Bowden Feed Vs Direct Drive Extruder – A Quick Comparison


The Bowden Feed or Direct Drive conundrum has consistently remained a confusion for people when choosing between the two setups. I found myself in a similar scenario when uncertainty prevailed in selecting the right extruder for personal use.

Therefore, I’ve done some research to guide you thoroughly in this regard.

When Bowden feed & Direct Drive extruder setups are faced off against each other, it ultimately boils down to what you prefer. If you’re willing to compromise speed for more stable prints, a Direct Drive setup may be the one for you.

Each extruder type has its own shortcomings, but the Bowden setup has gained more popularity due to its gratifying convenience.

Continue reading for a prompt comparison that will clear your mind and help you decide which one is the best for you.

From personal opinions to the best Bowden and Direct Drive extruders, I am going to narrow things down for your understanding.

What Is a Direct Drive Extruder Setup?

The major difference between a Bowden setup and a Direct Drive extruder is simply the location of the extruder with respect to the hot end, and we’re going to explain how.

In a Direct Drive setup, you’re going to observe that the extruder is directly attached to the hot end, ultimately becoming a substantial part of the print head.

Therefore, this is a method of filament extrusion in which the extruder thrusts out the printing material into the nozzle straightforwardly.

On the other hand, one more concept to learn is that the extruder and the hot end have become a part of the print head, which is justly sizeable. The caveat here is going to be discussed later in the article.

Nevertheless, the one thing that makes Direct Drive setups advantageous and favourable is the amount of distance that the filament has to travel.

In Direct Drives setups, extruders can be found above the hot end on the print head while it’s attached to it, hence, this kind of setup keeps the distance travelled by the filament from the extruder to the hot end minimalistic.

Each 3D printer may vary in quality, price, and features, but almost each of them has the same basic components. Out of those, a stepper motor is a crucial mutual part which is used for pulling the thermoplastic filament into the extruder.

My point in telling you all this is to explain in easier terms how Direct Drive extruders are set up. The stepper motor is actually right on top of the cold end in these 3D printers, contributing to the large size of the print head.

From there on, the filament passes from the motor directly on to the cold end, and then to the extruder subsequently.

Direct Drives can be found arriving as a default on most printers. This is mainly due to their reliability and painless implementation in most cases.

However, there are good and bad aspects to everything in this world, but before we get into that, let’s see how the Bowden system works.

What is a Bowden Extruder Setup?

The Bowden setup is quite different from the Direct Drive system, providing usefulness and ease in multiple aspects of 3D printing. Many people wonder why they’d need a Bowden setup if Direct Drives work great.

I’m going to tell you why but first, here’s how the Bowden system works on a printer.

We talked about the stepper motor above in the Direct Drive system.

The key difference between the latter and the Bowden setup is that the stepper motor is taken from the print head and atop the hot end, and attached somewhere on the printer’s frame.

Again, this has its own array of pros, and we’ll be getting to that later.

So now that we have the motor that pushes the filament to the hot end at a different location, we need a secure, well-grounded way of transporting the filament to the place where it melts and extruded out.

As you may have already known, the Bowden feed uses a long, flexible PTFE tube that accommodates your 3D printing materials.

The PTFE tube is locked in place on both ends as well as the stepper motor and the hot end as well. It has just the right measure of width and narrowness to prevent the filament from curling up.

Therefore, this PTFE Bowden tube is used to feed the filament from the stepper motor to the hot end.

This means that part of the printer that does movement will now only consist of components of the hot end, now that the stepper motor has been taken off the print head.

It’s clear from here on out how the two setups can possibly have different applications and uses, based on their contrasting build method.

Direct Drive System – Pros and Cons

There are many reasons to use a Direct Drive extruder, and a few not to as well. Let’s take a look.

The Pros

Extrusion and Retraction Ease

As the filament has to go through a considerably small amount of distance in order for it to reach the hot end, extrusion and retraction of the filament becomes a breeze.

