FDM the best alternative, particularly when cost, material options, and ease of usage are crucial considerations.

Cons of FMD

· Lower Print Resolution

· Visible Layer Lines

· Limited Dimensional Accuracy

· Material Limitations

· Post-processing Requirements

What is Stereo Lithography(SLA)?

A technique known as photopolymerization is used by stereolithography (SLA), a 3D printing method, to produce three-dimensional objects. It was among the earliest methods for additive manufacturing to be created, and it's still in use today.

SLA is commonly used in applications that require high-resolution prototypes, detailed models, jewelry, dental applications, and other industries where accuracy and fine details are crucial.

JLC3DP SLA sample product - high-resolution prototypes, detailed models

Pros of SLA

· High Precision and Accuracy

· Excellent Surface Finish

· Wide Material Selection

· Automatically Generate Support Structures

· Fast Printing Speed

· High Resolution

· Iterative Design and Prototyping

When comparing Stereolithography (SLA) with other 3D printing technologies like Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), SLA offers several unique advantages. It includes high precision and fine detail, smooth surface finish, wide material selection, automatically generated support structures, and high aesthetic value, and the SLA is widely used in the medical and dental industries.

Cons of SLA

· Limited Print Size

· Higher Equipment and Material Cost

· Limited Material Compatibility

· Require Post-processing Steps After Printing

· Limited Heat Resistance

· Support Structure Removal

· Longer Print Times

Notwithstanding these drawbacks, SLA is still a useful 3D printing technique for tasks requiring a high degree of accuracy, minute details, and smooth surfaces. Some of these drawbacks are being addressed by technological advancements and the ongoing creation of new materials, which are increasing the capabilities and uses of SLA printing.

What is Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)?

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is a 3D printing process that employs a laser to selectively fuse powdered materials to create three-dimensional objects. It's an additive manufacturing technique that makes it possible to create functional prototypes or final components with intricate geometries.

SLS is a popular 3D printing technique used for small-batch production, fast prototyping, and fabricating final products. Applications for it can be found in a variety of industries, including consumer goods, automotive, aerospace, medical, and architectural. Using a variety of materials, SLS allows for the production of functional prototypes and intricate geometries, which makes it ideal for creating lightweight parts, customized medical devices, architectural models, tools, and more. It's economical for low-volume manufacturing runs since it can produce parts without the requirement for molds or tooling.

JLC3DP SLA sample product - small-batch production

Pros of SLS

· Wide Material Compatibility

· Complex Geometries

· No Need for Support Structures

· Excellent Mechanical Properties

· Cost-effective for Low-Volume Production

· Time-Efficient

· Can Produce Functional Prototypes

· Reduced Material Waste

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) offers unique advantages over Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and Stereolithography (SLA), including the ability to produce complex geometries without support structures, a wider range of material options, higher strength and durability, and cost-effectiveness for low-volume production.

Cons of SLS

· Higher Equipment and Operation Costs

· Limited Print Size

· Post-Processing Requirements· Material Limitations

· Have a Slightly Rougher Surface Finish

· Heat Sensitivity

· Lack of Color Options


In summary, when comparing Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Stereolithography (SLA), and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) technologies, each has its advantages and disadvantages. FDM is affordable and user-friendly but has limitations in resolution and surface finish. SLA offers high-resolution prints but can be more expensive and has limited material options. SLS excels in complex geometries and offers a wide range of materials, but it can be costlier and requires post-processing. The choice of technology depends on specific project requirements such as complexity, materials, surface finish, and budget.