Different Types of 3D Printing and When to Use Them

Stereolithography, SLA 3D printing
Stereolithography, SLA 3D printing
Resource: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etLOLUowvPI

Like any other manufacturing technology, 3D printing has a range of different processes and techniques. The different types of 3D printing technology can be broadly split into 7 categories. If you’re not familiar with the 3D printing landscape, this guide will help you understand the options for your project by examining printing methods.

3D Printing Basics

If you’re conversant with additive manufacturing, you can skip ahead. But for those who are new to the 3D printing industry, we’ll start with some basics. 3D printing is the process of making objects using a pre-determined digital file.

The file is created using specialized software and is then transferred to a printer. The printer reads the file and uses it to guide the deposition of material, layer by layer, until the object is complete. This is a form of additive manufacturing.

3D printing mostly uses plastics, metals, and ceramics. But really, you can print with any material that can be turned into a powder or liquid and that can be deposited in very fine layers

3D printing is different from conventional manufacturing because it doesn’t require the use of molds, dies, or other tools to create an object.

It also means that you can create objects on-demand, without having to invest in costly tooling upfront. This makes 3D printing tech an attractive option for prototyping and low-volume production.

An example of one of the 3D printing techniques
An example of one of the 3D printing techniques
Resource: https://themerkle.com

Types of 3D Printing Methods

3D printing technology has come a long way in recent years, and there are now several different types of 3D printers to choose from. Depending on your project requirements, one type of printer may be better suited than another. Here’s a quick overview of the most popular types of 3D printing methods available today.

1. Material Extrusion

Material extrusion is the most common type of 3D printing technology. It works by heating a plastic filament and extruding it through a nozzle, layer by layer, to build up an object.

The majority of consumer-grade 3D printers on the market today are material extrusion machines. They’re relatively simple to use and maintain, and they’re well suited for a wide range of applications.

Material extrusion 3D printing is often used for prototyping, product development, and low-volume manufacturing.

You can also use extrusion-based types of 3D printing to create parts and products from different kinds of plastics, including acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polylactic acid (PLA), and more.

2. VAT Photopolymerization

In VAT photopolymerization 3D, an ultraviolet light source is used to cure (harden) a liquid resin, layer by layer, into an object.

The process begins with a vat of UV-curable resin. A UV light is then shone to trace the cross-section of the object onto the surface of the resin. The exposed resin is then cured, and the build platform lowers to allow the fresh resin to be exposed.

This process repeats until the object is complete. VAT photopolymerization is also sometimes referred to as stereolithography, SLA, 3D printing.

Variations of this type of printing also exist, based on the light source. One of them digital light processing, DLP 3D printing, uses arc uses an arc lamp instead, or a similar source.

3. Powder Bed Fusion

PBF 3D printing is also one of the commonly used 3D printing techniques. The process begins with a build chamber filled with powder. The build platform lowers into the chamber and a laser traces the cross-section of the object onto the powder. The powder is then fused together by the heat of the laser.

You can use powder bed fusion 3D printing to create parts from a wide range of metals, including stainless steel, aluminum, and titanium. It can also be used to create parts from plastics, such as nylon.

4. Material Jetting

Material jetting 3D printing uses a print head to deposit UV-curable thermoset polymers onto a build platform. The UV light is then used to cure the material, layer by layer, to produce the required part or object. The head depositing the resin is composed of tiny nozzles, hence its name.

Material jetting creates objects with good surface finish. It’s also a relatively fast process that you can comfortably use for a number of applications. That is also because you can use it with a variety of materials.

5. Binder Jetting

In binder jetting 3D printing, a print head deposits droplets of binder onto a build platform. This binds together the powder to create the required shape, layer by layer.

The process is similar to PBF method, but instead of using a laser to fuse the powder together, a binder is used. This makes it a more affordable option, but it also means that the object will need to be sintered (heated) after it’s been printed in order to improve its strength and durability.

6. Direct Energy Deposition

Direct energy deposition is a type of 3D printing technology that melts and deposits material onto a build platform in order to create an object.

The process begins with a build chamber filled with powder. An energy source, such as a laser or an electron beam, melts the powder. The melted powder creates the required shape.

Direct energy deposition 3D printing can be used to create parts from different types of metals, including stainless steel, aluminum, and titanium. It can also be used to create parts from plastics, such as nylon and polystyrene.

7. Sheet Lamination

In this list of the types of 3D printing process, sheet lamination is one of the lesser-known methods. It involves bonding together layers of material, usually metal or plastic, (and sometimes also polymer or paper) to create an object.

The process begins with a stack of sheets. The sheets are then placed into a lamination device where they’re bonded together under pressure and ultrasonic energy is used to weld them together.


There are many options when it comes to creating objects or manufacturing parts using 3D printing technology. The types of 3D printing techniques discussed here are what you will usually come across in the world of additive manufacturing. As you can see, each method has its own unique set of pros and cons. As such, it’s crucial to make the right choice based on the attributes of each printing type.