3D printing is now available to many people. If they do not have a 3D Printer themselves, they will have access to one, either through friends, libraries, schools, universities or through Fablabs or Makerspaces.

But what is it? What makes it unique? What can I use it for? Is it just fun and games or can it be used in a serious, financial succesfull venture?

3D printing is at its most simple a method of turning a digital design into a physical model. At the moment, two major methods exist, one where a plastic material is melted and deposited on a bed, layer upon layer; and another where a resin is cured with light, solidifying the resin, again building layer by layer.

FFF (or FDM)

The most affordable of the two is the first, also called either FDM - Fused Deposition Modelling (a trademark owned by Stratasys Inc. or FFF - Fused Filament Fabrication. The two terms cover the same approach, the only difference is the trademark issue. In this article (and other posts) I will be using the term FFF.

A plastic - this could be PLA, ABS, PET or PETG, Nylon, TPE and a few exotics - is heated and pushed through a nozzle and deposited on a bed (that may be heated), layer by layer, building up a 3 dimensional model. The different plastics has different characteristics and thus different uses. The printer will often be limited on the materials it can use from the features it has or lacks. Most if not all FFF printers can print in PLA (even without a heated bed) while the other materials require a heated and/or higher temperatures to melt. Printing in ABS gives off toxic fumes and thus special ventilation is recommended

I will cover the different plastics in a future article.


The more expensive method of the two is Stereolithography or SLA. This method involves curing a liquid resin into a solid state, layer by layer to form the desired 3D model. SLA is magnitudes more expensive compared to FFF, both the hardware itself and the consumables. However it is possible to print at a much higher resolution with SLA printers than with FFF printers. Secondly when using (semi) transparent material the resin fuses more uniformly than a FFF plastic does. Thus (semi) transparent models are actually see through, where FFF plastics when deposited does not fuse the layers togother with regard to light transitioning, so while FFF prints can be (semi) transparent, they are not clear as SLA prints are.


Sources used in this article (external sources):

FFF VS. FDM – WHAT’S THE REAL DIFFERENCE? (accessed 2018-03-07 22:48 CET) - http://3dprinterpower.com/fff-vs-fdm/

3D Printer Filament Guide 2018 – The Top 25 Types (accessed 2018-03-07 22:51 CET) - https://all3dp.com/1/3d-printer-filament-types-3d-printing-3d-filament/

The Ultimate Guide to Stereolithography (SLA) 3D Printing (accessed 2018-03-07 23:30 CET) - https://formlabs.com/blog/ultimate-guide-to-stereolithography-sla-3d-printing/