This is also because of the fact that the extruder is mounted on top of the print head and is essentially, close to the nozzle. This makes for faster retraction and immensely better extrusion.

Moreover, the filament responds more actively to the extruder as a result. This prevents the notorious stringing and oozing that occur because of poor retraction.

Less Power Requirement

Another advantage of using Direct Drive extruder results only because of its location in relation to the hot end, and you’re going to see why.

As the extruder is near to the hot end, it’s apparent that less torque is going to be applied by the stepper motor to push the filament along, simply because the pathway is short.

Consequently, the stepper motor does not have to be as large and powerful as the one on the Bowden system, where the filament has to be transported through a PTFE tube.

This means that the chances of filament slipping are drastically reduced as the force applied to the filament is lenient. In addition, as a smaller stepper motor is used, energy usage is minimized along with a less amount of mass for the print gantry.

Expansive Range of Filaments

Direct Drive extruders are popularly known to support a wide variety of thermoplastic materials. A constrained Direct Drive system allows a polished use of flexible filaments like TPU and abrasive filaments alike.

Other exotic materials can also be reliably printed with Direct Drive extruders, and you will experience little to none problems with it.

Additionally, when it comes to printing flexible materials in specific, Direct Drive extruders are miles ahead of the Bowden feed system in terms of smoothness and convenience.

This, therefore, opens the door to unprecedented possibilities with 3D printing. You’re bound to find a filament that works effectively for you and combines well with the greatness of a Direct Drive setup.

The Cons

The Additional Weight

You might want to know that a single NEMA stepper motor weighs about 8 to 10 ounces which is equivalent to a salt shaker. This is a fairly decent amount of weight for a motor that’s attached to a print head that performs rapid, quick movements.

There’s a certain degree of physics attached here. If you make a heavy object move fast with sudden stops repeatedly, you’re going to experience jerks. The same is the case with 3D printing in Direct Drive extruders.

The sizeable motor that makes up the extruder assembly is going to act as a bother in this regard. This is because consistent acceleration and deceleration holds the power of causing a backlash to the gantry when the weight is considerably great.

For instance, it takes approximately 20 hours to print a true-to-life human skull. If you have to increase its quality, you’ll definitely have to slow things down. Many people find this to be upright undesirable.

Speed

As a caveat to the location of the stepper motor, speed is ultimately sacrificed in a Direct Drive setup. Otherwise, what you’re going to experience is vibrations and jerks which do not bode well for 3D printing by far.

Overestimating the capability of a Direct Drive extruder in this matter leads to lines in the 3D print along with skipped steps. Speed, therefore, is thoroughly at a compromise with this type of print extruder.

Bowden System Pros and Cons

Bowden feed systems are closely noticed on some of the best 3D printers out in the market. On the other hand, many do not prefer this methodology. Let’s dive deep into the pros and cons of Bowden setups.

The Pros

The Prime Advantage – Speed

Bowden extruders proudly benefit from the reduced weight as compared to Direct Drive extruders. As the print head doesn’t constitute a large weight anymore and there is less load on the print carriage, it becomes swift, prompt, and very fast.

Now that the print head is lightweight, behold amazing quality prints with intricate detail and high precision.

In addition, your printer is going to print faster than ever with a Bowden feed setup, now that the moving axis has offloaded the additional weight.

Better Build Volume

Since Bowden extruders attribute to a smaller print head, you get a bigger build volume in return.

With an expansive print platform, you have limitless options to explore along with a flexible variety of prints to make, fitting in nicely with the build volume.

Solid Make

Another well-known feature of Bowden extruders is that they are highly rigid, and consist of a compact build. This solid build allows them to occupy significantly less space, consequently becoming less of an eyesore.

This is another reason that makes a Bowden setup better than a Direct Drive extruder.

The Cons

The Need for a Better Motor

It’s quite evident from here that how the location of the motor has varying trade-offs in both the setups. In Bowden extruders, there’s a PTFE tube that does the noble work of supplying the hot end with the filament, as you may know already.

