3D printing uses a variety of materials out of which liquid-based resins and thermoplastic filaments are two of the most common you’ll find.
Filaments are used with the Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) technology in 3D printing while resins are the materials for Stereolithography Apparatus (SLA) technology.
Both of these printing materials have contrasting properties, their own unique set of features, benefits, and of course, downsides as well.
This article focuses on a detailed comparison between the two so you can decide which printing material seems as if it’s the one for you.
Quality – Is Resin Printing Better Quality Than Filament Printing?
When it boils down to comparing quality, the upfront answer is that resin printing packs much better quality than filament printing, period.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get amazing quality using FDM 3D printers. In fact, filaments can also surprise you with their amazing level of prints that’s almost just as good, but still significantly inferior to resins.
Though, in order to get this, you’ll be looking at a significant increase in 3D printing time.
SLA, or resin printing has a strong laser which has very precise dimensional accuracy, and can make small movements in the XY axis, leading to very high resolution of prints when compared to FDM printing.
The number of microns that SLA 3D printers move are also very high quality, some even showing up to 10 micron resolution, compared to the standard 50-100 microns in FDM printing.
In addition to that, models are put under a significant amount of stress in filament printing, which might be one of the reasons why the surface texture isn’t as smooth as resin printing.
The high heat used in filament printing can result in print imperfections also, that require post-processing to get rid of.
One issue in filament printing is the formation of blobs and zits on your print. There are many reasons why that happens so my article about How to Fix Blobs and Zits on 3D Prints can help you troubleshoot very clearly.
In FDM printing, the resolution of your prints is a measure of nozzle diameter alongside the precision of the extrusion.
There are many nozzle sizes out there that have their own pros and cons. Most FDM 3D printers today ship with a 0.4 mm nozzle diameter which is basically a balance between speed, quality, and precision.
You can change the nozzle size anytime you want with 3D printers. Sizes greater than 0.4 mm are known to produce quick printing and have few nozzle-related issues.
Sizes lesser than 0.4 mm will bring you great precision with better quality overhangs, however, that does come at the cost of speed, going as low as a 0.1mm diameter nozzle.
When you think about 0.4mm compared to 0.1mm, that is 4 times less, which directly translates to how long your prints will take. To extrude a similar amount of plasti , it would mean going over the lines four times.
SLA 3D printers that use a photopolymer resin for 3D printing boast far more detailed prints with intricate depth. A good reason why this happens is layer height and microns.
This innocent-seeming setting affects resolution, speed, and overall texture. For SLA 3D printers, the minimum layer height at which they can comfortably print is much smaller, and better as compared to FDM printers.
This smaller minimum contributes directly to amazing precision and detail on resin prints.
Nevertheless, some 3D printing filaments like PLA, PETG and Nylon can produce exceptional quality as well. However, with each type of 3D printing, there are certain imperfections to look out for that compromise your print’s standard.
Here’s a brief overview of print imperfections for filament printing:
- Stringing – When there are stringy lines of thin filament throughout your models, usually between two vertical parts
- Overhangs – Layers that extend beyond the previous layer at significant angles can’t support themselves, leading to drooping. Can be fixed with supports.
- Blobs & Zits – Small wart-like, bubbles/blobs/zits on the exterior of your model, usually from moisture in filament
- Weak Layer Bonding – Actual layers not adhering to each other properly, leading to a rough looking print
- Lines on the Side of Prints – Skips in the Z-axis can lead to very visible lines throughout the mode exterior
- Over & Under-Extrusion – The amount of filament coming out the nozzle can either be too little or too much, leading to clear print imperfections
- Holes in 3D Prints – Can arise from under-extrusion or overhangs and leaves visible holes in your model, as well as being weaker
Here’s a brief overview of print imperfections for resin printing:
- Models Detaching from Build Plate – some build surfaces don’t have great adhesion, you want it pre-textured. Also warm up the environment
- Over-Curing Prints – patches can be visible on your model and can also make your model more brittle.
- Hardened Resin Shifts – Prints can fail due to movements and shifts. Orientation may need changing or add more supports
- Layer Separation (Delamination) – Layers that aren’t bonding proper can easily ruin a print. Also, add more supports
Using an SLA 3D printer, layers of resin adhere quickly to each other and boast finer details. This leads to top-notch print quality with spectacular precision.
While the quality of filament prints can also get very good, it’s still going to be no match for what resin is capable of, so we have a clear winner here.
Price – Is Resin More Expensive Than Filament?
