Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM): 3D printing with filaments

There are many types of 3D printing techniques currently available on the market and you certainly noticed it before, but Fused Deposition Molding is among the most popular 3D printing techniques. How does it work and what are the benefits of this 3D printing technology? Let’s find out.

fdm pictures

Prepare for 3D printing!

FDM stands for Fused Deposition Modeling. This additive manufacturing process is used through desktop 3D printers. These machines can be easy to use, really affordable and can provide some nice results, which make FDM 3D printers quite popular. This Fused Deposition Molding technology is particularly used by individuals with desktop FDM 3D printers.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) or Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) is probably the most popular printing process due to the number of printers available on the market from the 3D Printer Kit versions to the Professional 3D printer (or high-quality 3D printer). FDM is an affordable 3D printing process versus other 3D printing technologies. 

FDM 3D printing is the most democratized additive manufacturing technique and quite often, FDM is the only technology the general public thinks about when it comes to 3D printing. Moreover, we often think that FDM is the first 3D printing technique ever invented, but it is totally wrong. Indeed, SLA 3D printing (or Stereolithography) is the first 3D printing process ever developed, during the 80s. The process of this resin 3D printing technique is quite different. Check this blogpost for more information about the differences between SLA 3D printing and FDM 3D printing

How does FDM work?

The concept behind FDM printers is simple: a plastic filament runs through the nozzle which melts when it comes in contact while being gradually deposited in a structured way on the build platform until the object is finished. This process works by 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 different axis: 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 then solidifies. The bed lowers for each new layer and repeats until the object is completed. 

Layer height determines the quality of the 3D print. Some FDM 3D printers can have two or more print heads that can print in multiple different colors.

Many brands today are available pre-built like MakerBot and Ultimaker, two of the most popular desktop 3D printers, or can be built using DIY kits or going from the ground up and printing parts to create an FDM 3D printer. Yes, it is actually possible to 3D print your FDM 3D printer.

There is also a certain 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 supports. Support material and rafts are sometimes troublesome to remove cleanly from the object itself.

What materials can an FDM 3D printer print?

The 3D printing materials used for Fused Deposition Molding are thermoplastic polymers, coming in a filament form. Many different materials exist for this type of printing process. It varies between the industrial versus the consumer version. The plastic used in FDM filaments are generally ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), PLA (Polyactic Acid) and Nylon (Polyamide), but other exotic varieties of materials can also be used, like a material blend of plastic and wood or carbon

Unlike ABS, PLA is biodegradable and is popular due to it being non-toxic. There are also dissolvable materials such as PVA which are used for support. But with this 3D printing technology, it is also possible to use some engineering materials (PA, TPU, and PETG) and also some high-performance thermoplastic materials (PEI or PEEK).

What are the manufacturing applications of an FDM printer?

FDM technology is a quick technique to manufacture your 3D project at home, but this technique won’t allow you to reach a professional or industrial result.

FDM is an additive manufacturing process that is great for rapid prototyping concept parts, functional models, manufacturing tooling and molding, and end-use parts. 

Here is a little selection of FDM 3D printer you could possibly use:

  • MakerBot Replicator+
  • XYZprinting da Vinci Mini
  • Ultimaker 2+
  • LulzBot Mini

Dimension 1200es

Fortus 900mc

One of 2 printers in the Design Series
One of 4 printers in the Production Series.This is the largest and prints the most materials.

Benefits of FDM 3D printing

There are a few reasons why this technology is popular. First, it is offering the possibility to print thermoplastic parts and prototypes quite easily, with one machine. The lead times to produce your part can also be really short.

While using a desktop FDM 3D printer, you have the access to several different thermoplastics, which can open great opportunities for the development of a 3D printing project.

What are the limits of FDM 3D printing?

All 3D printing techniques have their limitations, and FDM is not an exception. You can easily create clean parts, but FDM is not the most accurate technology on the market. Moreover the printing process leaves quite a visible player in the 3D printed objects which implies some post-processing to get a smooth surface and remove the object’s layers.

3D printing plastic: What are the alternatives?

If you want to 3D print plastic, you can also use Sculpteo’s online 3D printing service to print plastic parts, using professional 3D printing technologies such as Selective Laser Sintering. Thanks to this technology, it is possible to print plastic parts using some materials with great mechanical properties such as Nylon PA12, PEBA or Alumide. Our parts are made using the best industrial 3D printers.

Do you want to give SLS a try? Upload your 3D file, get an instant quote and you will receive your plastic 3D object in a few days.

This technology will offer you the best result possible, both for your product development process, prototypes or end-use products, thanks to their great surface finish.

FDM and SLS technologies are often used for the same kind of printing, if you want to know which one is best suited for your need, have a look to our comparison FDM vs. SLS.

For more information about the 3D printers, please check out our Guide to Professional 3D Printers .