SLA vs. FFF vs. Carbon DLS™ 3D Printer Technologies

Types of 3D Printing Technologies

Stereolithography (SLA) and fused filament fabrication (FFF), also known as fused deposition modeling (FDM) are two of the most common types of 3D printing technologies for prototyping. They both offer an accessible and affordable option for users.

In this article, we’ll compare and contrast SLA and FFF on the basis of print quality, cost, speed, and post-processing to help you identify the right option for your business.

Stereolithography (SLA)

Stereolithography (SLA) is an additive manufacturing technology that turns a 3D model into a physical object by the repeated exposure of liquid photopolymers to a UV-laser source.

The build platform is immersed in a translucent tank full of light-sensitive resin. The UV-laser beam source located at the bottom of the tank focuses on the object layer by layer, thus solidifying the liquid resin. The platform rises, and the UV light then maps and solidifies the next layer. This process repeats layer-by-layer until the entire object is manufactured.

There are a wide variety of commercially available photopolymer resins for SLA 3D printing. These include epoxy-based systems, radiation-cured acrylates, and hybrids.

3D Printing Quality

Among the most common additive manufacturing processes, SLA prints a solid object by hardening a liquid resin layer by layer using UV light.

The thin UV laser allows the printing of very thin layers ranging from 30 to 140 microns. The layer size depends on how small the laser spot size is. As a result, SLA 3D printing produces high-quality prototypes and production parts with a smooth surface finish and high definition.

3D Printing Costs

SLA technology involves the use of UV laser and polymer resin material. The resin use is expensive (price ranges from $90 to $200 per liter) and the resin tank has to be replaced frequently. Similarly, the price of a professional SLA machine starts at $10,000.

Secondly, SLA 3D printing is more expensive than FFF technology. It needs support structures during the printing process to prevent deformation and crumbling of parts.

3D Printing Speed

FFF vs SLA is a trade-off between printing speed and printing quality.

SLA printing is used for high precision tooling and molding which requires layer heights down to 25 to 50 microns. This results in production parts with glass-like finish and sharper features.

If the task is to print the same object with 100-micron layers, a SLA 3D printer will create the piece significantly faster with smoother surfaces.

The speed of resin 3D printers also depends on factors such as resin curing, the length of UV exposure, and how quickly the system can move from one layer to the next.


After printing on SLA, parts and print bed need to be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol to remove any uncured resin.

SLA post-processing involves sanding to create a smooth and glossy finish. Parts may require post-cure (exposure to UV light) to maximize the material’s strength and stability.

Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)

Fused filament fabrication (FFF) is the most popular 3D printing technology in which thermoplastic filament is pushed through a hot nozzle to change it into a liquid state. The molten material is then selectively deposited in a pre-designed path layer-by-layer until the physical object is produced.

Examples of commercially available thermoplastics include ABS, PLA, TPU, PETG, and special polymer blends of ceramic, carbon fibers, etc.

FFF is a useful option for low-cost, rapid prototyping, however, it is not recommended for complex designs because of material and design issues, such as warping and layer shifting.

3D Printing Quality

FFF 3D printing builds solid objects slowly by depositing layers of liquid materials where the layer height relies on the size of the extrusion nozzle.

The layer lines of melted plastic are clearly visible on the sides of the printed parts, which is often considered a bad feature for producing professional-quality parts. This layering mechanism limits FFF printers from printing at a fine resolution and creating finely-detailed products.

The surface quality and strength of FFF printed objects mainly depends on the nozzle hole diameter, the precision of the extruder movements along the X and Y-axis, and the adhesion between layers.

FFF printing quality is also affected by other factors like bed temperature, print speed, and extruder temperature.

3D Printing Costs

FFF 3D printing is a quick and low-cost option for producing prototype parts.

FFF materials such as plastic filament are widely available and easier to store. For most fused filament fabrication 3D printing machines, there are cheap thermoplastic spools available (1kg for as low as $21) along with nozzle part replacements.

Similarly, DIY and hobbyist printers’ price ranges from a couple hundred to a thousand dollars, whereas professional FFF machines range from $5,000 to $10,000.

3D Printing Speed

In FFF printing, the size and movement speed of the nozzle decides the layer thickness. This means it would take significantly less time to create an object of the same dimensions than SLA printing.

To print the same 100-micron, the extruder would take more time to print the finer details, resulting in a slower printing speed than SLA.

Speeding up the FFF process may result in issues like design inaccuracies, nozzle oozing, and underheating. Moreover, parts printed may require post-processing, leading to a longer production time.


Compared to SLA, FFF parts don’t require much cleaning after the printing process completes.

Objects printed on an FFF 3D printer are ready to use or may require post-processing to make the surface geometry smooth. This includes removing support parts, sanding, machining, and painting to produce a smooth and shiny surface.

Carbon DLS

The Carbon DLS™ (Carbon Digital Light Synthesis™) process is a transformative approach to industrial 3D printing. It gives you the ability to design, develop, and manufacture high-accuracy, isotropic, and functional end-use products with exceptional mechanical properties, surface finish, and extremely fine details.

Carbon DLS™ provides production part attributes not available from competing ploymer technologies.

Carbon M1 3D Printer

Rapidly build your product’s prototypes with accuracy and reliability. The Carbon M1 3D printer lets you print functional parts in small batch sizes throughout the day.

Get reliable print quality, speed, easy setup and maintenance, and the best-in-class 3D printing materials.

According to Ford, Carbon 3D printers produce automotive parts faster and more accurately than with conventional production methods.

Carbon M2 3D Printer

Take control of production with the M2 Carbon printer. The Carbon M2 3D printer lets you bring your ideas to production – from prototyping to mass production – faster.

Its built-in print planner assigns variable speeds based on the part’s needs, speeding up production.

The M2 is perfect for producing small printed parts with fine details such as internal channels or threading.

Carbon M3 3D Printer

Create parts 2.5X faster than the M2 printer. The Carbon M3 3D printer offers groundbreaking DLS printing that lets you design and manufacture high-quality precise parts with a premium surface finish.

The M3 provides easy installation and maintenance, and improved print consistency with reduction in variation in parts by 30%.

The M3 Max’s powerful 4K light engine enables you to print bigger parts in double the build volume than the M2 or M3 Printer.

Carbon L1 3D Printer

The Carbon L1 3D printer is used by companies like Adidas, Riddell, and Specialized for high-volume production. It enables industry leaders to produce functional prototypes, and move to manufacturing high-quality products at a very rapid rate on the same printer.

Print bigger or many smaller parts in less time with consistent quality.

The L1 printer is perfect for manufacturing end-use products with complex geometries, large-scale models, and batch production.

Power Up Your 3D Printing With Carbon

Clearly, both SLA and FFF have their own strengths and drawbacks.

Choosing the 3D printer that is right for you depends on your particular requirements and the parts you are producing. SLA is the right choice for building prototypes, concept models, and complex parts, whereas, FFF is useful for prototyping and manufacturing parts quickly.

Check out Carbon’s breakthrough Continuous Liquid Interface Production™, or CLIP™ if you’re looking to produce functional, end-use parts with high accuracy and premium surface finish.

Carbon printers come in a variety of models with build volumes and price points to suit your specific needs. Pricing starts at $25k per year. Compare printers or contact sales to get a customized quote today.

3D as It’s Meant to Be

Interested in utilizing Carbon to accelerate product development? Reach out to us at to learn more!