This article will familiarize you with the 10 main types of 3D printer, including both plastic and metal 3D printing technologies:

  1. Fused deposition Modeling (FDM)
  2. Resin 3D printing (including SLA, DLP, LCD)
  3. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
  4. Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
  5. Electron Beam Melting (EBM)
  6. Binder Jetting
  7. Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
  8. Material Jetting / PolyJet
  9. Directed Energy Deposition (DED)
  10. Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) / Selective Deposition Lamination (SDL)

Here’s a brief overview:

Type of 3D PrinterPriceSpeedComplexityPrecisionMain Characteristics
1. FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling)LowMediumLowMediumWidely used, accessible, uses plastic filaments, popular for home use.
2. Resin 3D Printing (SLA, DLP, LCD)Low to MediumMediumMediumHighUses UV-sensitive resin, ideal for detailed models, delicate parts.
3. SLS (Selective Laser Sintering)Medium/HighMediumMediumMedium/HighUses polymer powders, suitable for industrial applications, no supports needed.
4. DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering)Very HighMediumHighHighMetal 3D printing, used in aerospace and automotive, expensive.
5. EBM (Electron Beam Melting)Very HighMedium/HighHighHighSimilar to DMLS, uses an electron beam, suitable for industrial applications.
6. Binder JettingMedium/HighMedium/HighHighMediumUses powder and binding agent, capable of full-color models, versatile.
7. MJF (Multi Jet Fusion)Very HighHighVery HighHighAdvanced plastic 3D printing, extremely fast and accurate, industrial use.
8. PolyJet / Material JettingHighHighMedium/HighVery HighFull-color and multi-material printing, used for detailed models, expensive.
9. DEP (Direct Energy Deposition)Very HighVery HighVery HighMediumMelts and fuses metals, used for large parts and repairs, less precise.
10. LOM (Laminated Object Manufacturing )(LOM) / SDL (Selective Deposition Lamination)
MediumHighMediumHighLayers of paper or plastic, full-color capability, wood-like parts.

1. FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling): Material Extrusion

  • Materials: PLA, ABS, PETG, Nylon, TPU, Polycarbonate, PEEK
  • Common applications: prototyping, household items, low-scale manufacture 
  • Dimensional accuracy: 20-100 microns
  • Price: Low
  • Speed: Medium
  • Complexity: Low
  • Precision: Medium

FDM 3D printers are the most widely used, easiest to use, and cheapest 3D printers, starting at around $200. They’re perfect for beginners who want a simple printing environment.

They print using plastic filaments which are fed into the printer’s extruder, guided through to the hot end, and then melted. Once melted, these filaments are extruded out of the nozzle onto the build plate

fdm 3d printer type printing filament during the fdm process
FDM printers use an extruder, hot end and nozzle (shown above) to melt and deposit filament to create a 3D part.

There are various types of FDM printers, including:

Cartesian 3D printers are by far the most common, though CoreXY printers are increasingly popular. We also have an in-depth article on all the types of FDM 3D printers.

FDM is one of the least dangerous technologies, with no harmful materials used during printing. You only have to be careful to not touch the heated bed or hot extruder during printing.

FDM 3D printers print using filaments, pictured above.

There is also a huge range of materials you can print with. Though beginners should stick with PLA filament, a cheap filament that prints easily and at a low temperature, you can also print with ABS, PETG, and Nylon. You can also print with flexible filaments such as TPU, and even more industrial materials like carbon fiber-filled filaments, Polycarbonate, and PEEK.

FDM can’t compete with more accurate forms of 3D printers, such as resin 3D printers or PolyJet. FDM printed parts usually have fairly visible layer lines, and can string or leave marks where supports were removed, weaknesses you see even in the best FDM 3D printers .

2. Resin 3D printing: SLA, DLP and LCD via Vat Polymerization

  • Materials: Resins (variety of types including standard, engineering-grade, flexible, dental, and castable resins)
  • Common applications: Prototyping, jewelry making, dental models and molds, engineering and product design 
  • Dimensional accuracy: ±0.05 to ±0.2 millimeters
  • Price: Ranging from low (LCD and DLP) to medium (SLA)
  • Speed: Medium
  • Complexity: Medium
  • Precision: High

Resin 3D printers offer some of the best print quality available, allowing the average user to print parts with excellent resolution, accuracy, and surface finish.

