Resin vs. Filament 3D Printer: Comparing Quality, Cost and More

One of the most profound pieces of new technology in the last decade or so is the 3D printer. The ability to create customized items from scratch is pretty revolutionary, and we’re excited to see how this tool develops in the future.

Currently, there are two primary methods of 3D printing, and both of them have advantages and disadvantages. This article will break down the various elements of resin vs. filament 3D printer models and how they can affect what you make.

Filament printing is the most common option as it can build structures quickly and efficiently, using a string of plastic material (called a filament).

Resin printing takes longer because the machine uses UV light to cure the material after each layer is applied.

Because of these differences, filament printers are better for larger pieces and faster printing. Resin models are best suited for small items with intricate details.

What is Resin Printing?

ELEGOO Saturn MSLA 3D Printer UV Photocuring LCD Resin 3D Printer with 4K Monochrome LCD, Matrix UV LED Light Source, Off-Line, and WLAN Print,192x120x200mm / 7.55x4.72x7.87 inches Printing Size

There are actually two varieties of resin printing, stereolithography (SLA) and digital light processing (DLP). Let’s break down each option:

SLA Printing

This method is the oldest form of 3D printing, but it also takes the most time. As liquid resin comes out onto the mold, a UV laser cures the material so that it can harden. Depending on the type of resin you use, the product’s surface can be smooth or somewhat rough. However, since the machine works relatively slowly, you can get intricate details that aren’t possible with filament printing.

DLP Printing

Instead of a UV laser, this type of machine uses arc lamps to harden the liquid plastic. Since the lamps can set the resin faster, you can finish your project in far less time than SLA printing. These models are still smaller than filament printers, but they can achieve impressive details.

Pros and Cons of Resin 3D Printing

  • Pro: Ornate Pieces – One of the best advantages of 3D printing is that you can create virtually anything from a computer. Resin printers allow your creativity to flourish since you can build smaller and more intricate items. If you want a larger product, you can break it down into smaller components and fit them together afterward.
  • Con: Longer Printing Time (SLA Only) – If you’re using an SLA printer, you should expect to wait a while before your piece gets finished. While slow speeds aren’t necessarily a dealbreaker, they’re something to consider when choosing a model. DLP printing is much faster, though, so keep that in mind.
  • Pro: Less Finishing Required – Depending on what you’re making with a 3D printer, you might have to “finish” your piece once it’s out of the machine. Resin printers can deliver more polished products, saving you time on the back end.
  • Con: Higher Costs – Not only are resin printers typically more expensive, but they also require more money to maintain. While filament is pretty cheap, resin and the holding tanks are much pricier. As a rule, SLA printers are more affordable than DLP models.

What is Filament 3D Printing?

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The technical term for this method is fused deposition modeling (FDM), and it’s the most common type of 3D printing. The machine melts a long string of plastic filament to create individual layers. Since the plastic hardens on its own, it doesn’t need any special light to cure.

Pros and Cons of Filament 3D Printing

  • Pro: Fast and Efficient Printing – Plastic resin is much easier to work with and can deliver finished pieces in much less time than SLA models. If you’re making a ton of parts, FDM printing is the best option.
  • Con: Less Intricate Details – Overall, filament printers can yield some pretty fine detail work in your finished product. However, it won’t look as good as an SLA or DLP print.
  • Pro: Industrial-Strength Plastic – You can use high-quality thermoplastic in your FDM printer, meaning that your pieces can work well for engineering purposes. So, if you’re using a 3D printer for professional-grade projects, filament is often the best way to go.
  • Con: More Post-Processing Required – Printing your piece is only the first step. While SLA and DLP printers can create highly detailed products, you’ll likely have to do some finishing work on your filament model. Not only that, but the plastic can warp and bend during the printing process, so you might have to massage it into shape to avoid any significant visual errors.

Resin vs. Filament 3D Printer Comparison Guide

While we’ve covered the pros and cons for each model, let’s break down how they stack up against each other in various categories. We’ll look at the following elements:

  • Price
  • Print Sizes
  • Print Time
  • Texture and Detail
  • Durability

Price

As we mentioned, you have to consider both the upfront cost of the printer and the price of upkeep. You’ll have to buy filament strings for FDM printers, which often cost about $20 per spool. However, you need to pick the right plastic for your applications, and there are three main types: PLA, ABS, and PETG.

Here’s a quick overview of each option:

  • PLA Filament – PLA stands for polylactic acid, and it’s the most common material for FDM printing. One advantage of PLA is that it’s recyclable and eco-friendly, which helps cut down costs. However, it is softer and can melt easier, such as in direct sunlight. So, you shouldn’t use PLA for items that may get exposed to high heat.
  • ABS Filament – Acrylonitrile Butadiene is stronger than PLA and is heat-resistant up to 250 degrees Celsius. So, you don’t have to worry about your products melting in the sun. That said, ABS is somewhat toxic and can create hazardous fumes while printing. You’ll also need a heated print plate to avoid curling, which will drive up your costs. On average, ABS filament is about $20 per spool.
  • PETG Filament – If you want smoother surfaces, you should use Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol. This material is food safe and heat resistant up to 250 degrees Celsius. Typically, PETG is translucent or transparent, so keep that in mind when developing products. The material can also have stringing problems while printing, which you’ll have to clean up afterward.

