10 Types of 3D Printing: A Comprehensive Guide

Types of 3D Printing

Types of 3D Printing – The phrase 3D printing refers to a group of manufacturing technologies that build parts layer by layer. Each method of forming plastic and metal parts differs, as do material selection, surface finish, durability, manufacturing speed and cost. This guide focuses on the various 3D printing technologies, or, in layman’s words, 3D printing types. The most popular technologies utilized in 3D printing nowadays are included in this article.

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What Is 3D Printing?

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is the process of creating a three-dimensional object from a CAD model or a digital 3D model. It can be accomplished using a number of processes in which material is deposited, joined, or solidified under computer control, with material being added together (usually layer by layer) (such as polymers, liquids, or powder grains being fused).

In the 1980s, 3D printing processes were thought to be only suited for the fabrication of functional or aesthetically pleasing prototypes, and a more relevant phrase at the time was rapid prototyping.

As of 2019, 3D printing accuracy, repeatability, and material range have improved to the point that some 3D printing techniques are considered feasible as an industrial-production technology, and the terms additive manufacturing and 3D printing may be used interchangeably. One of the primary benefits of 3D printing is the capacity to create highly complicated forms or geometries that would be hard to manufacture by hand, such as hollow pieces or items with internal truss systems to minimize weight. As of 2020, the most prevalent 3D printing technology is fused deposition modeling (FDM), which employs a continuous filament of a thermoplastic substance.

Types of 3D Printing
3D Printing Technology (Reference: 3dnatives.com)

Types of 3D Printing Technology

The phrase 3D printing refers to a group of manufacturing technologies that create parts layer by layer. Each method of forming plastic and metal parts differs, as do material choices, surface finish, durability, production speed and cost.

There are several types of 3D printing, including:

  • Stereolithography (SLA)
  • Digital Light Process (DLP)
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
  • Selective laser melting (SLM)
  • Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
  • Electron Beam Melting (EBM)
  • Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
  • PolyJet
  • Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM)

Choosing the best 3D printing technique for your application necessitates a knowledge of each process’s strengths and shortcomings, as well as matching those characteristics to your product development requirements.

Stereolithography (SLA)

Stereolithography is a member of the vat photopolymerization family of additive manufacturing processes, also known as resin 3D printing. All of these equipment work on the same principle: they use a light source to cure liquid resin into hardened plastic. The arrangement of the basic components, such as the light source, build platform, and resin tank, is the primary physical distinction.

Light-reactive thermoset materials known as “resin” are used in SLA 3D printers. Short molecular chains form when SLA resins are subjected to certain wavelengths of light, polymerizing monomers and oligomers into hardened rigid or flexible geometries.

SLA products offer the best resolution and precision, the finest details, and the smoothest surface finishes of any 3D printing technology, but stereolithography’s major advantage is its adaptability. Material manufacturers have developed novel SLA resin compositions with optical, mechanical, and thermal characteristics comparable to standard, engineering, and industrial thermoplastics.

Types of 3D Printing
A schematic representation of the basic mechanics of stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing. (Reference: formlabs.com)

Digital Light Processing (DLP)

Digital light processing is similar to SLA in that it uses light to cure liquid resin. The fundamental distinction between the two technologies is that DLP employs a digital light projector screen and SLA employs a UV laser. DLP 3D printers may thus image a complete layer of the build at once, resulting in higher build rates. While commonly used for rapid prototyping, DLP printing’s increased throughput makes it acceptable for low-volume manufacturing runs of plastic items.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

Selective laser sintering is the strategy of creating an item using powder bed fusion technology and polymer powder. As industrial patents expire, these sorts of 3D printing technology will become more prevalent and less expensive.

To begin, a bin of polymer powder is heated to a temperature slightly below the melting point of the polymer. Following that, a recoating blade or wiper applies a very thin layer of the powdered material onto a build platform, approximately 0.1 mm thick. The surface is then scanned using a CO2 or fiber laser. The laser sinters the powder selectively and solidifies a cross-section of the item. A pair of galvos, like in SLA, concentrate the laser on the proper area.

The construction platform will go down one layer thickness in height after scanning the full cross-section. The recoating blade applies a new layer of powder on top of the newly scanned layer, and the laser sinters the object’s next cross-sections onto the previously cemented cross-sections.

These stages are continued until all things have been created completely. The unsintered powder stays in situ to support the item, reducing or eliminating the requirement for support structures.

Types of 3D Printing
Schematic of the SLS process. SLS 3D printing employs a high-power laser to sinter small particles of polymer powder into a solid structure based on a 3D model. (Reference: formlabs.com)

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

Material extrusion machines are the most widely available – and least expensive – forms of 3D printing technology worldwide. They are also known as fused deposition modeling (FDM). The term “fused filament fabrication” (FFF) is another name for them.

