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What is FDM 3D printing?


FDM is a widely popular and efficient 3D printing technique, used by both professionals and hobbyists. It is also probably the method that comes to mind when someone mentions 3D printing. Learn how FDM 3D printing functions and how this technology can help your business, either for rapid prototyping or production.
fdm part

What is FDM 3D printing ?

Fused filament fabrication (FFF), commonly referred to as fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printing, is an additive manufacturing (AM) technique. To create the finished physical items, filaments of thermoplastic polymers are used. The print head is moved under computer control to define the printed shape and selectively deposits melted filament material along a preset route to construct 3D printed parts layer by layer. It uses thermoplastic polymers to create 3D printed objects.

Stratasys co-founder S. Scott Crump developed fused deposition modeling in 1988. People may utilize this form of printing once the technology’s patent expired in 2009 without having to pay Stratasys for the right to do so. This opened up opportunities for commercial, do-it-yourself, and open-source (RepRap) 3D printer applications.

How does FDM work?

FDM selectively deposits melted material along a preset route to construct parts layer by layer. To create the finished physical items, filaments of thermoplastic polymers are used. This process works by the material being melted and extruded through a nozzle to 3D print a cross-section of an object, each layer at a time. The extruder of the 3D printer is attached to a system with three axes: X, Y, and Z directions. When the material is melted and extruded, it is deposited in predetermined locations on the 3D printing bed, where it cools and solidifies. The bed lowers for each new layer, and this process repeats until the object is completed.  There is also particular importance of support structures in filament 3D printing technologies. While 3D printing with FDM technology, support structures are often required. Indeed, some geometries, such as overhangs, can’t be printed without support.

What are the applications of FDM 3D printing?

FDM is the most frequently utilized technology across most industries and makes up the largest installed base of 3D printers globally. Mainly used for prototyping this 3D printing technique can be used by all kinds of industries, from jewerly to automotive or medical. Rapid manufacturing and prototyping are frequent uses of FFF / FDM. Iterative testing is made easier by quick prototyping, and rapid manufacturing can be a more affordable option for small batches.

Desktop 3D printers are more convenient to iterate and create your model faster, if you know how to operate one. It can be used to create functional prototypes. However, for more advanced projects or production, industrial FDM might be a better option, as well as other additive manufacturing techniques such as Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) or Multi Jet Fusion (MJF).

Desktop and industrial FDM printers: What’s the difference?

Industrial and desktop FDM 3D printers have different application. Indeed, these machines can have different scales of production. Larger orders may be fulfilled considerably more quickly by industrial FDM printers than by desktop machines. They can create the same item again with little assistance from humans since they are built for repeatability and reliability. Automation of process variables for consistency and less manual calibration. They will also offer a better accuracy, but the 3D printer price might get higher quite quickly.

Advantages of FDM 3D printing

Let’s see what kind of advantages FDM 3D printing can offer to your projects:
  • FDM can be useful for both prototypes and functional parts, 
  • Quick 3D printing process and cost-effective
  • While using FDM, you will have access to different 3D printing material
  • Some FDM 3D printer can have a large build size which might be convenient for larger projects. This is one of the main advantages of our PLA offer, here at Sculpteo.

FDM 3D printing’s characteristics

Almost all FDM printers offer the opportunity to adjust your parameters. Among them: the nozzle and build platform temperatures, layer height, the building and cooling fan speed.  Regarding the characteristics of FDM 3D printing, here are the most important ones: 
  • Layer adhesion
In FDM, a part’s deposited layers must adhere securely to one another. The molten thermoplastic extruded via the nozzle of the 3D printer presses up against the layer that was previously produced. This layer remelts at high pressure and temperature, allowing it to link with the prior layer. Additionally, the shape of the molten material changes as it presses on the previously printed layer. This implies that no matter what layer height is employed, FDM items always have a wavy surface, with visible layer. That is why your parts, with features, holes or thread could need post-processing.
  • Support structures
FDM printers function by extruding filament layers successively. If your part includes an overhang that isn’t maintained by any surface underneath, your 3D print is going to fail. This type of issue is one of the main reasons why support structures are very useful for FDM prints. Removing these supports can leave some marks on your 3D printed parts. These can usually disappear with post-processing.
  • Infill and shell thickness
With FDM, the 3D printing machine usually print the outer perimeters of the parts, resulting in quite fragile parts. Even if the process can be a bit longer, adding an internal structure, even with a low density, can improve the strength of the part, without adding to much printing time.

What are FDM materials?

Polylactic acid, also known as PLA plastic, is a type of vegetable-based plastic that typically starts out as cornstarch or sugarcane. Fermented plant starch is typically used to create the monomer. The primary natural raw material utilized in 3D printing is this thermoplastic aliphatic polyester. PLA is one of the most widely used materials for additive manufacturing for the production of filament among all 3D printing materials. At Sculpteo, PLA material is printed using BigRep 3D printers and mainly used to manufacture big parts up to 1x1x1m. PLA The most environmentally friendly PETG-based filament on the market is probably the rPET filament. This environmentally friendly PETG filament combines strength and toughness with printability and is available in a variety of colors. At Sculpteo we are offering Ultrafuse® rPET,  only available in blue. This recycled filament enables us to cut down on 60% of CO2 emissions compared to virgin PET*, while being just as performant.  ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is part of the thermoplastic polymers family, it is actually a common thermoplastic polymer. Just like PLA, ABS is widely used for FDM 3D printing. As its name implies, ABS is created from Acrylonitrile, Butadiene and Styrene polymers. Ultrafuse Stainless Steel 316L is a new industrial-grade metal filament for professional uses. Created by BASF, Ultrafuse 316L filament is composed of 90% stainless steel and 10% polymer binder which allows it to be used in any FDM/FFF printer. The material is characterized by its impressive mechanical properties and low cost of production, making it one of the most affordable materials for metal 3D printing. Ultrafuse 316L Ultrafuse® 17-4 PH is a metal filament, made for the creation of metal components in 17-4 PH stainless steel. This Ultrafuse® 17-4 PH material is characterized by its impressive strength. It is also one of the most affordable materials for metal 3D printing. 17-4 PH and 316L are among the most used stainless steel materials, however, these two materials present different properties regarding their tensile strength, yield strength, elongation at break, and hardness. Ultrafuse® 17-4 PH


At the beginning, FDM 3D printers were developed and coined by Stratasys Inc. and consist of a nozzle, a print chamber, and a filament feeding system. Budget-friendly FFF printers were not intended to have a print chamber. These 3D printing machines were developed to be as efficient and affordable as possible. As a result, FDM technology has been used to produce high-detail prototypes, whereas hobbyists mainly used FFF-based devices. In 2009, the patent expired, and it is now possible to find both FDM and FFF machines that produce quality products and are affordable. Today, these technologies are now considered to be one and the same. Learn more here about the differences between FDM and FFF.


FDM and SLA (Stereolithography) are two very different 3D printing techniques. With SLA 3D printing, each layer is created by curing liquid resin using a very precise laser, which can produce considerably finer features and is more dependable to consistently provide high-quality results. SLA 3D printing is hence renowned for its fine details, smooth surface finish, and supreme part quality and accuracy. SLA

    Are your looking for an FDM 3D printing service?

    Using an online 3D printing service for your FDM parts can be really convenient. First, you won’t have to invest into a 3D printers, even if FDM 3D printers are cheaper than SLS industrial 3D printer, this might be an advantage for your budget. Moreover, you won’t have to worry about the printing process, our operator will take care of your part and ensure their quality.

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