You can also find other filaments, such as carbon fiber, nylon, and HIPS. These filaments are more expensive and harder to find. They’re also meant for specialty applications because they’re stronger and more impact-resistant.

When talking about resin printers, you have more options for materials, but the price point changes depending on what you choose. On average, a bottle of resin can cost between $20 and $75. Some resins are washable, while others aren’t. Some versions can also cure quicker than others, such as the Rich-Opto LCD UV-curing resin.

Now, let’s break down the price of the printers themselves.

FDM models can usually cost between $150 and $300, although larger, high-end models can go up to $1,500.

Typically, if you want a professional-grade printer, you must pay extra for the privilege. These units can cost between $3,000 and $6,000.

Hobby resin 3D printers often cost between $180 and $900. Since these machines are not as large as FDM models, they usually don’t cost more than a grand.

If you want a professional-grade model, though, you can expect to pay $3,000 to $10,000.

Winner: Filament printers are much more affordable and easier to maintain. These units are better suited for hobbyists and 3D printing beginners.

Print Sizes

At-home filament 3D printers are often about 200 x 200 x 200 millimeters, which is about 7.9 inches on all sides. You can also find industrial-sized printers, which can reach up to 40 inches.

Keep in mind that larger prints can warp more easily since the weight of the item is heavier. So, you may need to brace your prints to avoid any substantial changes. You can also include fillets (rounded inside corners) to add structural stability to the piece.

By comparison, SLA printers are typically a bit smaller. Desktop models can print pieces up to 145 by 145 by 175 mm, which translates to roughly 5.7 by 5.7 by 6.9 inches. If you upgrade to an industrial-sized machine, those dimensions can reach 1500 by 750 by 500 mm. That’s 59 by 29.5 by 19.69 inches.

If you use a DLP printer, you don’t have to worry as much about warping for larger objects because the light cures the resin so quickly. However, for SLA printers, keep in mind that there may be some slight variations or defects, depending on what you’re printing. Once the resin cures, it can’t revert to its liquid state. Even if you try to melt it, the plastic will burn, not soften.

Winner: Tie, depending on your needs. Resin 3D printers work well for smaller, more intricate pieces, which is perfect for many applications. Overall, just choose the model that fits the size of the parts you’ll need.

Print Time

Both printer types can vary significantly in print times. If you’re building small parts, the duration can be as little as 10 minutes on an FDM printer. The shortest print time for an SLA model is about 30 minutes. If you’re using DLP, it’s comparable to an FDM machine.

If you’re making larger objects, you can expect to wait a few hours or a couple of days. Fortunately, the printer will notify you of the total time before you start. That way, you can plan accordingly. Realistically, prints that will take more than 24 hours should be broken up into sections. Otherwise, you’ll have to monitor your machine at all times to refill the filament or resin as necessary.

Another point to consider is that you can adjust your design to take less time. For example, the Strati is a 3D-printed car that uses proprietary filament and machines. Originally, the car took about 140 hours to print. Now, it can take just about 24 hours, thanks to an updated and more streamlined design. Best of all, the car is even lighter and more affordable because of the time saved.

Winner: As a rule, filament printers are much faster. However, you can achieve similar times with a DLP printer, so both options are pretty much tied. If you choose an SLA printer, you’ll have to wait at least twice as long for your print to finish.

Texture and Detail

As we mentioned, SLA printers are better at achieving ornate details within your piece. These machines are perfect for making small models, such as game pieces or statues.

FDM printers, however, are best for simple, functional objects. For example, you can build a suit of armor for yourself with an FDM printer, as long as you break it into smaller pieces.

The other point to consider is the texture of each print type. Since FDM printers use melted plastic, the objects have a distinct layered effect. While you can minimize this texture by sanding the surface and/or painting it, it’s still pretty noticeable. Resin printers don’t have this problem because the liquid can blend much more efficiently. Overall, your pieces can look more professional with SLA models.

Winner: Resin 3D printers technically win this round, assuming that you want detailed and smooth objects. However, if functionality is more important, you might want an FDM model instead.

Durability

At first glance, resin vs. filament 3D printer objects looks about the same, durability-wise. However, plastic filament is generally stronger than resin because it’s made of solid material. While resin layers blend evenly, the liquid is not as resilient as plastic. Even low-quality PLA is often more durable than resin.

That said, if you purchase high-end resin, you can often get similar results. As a rule, though, resin is more brittle, meaning it can’t take much abuse. So, if you’re trying to build mechanical parts, you need to use a filament printer. Plus, you can choose different filament types, which further increase the strength and resilience of the object.

We should also mention that resin printers are fast becoming more popular, so companies are developing stronger materials for the machines. Over time, we may see resins that are as strong or stronger than plastic filament.

Winner: Filament printers win for now, but that may change in the future.

Resin vs. Filament 3D Printer: Which is the Best for You?

As you can see, one printer type is necessarily “better” than the other. Instead, you need to figure out what you’re trying to do with your 3D printer.

For example, if you want to make game pieces, an SLA or DLP printer is best. On the other hand, if you’re trying to make components for mechanical devices, you need to use an FDM machine.

Now that you know the difference, happy printing!