There are a few main types of resin printer:

  1. SLA (Stereolithography): Uses a laser that directs light, via mirrors called galvanometers, to harden resin into a 3D model.
  2. DLP (Digital Light Processing): Uses the same projection technology as movie cinema projectors. DLP cures resin using a projector – and can cure an entire layer of resin at once through one digital image projection.
  3. LCD: The cheapest resin technology, uses LED lights and an LCD screen to selectively cure resin. Accuracy is based on the number of pixels and the size of pixels from the LCD screen.
  4. LFS (Low Force Stereolithography): Invented by Formlabs, LFS is an updated version of SLA for better print quality, speed, and reliability.

They all involve using photo-sensitive resin and a light source to cure resin, layer-by-layer, to create accurate resin 3D models. They all have their unique trade offs, and I recommend our guide on SLA, DLP, and LCD 3D printing for a deeper understanding on how they work.

formlabs form 3
Formlabs’ Form 3 is considered one of the best within the SLA 3D printing category.

The technology also favors a wide range of applications, from hobbyist models with intricate details, to engineering prototypes that require high precision.

However, there are fewer materials available for 3D resin printing, and a narrower range of color options than FDM. Resins are also more expensive than filament, and can be wasted if the resin is not used during printing.

And although resin 3D printing is undisputed when it comes to versatility, resin parts are more delicate than many other types of 3D printing, and must be kept away from sunlight or they will begin to deteriorate and degrade. Resin printers are also a bit slower than SLS 3D printers.

3. SLS (Selective Laser Sintering): Powder Bed Fusion

  • Materials: Nylon (PA12), thermoplastics, metals, and ceramics.
  • Common applications: end-use parts for automotive, aerospace, and consumer goods industries, customized medical implants and prosthetics, architectural models 
  • Dimensional accuracy: ±0.1 to ±0.3 millimeters
  • Price: Medium/High
  • Speed: Medium
  • Complexity: Medium
  • Precision: Medium/High

Selective Laser Sintering involves sintering polymer powders into a solid 3D part by using a laser. SLS printers are a category of powder bed fusion 3D printer, along with DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering) printers that use metal powders.

Selective Laser Sintering starts with the printer spreading a thin layer of powdered material, before a high-powered laser then sinters specific areas of the powder layer before adding the next layer of powder to continue the printing process, layer by layer.

The Sinterit Lisa was one of the first affordable SLS 3D printers.

At the end of the print, the object is typically covered in powder, which is brushed off to reveal the finished object. The excess powder is collected for future use, reducing waste. This YouTube video by Xometry briefly illustrates this process.

Since SLS prints are encased in chunks of powder, no supports are required. This saves time and leaves a much better surface finish than in FDM and SLS prints, whose supports leave imperfections in those areas.

SLS is a more industrial process than types of 3D printing such as FDM, making it more expensive. The Sinterit Lisa was one of the first pocket-friendly SLS 3D printers, and recently, more affordable SLS 3D printers have been released, starting at around $5,000. But to get a usable and safe SLS printer workflow, realistically you’re looking at a $30,000 minimum spend.

4. DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering)

  • Materials: stainless steel, aluminum, titanium 
  • Common applications: aerospace components, jewelry, customized parts, medical implants, automotive parts
  • Dimensional accuracy: ±0.1 to ±0.2 millimeters
  • Price: Very High
  • Speed: Medium
  • Complexity: High
  • Precision: Hi

The most widely used type of metal 3D printer, DMLS is similar to SLS in that they both use powder bed fusion and a powerful laser to solidify powder, but DMLS works with metal powders rather than polymers.