Now that the filament has to travel through this Bowden tube, it’s a no brainer that there’ll be friction inside that the filament will strongly experience.

This demands for a powerful motor that can provide enough torque to push the filament throughout the tube.

Delayed Response

The retraction distance is noticeably more in Bowden feed systems for thermoplastic materials. This is coupled by the fact that how there’s an increased friction in the tube that exists for the filament.

Due to all this, the extrusion process might become slow in responding, and delay the whole system. This can cause stringing along with oozing- both problematic hassles that need to be attended to.

Moreover, the filament is set to experience more drag and high resistance as it travels along the path of the Bowden tube. Thus, the need for a powerful motor, and the existence of friction inside.

Material Lacklustre

If there’s one thing that Bowden extruders really lack, it’s the inability to host a wide variety of printing filaments. This is, perhaps, one of the main reasons why Bowden setups can be a huge turn-off for some, including me.

The Direct Drive setup has a clear-cut edge over Bowden extruders in this respect. They handle flexible filaments like TPU very well, and your prints, in the end, are truly flexible, making you feel satisfied.

On the other hand, Bowden extruders consisting of the infamous PTFE Bowden tube, don’t really prefer flexible filaments.

Sure, it can work with mainstream filaments such as PLA and ABS perfectly, but when it comes to a filament such as soft PLA and TPE, Bowden extruders don’t really take the spotlight.

The science behind this sorrow is that flexible filaments tend to bind inside the PTFE tube, making the process difficult and undesirable in the end.

To top it off, if you’ve been thinking lately to try printing using an abrasive filament with a Bowden extruder, stop right there. Abrasive filaments such as carbon-fibre filled, metal-filled and even wood-filled filaments will wear away your PTFE Bowden tube.

Hence, abrasive filaments are simply not an option with Bowden setups. Again, Direct Drive extruders come out on top when it comes to filaments like these, and flexible ones as well.

Luckily, there is a newly developed Bowden extruder which has enough torque and strength to work well with flexible materials. You can get the Zonatech BMG Bowden Dual Drive Extruder from Amazon, which works well with all types of materials, including flexibles like TPU.

The above extruder is actually a BMG clone, which still gets the job done. If you want to get the original, higher quality extruder, get yourself the Geniune Bondtech BMG Extruder.

It makes a huge difference compared to your stock extruder, giving you higher quality prints as well as a higher success rate rather than going through those printing failures.

In the long-run, you’re going to save time, money and frustration with a good investment like the Bondtech extruder.

Do Users Prefer a Bowden or Direct Drive Setup?

Choosing an extruder setup depends on you because Direct Drive and Bowden extruders, both are excellent in their own ways. Many people have varying preferences, and that dictates which extruder type would work best for them.

Let’s start off with why someone would choose a Direct Drive setup. People would do that because these offer diversity in filaments that you can print with, may that be exotic, abrasive, or flexible filaments.

Besides that, Direct Drive setups are built in such a way that filaments offer less resistance comparatively, amounting to a highly responsive extrusion system.

Several people also turn their heads towards Direct Drives because simply, they feature no Bowden tubes. They prefer the ease of tuning given that there’s no PTFE tube that you’ll have to care for.

The same people say that despite the overhead weight of the print head, they’ve experienced minimal issues with speed and print quality, however, many would beg to differ.

The reason why someone wouldn’t opt for a Direct Drive is simply because of the significant stepper motor weight latched on to the print head, making us fellow 3D printer users lose control over quality, and reduce speed.

In addition, ringing, which are lines in 3D prints caused by vibrations, become bothersome. If you go over the limit and try to increase printing speed, you’re going to get punished by print artifacts like lines and gaps, both being products of arbitrary vibrations.

Come to think of Bowden setups, people love the reduced weight, and relish the great print speeds.

