Bowden Extruder Vs Direct Drive Extruder – A Quick Comparison
3D printers have two main types of extruders, either a Bowden Extruder or Direct Drive Extruder. People get confused on what the difference is between the two, so I decided to write an article to clear up these differences.
Keep on reading to learn more about this topic.
What Is a Direct Drive Extruder Setup?
A Direct Drive Extruder is where the stepper motor and hotend are connected into one device. This means the filament is pulled through the extruder and directly goes through to the hotend and nozzle.
This shorter distance that the filament has to travel has benefits and means that you can reduce retractions. More 3D printers are starting to adopt the Direct Drive Extruder setup as they grow in popularity.
What is a Bowden Extruder Setup?
A Bowden Extruder is where the extruder and stepper motor are separated from the hotend. It’s connected through a Bowden PTFE tube where the filament passes through to get to the hotend and nozzle.
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 of a Direct Drive System
Extrusion and Retraction Ease
The filament requires a lesser distance to travel which means you can use much less retraction settings. This can improve extrusion, provide faster retractions and reduce stringing/oozing.
Less Power Requirement
As the extruder is near to the hot end, it requires less torque to the stepper motor to push the filament along. This means the stepper motor doesn’t have to be as large on the Bowden Extruder as compared to the Direct Drive.
Wider Range of Filaments
Direct Drive Extruders can 3D print flexible materials a lot easier and at faster speeds than Bowden Extruders, mainly due to the less distance the filament has to travel.
For some very flexible filaments, these can only be 3D printed successfully on a Direct Drive setup. You can also 3D print plenty of other materials that Bowden extruders can.
The Cons of a Direct Drive System
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.
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 of a Bowden System
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.
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 of a Bowden System
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.
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.
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 favorable 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.