A spool of filament is normally put into the 3D printer and fed through to a printer nozzle in the extrusion head. After heating the printer nozzle to the proper temperature, a motor drives the filament through the heated nozzle, melting it.

The printer subsequently moves the extrusion head along the given coordinates, depositing the molten material on the build plate to cool and solidify. When one layer is finished, the printer moves on to the next. This procedure of printing cross-sections is continued until the thing is entirely produced, layer upon layer. Support structures may be required depending on the shape of the item, for example, if a model includes steep overhanging areas.

Types of 3D Printing
In comparison to SLA printers (Right), FDM printers struggle with complicated designs or parts with intricate details (left). (Reference: xometry.eu)

FDM is utilized in 3D printed structures by extruding clay or concrete, 3D printed desserts by extruding chocolate, 3D printed organs by extruding living cells in a bio gel, and so on. If anything can be extruded, it can almost certainly be 3D printed.

Selective Laser Melting (SLM)/Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)

Selective Laser Melting (SLM)/Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) both manufacture things in the same way as SLS does. The primary distinction is that these forms of 3D printing technology are used to manufacture metal parts.

DMLS heats the powder to a degree where it can fuse on a molecular level rather than melting it. SLM employs a laser to accomplish a complete melt of the metal powder, resulting in a homogenous component. As a result, the portion has a single melting temperature (something not produced with an alloy).

This is the primary distinction between DMLS and SLM; the former creates components from metal alloys, whilst the latter creates single element materials like titanium. In contrast to SLS, the DMLS and SLM techniques require structural support to prevent the possibility of deformation (despite the fact that the surrounding powder provides physical support).

DMLS/SLM components are susceptible to warping owing to residual stresses generated during printing as a result of the high temperatures, however because DMLS does not melt the powder, parts can be less stressed. Parts are often heat-treated after printing to remove any stresses in the parts.

Electron Beam Melting (EBM)

Unlike previous powder bed fusion processes, electron beam melting (EBM) employs a high energy beam, or electrons, to produce fusion between metal powder particles.

A concentrated electron beam sweeps across a tiny layer of powder, generating localized melting and solidification across a particular cross-sectional region. These regions are constructed to form a solid object.

Because of its higher energy density, EBM has a faster build speed than SLM and DMLS forms of 3D printing technology. Minimum feature size, layer thickness, powder particle size and surface polish, on the other hand, are often bigger.

It’s also worth noting that EBM parts are made in a vacuum, and the method can only be employed with conductive materials.

Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)

Multi Jet Fusion, like SLS, creates functional parts out of nylon powder. Rather than employing a laser to sinter the powder, MJF employs an inkjet array to apply fusing agents to the bed of nylon powder. In reality, the technology gets its name from the many inkjet heads used in the printing process. Separate head arrays travel over the print bed in various directions to perform material recoating, agent distribution, and heating, allowing the user to tune both operations separately.

The printer applies a coating of material powder to the printing bed during the Multi Jet Fusion printing process. Following that, an inkjet head passes over the powder, depositing both a fusing and a detailing agent. After that, an infrared heating device glides across the print. Wherever a fusing agent was used, the underlying layer melted together, whilst the detailing agent parts remained powder. The powdery bits fall away, resulting in the appropriate shape. Modeling supports are also no longer required because the lower layers support those printed above them.

To complete the printing process, the entire powder bed, including the printed parts, is relocated to a separate processing station. The majority of the loose unfused powder is sucked up here, allowing it to be reused rather than causing trash.


PolyJet is yet another plastic 3D printing technology with a twist. It may create parts with a variety of features, such as colors and materials. Designers can use the technique to create elastomeric or overmolded products. If your design is a single, stiff plastic, we recommend using SL or SLS since it is more cost effective. However, if you’re designing an overmolding or silicone rubber design, PolyJet can save you money on tooling early in the development process. This allows you to iterate and evaluate your design more quickly, saving you money.

Types of 3D Printing
3D Printing Part– PolyJet (Reference: re-fream.eu)

Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM)

The most frequent type of Sheet Lamination 3D printing is LOM. Material sheets are piled on top of one other and bonded together. Layers are built up one at a time, like in many other kinds of 3D printing, but a sheet cannot create a complicated design alone, therefore in LOM, a knife (or laser, or CNC router) is utilized to cut the layered item into the right shape.

The quantity of glue used throughout this printing process may be adjusted, with more glue used in places that will eventually become part of the final print and less used in parts that would be removed by the cutter. As the print progresses, the cutter cuts a 2D cross-section of the final print.

This printing technology has numerous major advantages, including the ability to generate prints quickly and cheaply, as well as bigger things. Of course, there are certain drawbacks. Prints made using this technology are often rather sturdy and keep good qualities over time, although they need more post-production finishing (and can be adjusted with drilling or machining) and generate more waste than other 3D printing technologies.

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