Delta vs Cartesian 3D Printers: Key Differences Explained

If you’re in the market for a new printer, the Delta vs. Cartesian debate is one you’re pretty likely to have had, if not with yourself, then certainly with your fellow 3D printing fans.

As we’ll discuss in this head-to-head comparison, these two desktop printers have a lot in common but operate in different ways and have distinct designs, making each one uniquely suited for different circumstances and printing projects.

Below, we’ll look at both these similarities and differences, weigh up the pros and cons of each type of printer, and offer our recommendations on which type of printer is right for you.

Delta vs. Cartesian 3D Printers: Head-to-Head Comparison

FLSUN QQ-S-PRO Pre-assembled Delta 3d Printer Printing Size Φ255X360mm Lattice glass platform Auto Leveling Touch Screen
FLSUN QQ-S-PRO, via Amazon

Both Delta printers, such as the FLSUN QQ-S-PRO Pre-assembled Delta 3D Printer, and their Cartesian counterparts like the ANYCUBIC Mega-S New Upgrade 3D Printer are small enough to fit comfortably on any desktop surface while still being large enough to accommodate most modest-sized printing projects.

Both are also very similar in that they use Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). If you’re familiar with our guide to FDM vs. SLA, you may recall that this process works by sending individual filaments of either ABS or PLA through the printer in a manner akin to sending fabric through a sewing machine.

Yet the way each type of machine does this is different, much as the two are different in many other aspects as well, and it’s these differences that we’ll discuss in greater detail here:

Set-Up and Assembly

One of the biggest differences between delta and cartesian 3D printers is how much work you’ll need to do in advance to get set up and ready to print.

As the smaller of the two options, Cartesian printers tend to come mostly -if not completely- pre-assembled, meaning all you have to do is take it out of the box, and it’s ready to use.

This makes it a great option for those picking up 3D printing as a hobby for the first time or simply for anyone who just prefers not to have the hassle of assembly.

On the other hand, the Delta printers typically come in kit form and require some assembly before you can use them.

While this can be time-consuming, it also makes them an excellent choice for anyone who enjoys the process of building their ideal printer from scratch.

Printing Process

Cartesian printers are so-called named due to the Cartesian coordinate system they use to plot points.

Creating a series of X, Y, and Z coordinates allows the printer to quickly work out the print head and extruder location to move the print bed into the correct position.

Interestingly enough, Delta printers operate on a system that is similar to -but not entirely the same as- Cartesians.

Cartesian printers utilize a collection of rails to push the print head and print bed and put the extruder in the right spot.

Meanwhile, Delta printers utilize trigonometric functions to determine the right coordinates and move three rails up and down into place independently of one another.

What this difference ultimately means is that while Cartesian printers tend to be easier to use and more beginner-friendly, Delta printers’ three independent arms allow it to print in all directions simultaneously, resulting in a more efficient process.

Speed

Whether you’re using a Cartesian printer, a Delta model, a popular brand like Creality, and their best-selling CR10 models, the speed of your printing is always going to be an important factor.

In this regard, the Delta is the clear winner.

The combination of three vertical arms and the three stepper motors that drive each one allows a Delta to print up to as fast as 300 mm/s, which is incredibly fast, as any expert will tell you.

If you need some indication as to exactly how fast that is, consider the fact that despite being one of the most popular types of 3D printers out there, even the best Cartesian printers may only reach a top printing speed of 60 mm/s.

Precision and Detail

Here’s where Delta’s lightning-fast speed actually proves to be its downfall, as this type of printer does have a reputation for compromising precision in favor of quickness.

That’s not to say that you won’t get a nice, clean, and precise print with a Delta, as these models do still print to a very high standard indeed. It’s just that, of the two, you’re going to notice any imperfections a lot more with a Delta than with a Cartesian.

Likewise, you may also notice that the surface detail isn’t as pristine, with a little roughness noticeable in certain parts of your print.

Conversely, Cartesian printers may take their time, but doing so allows them to offer a superior print quality with super-smooth surface textures, greater definition, and all-around better precision.

Size and Print Capacity

Here’s another area where the Delta really comes into its own. While a Cartesian printer is by no means small, it’s nowhere near as tall as the Delta.

This makes it a much better option if you want to print larger projects.

Extrusion Style

Another key difference between these two printers is that a Delta printer uses a Bowden Extrusion setup, whereas a Cartesian doesn’t but can be easily upgraded to use a high caliber direct drive setup.

If you’re not familiar with either of these two terms or aren’t sure why it matters to you, our guide to the differences between Direct Drive and Bowden Extrusion setups may be worth a read.

If you don’t have time for that, let us say that even though a Bowden setup has its advantages in terms of keeping the print headlight and allowing it to move quickly while remaining impervious to jerks and knocks, it does make it more challenging to print with TPU and TPE.

That’s not to say it’s impossible, but if you’re planning to print with these types of flexible filaments, a Cartesian may prove to be a better option.

Frequently Asked Questions About Delta vs. Cartesian 3D printers

What is Cartesian 3D Printing?

In a nutshell, Cartesian printing is the most widely used form of FDM printing. It uses X, Y, Z coordinates to determine the correct positions and the direction of the printhead, making for a smoother printing process.

Which 3D Printer has the best quality?

Of the two, Cartesian printers tend to offer a superior print quality that is smoother and more precise than a delta.

Which 3D printer prints fastest?

Some delta printers are capable of printing up to fives times as fast as Cartesians, making them easily the quickest.

Delta vs. Cartesian 3D Printers: The Final Verdict

Official Creality Ender 3 3D Printer Fully Open Source with Resume Printing Function DIY 3D Printers Printing Size 220x220x250mm
Creality Ender 3 3D Printer, via Amazon

As you can see, there’s no clear winner when it comes to settling the Delta vs. Cartesian 3D printer debate.

Both are exceptional quality printers, though each one is ideal for different circumstances.

For anyone new to 3D printing, or anyone who simply wants the most precise printing possible, then the excellent precision and pre-assembled setup of Cartesian models like the Creality Ender 3 V2 makes it ideal.

However, for anyone with a need for speed and large printing capacity, the lightning-fast printing and tall size of a Delta model such as the FLSUN QQ-S-PRO Pre-assembled Delta 3d Printer will undoubtedly hold plenty of appeal.