As a noteworthy amount of weight has been removed from the printer’s moving axis, you’re going to have the ability to produce top-quality prints at a fast rate.

Eliminating the motor weight doesn’t help just with quality and speed, it also addresses issues relating to ringing and momentum.

As momentum is a product of mass and velocity, Bowden setups favor the average 3D printer user and keeps a good control on jerks.

With minimal weight on the hot end, things become generally nicer, providing you a quiet, and a smoother experience overall. There’s a degree of simplicity regarded here as well, particularly with filament changes.

Proceeding further, then you have less functionality for flexible filaments. They might work to a satisfactory extent in a Bowden setup, but they’ll still be nowhere near the level of Direct Drive extruders.

Furthermore, there are abrasive filaments which are just out of the question with Bowden setups.

Should You Choose a Bowden or a Direct Drive Extruder?

It all comes down to you.

If you’re looking for something that prints fast and gives you better quality, and you can’t seem to bother with materials other than PLA or ABS, a Bowden feed system will work wonders for you, and you’ll be glad with your choice in the end.

However, if you do have flexible and other print requirements, can’t care for the printing speed, and don’t want to involve yourself into the tuning part more, a Direct Drive extruder seems to be your go-to choice as an extruder setup.

Best Direct Drive Extruders

Zesty Nimble Remote Direct Drive Extruder

The Zesty Nimble Remote is a true phenomenon that blends the properties of a Bowden feed setup while giving you the performance of a Direct Drive extruder.

It packs a boatload of functionality, and uses a drivetrain from the mounted extruder motor to get the filament toward the hot end.

Zesty Nimble boasts good printing speeds, great quality prints, and the ability to work with a multitude of different filaments.

With a weight of only 27 grams, the extruder features a breech lever that makes filament loading and changing flawless and uncomplicated.

It’s built to handle almost every printer it’s mounted on, and also packs a consolidated hob to host all kinds of filaments.

The Zesty Nimble Remote is yours to get costing somewhere around $100. Check out the official website here to find out more.

E3D Titan Aero

Costing around $150, the E3D Titan Aero kit is one of the best Direct Drive upgrades for your 3D printer. It’s a sleek combination of a hot end and an extruder that delivers beyond your expectations in terms of performance and reliability.

The extrusion system offered by the glorious Titan Aero is severely compact, and gives you an extra 25 mm of build height of the Z-axis.

That’s not all, rigidity is also one of the many plus points of the Titan Aero that allows it to withstand bumps and knocks when printing gets a bit too fast.

The Titan Aero kit comprises a very strict filament pathway, making it highly favourable for printing flexible filaments.

The tightness only spares little room for the filament to bend and jam, making the kit a great option for printing TPU, TPE, and more.

Best Bowden Extruders

E3D V6 All-Metal Hotend

E3D hasn’t received immense praise and fame for nothing. With product line-ups that feature marvels like the V6 Hot End, you’re going to be more than just impressed with this British company.

Exceptionally versatile, the V6 uses a Bowden-style PTFE tube to pave a constricted filament pathway that lets you handle difficult to print materials as well.

It’s capable of producing prints of the supreme quality, and I personally am very fond of this hot end.

It’s quite cheap, costing you about $20, but it’s well worth every dime and nickel. The V6 follows a far-reaching, optimistic community with a plethora of happy customers, and I’m pretty sure it’ll cover your 3D printing demands as well.

DisTech Automation Prometheus V2

An all-metal hot end like the Prometheus V2 is a reliable and compact choice for your 3D printer.

The German company DisTech Automation has a history of producing efficient products for 3D printers, and they’ve failed to disappoint yet again.

Mounting the hot end is made easy with its flat design of the heat sink, and will cost you no extra trouble. Another highlight is the stainless-steel nozzle that makes the Prometheus V2 durable and lightweight both.

The hot end kit costs about $80, and is thoroughly compatible as a Bowden setup, designed to work perfectly with many 3D printers.

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