DMLS printers use heated chambers that heat the printer’s build area until the stored metal powder is just below its melting point. Once this temperature has been achieved, the printer’s powerful laser traces the part, sintering and solidifying the metal together. Once one layer has finished, a new metal powder layer is spread over the build chamber by the roller, and the process repeats until the part has finished.

dmls 3d printing process the most common metal 3d printing type

Metals such as aluminum, Inconel, titanium, stainless steel and more can be 3D printed on different types of DMLS 3D printers, though each brand’s printer has different material capabilities. DMLS 3D printing is used in the aerospace and automotive industries as they can create strong metal parts that are significantly lighter than those made by other processes, which can save huge amounts of money in rockets or Formula 1 cars.

However, as with other metal 3D printer types DMLS printers are very expensive, and the metal powders are also costly to purchase.

We also have a full guide to Direct Metal Laser Sintering.

5. EBM (Electron Beam Melting)

  • Materials: Titanium alloys (most commonly used), other high-performance metals such as cobalt-chromium, stainless steel, and nickel alloys
  • Common applications: aerospace components, medical implants, automotive parts, industrial tooling and molds
  • Dimensional accuracy: ±0.1 to ±0.5 millimeters
  • Price: Very High
  • Speed: Medium/High
  • Complexity: High
  • Precision: High

Electron Beam Melting is a very similar in process to DMLS, just instead of using a laser to sinter the metal powder, EBM instead uses a powerful electron beam controlled by specialized electromagnetic coils which improve precision and speed.

EBM is known for good part precision, fairly fast speeds and strong parts. However, parts are expensive to produce, the 3D printers themselves can cost several hundred thousand dollars, and are therefore only suitable for high value-added industrial applications.

We also have a full guide to electron beam melting.

6. Binder Jetting

  • Materials: Metals (e.g., stainless steel, aluminum, bronze, titanium), ceramics, sand
  • Common applications: customized parts, production of complex geometries, architectural models, medical implants and devices
  • Customized products
  • Dimensional accuracy: ±0.1 to ±0.5 millimeters
  • Price: Medium/High
  • Speed: Medium/High
  • Complexity: High
  • Precision: Medium

Though we list Binder Jetting as a metal 3D printing process, these printers are also capable of sandstone 3D printing.

Binder Jetting 3D involves powder contained in a powder bed, which has a binding agent deposited onto the areas that are to be solidified. Once one layer is finished, the next layer of powder is spread, and the binding agent deposited again. Some consider it a hybrid mixture between SLS’s powdered material solidifying and material jetting’s binding agent process.

The binder jetting 3D printing process as the binding agent is deposited. Source:

For sand 3D printing, Binder Jetting 3D printers are capable of full color models. This is a huge advantage for those who seek multi-color parts but do not have the expertise or time to paint and post-process these models themselves.

Binder Jetting is considered cheaper than many existing 3D printer types, such as DMLS. However, it is less accurate than technologies such as material jetting, making it a more attractive option for full-color 3D printing, and technologies such as EBM and DMLS can create stronger metal parts.

7. MJF (Multi Jet Fusion)

  • Materials: Nylon-based materials are commonly used, such as PA12 (Polyamide 12)
  • Common applications: functional prototypes, end-use parts in various industries such as automotive, aerospace, and consumer goods
  • Dimensional accuracy: ±0.2 millimeters 
  • Price: Very High
  • Speed: High
  • Complexity: Very High
  • Precision: High

Multi Jet Fusion is pioneered by American tech giant HP, and features a 3D printer as well as a build unit that attaches to the printer for printing, and a processing station for after the printing process.

Somewhat similar to both SLS and PolyJet, MJF 3D printing involves layers of powder being deposited over the build area before a fusing agent is applied over only the areas to be solidified.

Parts created using MJF 3D printing. Source:

As this occurs, a detailing agent is also applied around the edges of the parts, preventing the surrounding powder from being solidified and creating more crisp surface areas and better detailed edges. The printing area is then heated so that the treated areas solidify while the surrounding areas remain as powder, which is then repeated layer-by-layer until the part is finished.

Parts created using MJF 3D printing. Source:

MJF is both extremely fast, and very accurate. Unlike SLS, MJF printer types can fuse entire layers at once rather than tracing each area of the part, printing far quicker. MJF parts also do not require supports, saving material costs and retaining superb part quality finish.

