Custom 3D printing is a rapidly evolving technology that can produce three-dimensional objects from digital files. It is often used as a way of creating functional, high-quality prototypes and production parts.

All 3D printing techniques involve building an object layer-by-layer, as opposed to carving it from a piece of material. However, the precise process can vary. There are many different methods of 3D printing available, each with distinct benefits and drawbacks.

At Laser Prototypes Europe, we specialise in fast, efficient 3D prototyping and rapid manufacturing solutions. In this 3D printing methods comparison, we will evaluate four popular technologies in terms of speed, quality and price.

Stereolithography (SLA)

Stereolithography (SLA) is a 3D printing technology that uses an ultraviolet laser to cure a thermoset polymer (e.g. resin). The computer-controlled laser draws the image onto the liquid, which hardens in response to the light. This process is then repeated layer-by-layer.

The key benefits of SLA are:

  • Incredible precision – it can produce fine details, irregular features and complex parts in excellent definition
  • Smooth, high-quality and visually pleasing finish – perfect for aesthetic models and demonstrations
  • Wide range of materials available, including clear, ultra-tough and USP Grade VI approved polymers

At LPE, we offer two kinds of stereolithography custom 3D prints: standard and high-resolution. High-resolution SLA is more expensive but is the most accurate 3D printing method, making it ideal for ultra-fine details.

Digital Light Processing (DLP)

Like SLA, Digital Light Processing (DLP) uses a light source to cure photosensitive resin. The difference is that DLP uses a digital projector to cast an image onto the surface of the liquid. The entire layer is then exposed to UV light, which sets it in the desired shape.

Some advantages of DLP 3D printing include:

  • Super high-resolution with a minimum printable XY feature size of 0.05mm – great for small and intricate parts
  • Ultra-fast printing – ideal if you need your 3D printed prototype in your hands as soon as possible
  • Choice of materials with various properties including production-grade, rubber-like, heat-resistant and castable media

DLP offers the same dimensional tolerance and great surface quality as high-resolution SLA, but for a more affordable price.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

Selective Laser Sintering, or SLS, is a custom 3D printing method that uses a laser to selectively heat nylon-based powders. As the powdered material heats up, it melts and fuses together, creating a solid object. The excess powder is then removed, leaving behind a three-dimensional layer.

The main benefits of SLS include:

  • Fast and cost-effective – perfect for low-volume production at a competitive price
  • Able to accurately print complex geometries
  • Produces extremely tough, functional 3D prototypes that can withstand thorough testing
  • Range of nylon-based materials offering great resistance to impact, temperature, chemicals and wear-and-tear

SLS has a wider tolerance range and lower resolution than other 3D printing methods. It also produces a slightly rougher surface finish. However, it is the cheapest 3D printing method we offer, making it a great choice for limited budgets.

Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)

Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), like SLS, involves melting and fusing particles into 3D objects using a powerful laser. However, rather than synthetic nylon-based powders, DMLS uses metal. This makes it ideal for manufacturing tough, functional metal prototypes that would not be possible using traditional methods.

Some advantages of DMLS custom 3D printing are:

  • Ability to create small, functional metal parts in exceptionally fine detail
  • Full freedom to manufacture unique and complex metal geometries with no tooling required
  • Prototypes built with DMLS meet full production specifications with a density of >99%

DMLS is used in wide range of industries, from medical to automotive. The only downsides are the higher cost and longer lead times involved. At LPE, we offer both standard and high-resolution DMLS printing, which boasts a superior surface finish.

Which Custom 3D Printing Process Should I Choose?

The right method of 3D printing will depend upon what you need it for. Each technology is suited to different purposes and has its own unique benefits and drawbacks.

For example, if your primary concern is cost, SLS is an excellent budget-friendly option. If aesthetics are particularly important to you, SLA and DLP can produce intricately detailed display models with a beautiful finish. DMLS, on the other hand, would be the obvious choice if you require strong, functional metallic components.

If you are unsure which 3D printing technology to choose, contact LPE to discuss your requirements. Our team will be happy to recommend the best 3D printing method and materials for your project.

Why Choose LPE for Custom 3D Printing (UK)?

At Laser Prototypes Europe, we specialise in fast, efficient prototyping and rapid manufacturing services. We work with a wide range of materials and 3D printing technologies, from digital light processing to direct metal laser sintering.

We are proud to offer an unrivalled customer experience, with lead times of 3-7 days. We are constantly investing in new, innovative technologies to produce the highest quality prototypes possible.

Request a quote, email or call us on 028 9070 6940 today to find out more.

Contact us now for a fast, competitive quotation on your latest project.