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Resin or filament 3D printing: Which is best for you?

Two jokers on an MK3
Two jokers on an MK3 (Image credit: Windows Central)

Resin or filament 3D printing: Which is best for you?

Best answer: If you're looking to make massive 3D-printed pieces or you want to finish your prints, then a filament printer is the best choice for you. If you want production quality out of the machine or you are looking to print small models with a high level of detail, then we would suggest a resin, SLA/DLP printer.A great starter: Elegoo Mars Pro 2 (opens in new tab) ($400 at Amazon)The best of the best: Prusa Mk3 kit ($749 at Prusa Research)

What is SLA/DLP printing?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Stereolithography/digital light processing (SLA/DLP) printers are, essentially, 3D printers that print using light to cure liquid resin into layers. The cheaper versions use an LCD to shine a UV image into the resin, which cures it into a solid layer. The print bed then rises slightly to let the next layer cure.

This allows you to print a model with extremely fine detail, far more than a standard filament printer can produce, and the result tends to need far less post-processing work to give you a finished product.

The downside is that they tend to have smaller build plates than filament (FDM) printers, so you can't make large pieces on them. They also tend to be a little slower than FDM printers as they have to cure. You will also have to wash the print and further cure it after it has been printed to get the full effect.

There have been great strides to solve both these problems, though. You can now buy an excellent wash and cure station that can speed up the curing process considerably, and Peopoly has released an enormous printer called the Phenom that will resin print your parts on a much larger scale.

What is FDM printing?

Snapmaker 2 Helmet

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is the style of printing you are likely most familiar with. A string of plastic called a filament is melted through a hot end and deposited on the build plate. The next layer is then placed on top of the previous layer.

FDM printing is used far and wide in modeling and for producing larger parts like cosplay armor and helmets. The nature of the printing makes it very easy to set up and very easy to learn. Most maker spaces around the country use FDM printers as they are cheap and reliable. FDM printing is also very good at making practical prints. Many printers can print exotic materials like carbon fiber and nylons that are incredibly strong. These can be used to make strong models and moving parts.

It's only when you start wanting to make smaller models in finer detail that FDM printing can run aground. That isn't to say that a well-tuned FDM printer can't give you amazing detail; they can. If you look at the Joker model we used by Wekster, you can see that although the model isn't quite as nice as the resin version, it still looks excellent.

So which should you buy?

That's a good question. It all depends on the kind of printing you want to do.

If you are hoping to print miniatures for board games, highly detailed models, or production-quality parts, then an SLA/DLP printer is the best choice. The level of resolution that a resin printer can bring is extraordinary.

If you are hoping to build large-scale models, cosplay items like armor or helmets, or you are looking to produce prototypes rapidly, then an FDM 3D printer is likely the right choice for you. It gives you the greatest range of options at a great price.

There is a considerable array of FDM 3D printers on the market at a price point to suit every pocket. We chose to showcase the Prusa Mk3 here because it is the perfect mix of price, advanced features, and quality prints. I would recommend buying the kit version of the Prusa as it will give you a chance to learn more about how the printer works and provide you with insight into how to fix it if things go wrong.

We went with the Elegoo Mars for this comparison because the entry-level price point is just right for trying resin printers for the first time. The Mars is a revelation for anyone who has never used a resin printer before as it is so cheap and yet produces amazing prints every time.

James built his first PC when he was 13 and has never looked back. He can be found on Windows Central, usually in the corner where all the 3D printers are, or huddled around the Xbox playing the latest games.