However, MJF 3D printers are very expensive, and require skilled operators to use due to their complexity.For a full explanation of the MJF 3D printing process type.

8. PolyJet / Material Jetting

  • Materials: photopolymer resin
  • Common applications: jewelry, product design, prototyping, medical models, dental application
  • Dimensional accuracy: ±0.1 to ±0.2 millimeters
  • Price: High
  • Speed: High
  • Complexity: Medium/High
  • Precision: Very High

Material Jetting is one of the most precise 3D printing technologies. They can print in full color, and can even print multiple materials at the same time within the same part. The technology is often used for 3D printing medical models, and for 3D printing shoes.

The printing process is considered similar to 2D inkjet printing, but instead of ink droplets being jetted onto paper, droplets of photopolymers are dropped on top of a build tray to be cured by a UV light – similar to SLA. This process then repeats layer-by-layer to create accurate 3D models.

polyjet 3d printer type
PolyJet printers can create multi-color models, such as the one above, with great precision. Source:

Professional PolyJet machines cost tens of thousands of dollars, and the materials used are also very expensive. As a result, the technology is reserved for high-price multi-material and multi-color printing for certain applications.

A Stratasys PolyJet 3D printer with multi-color models.

9. DED (Direct Energy Deposition)

  • Materials: metals, ceramics, composites
  • Common applications: customized prototyping and manufacturing, tooling and molds, replacement parts, and consumer goods
  • Dimensional accuracy: ±0.5 to ±1.0 millimeters
  • Price: Very High printer cost, Medium part cost
  • Speed: Very High
  • Complexity: Very High
  • Precision: Medium

Direct Energy Deposition, sometimes known as cladding or 3D laser cladding, comprises several metal 3D printing techniques that melt and fuse metals as they are deposited, and is frequently used in industrial applications including aerospace, maritime and in defense manufacturing.

These processes within DED include:

  • WAAM (Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing)
  • Sciaky’s EBAM (Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing)
  • LENS 3D printing by Optomec (Laser Engineered Net Shaping)
ded 3d printing optomec
Optomec DED 3D printer working on a metal part.

DED involves using a metal wire material or powder – the feedstock – which is deposited from the printer’s nozzle and melted by the laser, electron beam or other heat source as it is directed onto the build platform. Robotic arms are used to deposit and melt the metal, and the process is commonly used to repair metal parts that have been damaged, as well as to build large metal structures.

DED printers can create the largest metal parts of any metal 3D printing technology. For example, Sciaky’s EBAM systems can create metal parts multiple meters in size. Additionally, the metal powders used in DED 3D printers are typically of lower cost than in DMLS, print extremely quickly, and possess good mechanical properties and strength.

However, DED metal parts are considered worse quality and less precise than those created using DMLS or EBM, with less crisp surface finishes and requiring further post-processing.

We also have a full guide to Directed Energy Deposition.

10. LOM (Laminated Object Manufacturing) / SDL (Selective Deposition Lamination)

  • Materials: paper or plastic sheets
  • Common applications: prototyping, concept modeling, architecture models, packaging prototypes, educational models
  • Dimensional accuracy: ±0.1 to ±0.5 millimeters
  • Price: Medium
  • Speed: High
  • Complexity: Medium
  • Precision: High

Though rarely seen in the 3D printing industry, CleanGreen3D (formerly MCor) are one company manufacturing Laminated Object Manufacturing / Selective Deposition Lamination 3D printers.

LOM involves sheets of either paper or plastic being placed across the build platform before being coated with an adhesive. Then, a heated roller passes over the paper or plastic sheet, melting the adhesive to the platform. A blade or laser then cuts the unwanted areas away, leaving the solid part. The process is repeated with additional sheets placed on the existing model, bonded with the melted adhesive, creating 3D parts made from paper or plastic sheets.

laminated object manufacturing 3d printer type selective deposition laminating cleangreen3d


Parts created via LOM can be created in full color as each layer is sprayed with the desired color during printing. Additionally, LOM parts require no supports, have the unused paper parts cut away so that parts are easily removable, and printed parts are tough, with a wood-like consistency.

If you enjoyed our explanation of every main 3D printer type, you may also enjoy:

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