Resins and filaments both can get really expensive depending on the brand and quantity, but you also have options for them in the budget range as well. Generally speaking, resin is more expensive than filament.
Varying kinds of filaments will have significant different prices, often cheaper than others, and usually more inexpensive than resins. Below I’ll go through budget options, mid-level options, and the top price points for resin and filament.
Let’s look at what kind of prices you can get for budget resin.
When looking at the #1 Best Seller on Amazon for 3D printer resin, the Elegoo Rapid UV Curing Resin is the top choice. It’s a low-odor photopolymer for your printer that doesn’t break the bank.
A 1Kg bottle of this will set you back for under $30, which is one of the cheapest resins out there and a pretty decent figure considering the overall cost of resins.
For budget filament, the usual choice is PLA.
One of the cheapest, yet still high quality filament I found on Amazon is the Tecbears PLA 1Kg Filament. It goes for around $20. Tecbears PLA is very highly rated with around 2,000 ratings, many being from happy customers.
They loved the packaging in came in, how easy it is to use even as beginners, and the actual print quality overall on their models.
It has guarantees behind it such as:
- Clog-Free & bubble-free
- Reduced tangling from mechanical winding and strict manual examination
- Amazing dimensional accuracy ±0.02mm
- An 18-month warranty, so practically risk-free!
Okay, now let’s look at the slightly more advanced 3D printing materials, starting off with resin.
A very well-respect brand of 3D printer resin goes directly to Siraya Tech, especially their Tenacious, Flexible & Impact-Resistant 1Kg Resin which you can find on Amazon for a moderate price (~$65).
When you start to bring in specific qualities in resin, the price starts to increase. This Siraya Tech resin can be used as a great additive to increase the strength of other resins.
The main qualities and features behind it are:
- Great flexibility
- Strong and high impact-resistance
- Thin objects can be bent at 180° without shattering
- Can be mixed with Elegoo resin (80% Elegoo to 20% Tenacious is a popular mix)
- Fairly low-odor
- Has a Facebook Group with helpful users and settings to use
- Still produces highly detailed prints!
Moving on to a slightly more advanced filament in the mid-price range.
A roll of filament that you are sure to love after using is the PRILINE Carbon Fiber Polycarbonate Filament from Amazon. A 1Kg spool of this filament goes for around $50, but very worthy of this price for the qualities that you’re getting.
Features and benefits of the PRILINE Carbon Fiber Filament are:
- High heat tolerance
- High strength-to-weight ratio and is very rigid
- Dimensional accuracy tolerance of ±0.03
- Prints very well and easy to achieve warp-free printing
- Excellent layer adhesion
- Easy support removal
- Has about 5-10% carbon fiber volume to plastic
- Can be printed on a stock Ender 3, but an all-metal hotend is recommended
Now for that premium, advanced resin price range that you probably wouldn’t want to bulk buy by accident!
If we go over to a premium resin company, with premium resins and 3D printers alike, we’d easily find ourselves at the door of Formlabs.
They have a very specialized 3D printer resin which is their Formlabs Permanent Crown Resin, priced at over $1,000 for 1KG of this premium liquid.
The recommended lifetime of this material is 24 months.
This Permanent Crown Resin is a long-term biocompatible material, and is developed for vaneers, dental crowns, onlays, inlayy, and bridges. Compatibility shows as their own 3D printers which is the Formlabs Form 2 & Form 3B.
You can find more information about how professional are supposed to use this resin on their Using Permanent Crown Resin page.
Alright, now on to the premium, advanced filament that we’ve been waiting for!
If you want a material widely used in the oil/gas, automotive, aerospace, and industrial industries, you’ll be happy with PEEK filament. A great brand to go with is the CarbonX Carbon Fiber PEEK Filament from Amazon.
Though, you’ll be surprised to know it will set you back around $150…for 250g. A full 1Kg spool of this Carbon Fiber PEEK hits a cost of around $600, which is significantly more than your standard PLA, ABS or PETG as you can already tell.
This isn’t a material to be taken lightly.
It requires a printing temperature of up to 410°C and a bed temperature of 150°C. They recommend using a heated chamber, a hardened steel nozzle, and bed adhesion like tape or a PEI sheet.
PEEK is actually considered to be one of the highest performaing thermoplastics in existence, made even better with the mixed 10% of high-modulus chopped carbon fiber.
Not only is it an extremely stiff material, it has exceptional mechnical, thermal, and chemical resistance along with lightweight properties. There is also near-zero moisture absorption.
All this goes on to show that resins and filaments don’t extremely differ when the price is concerned.
You can get cheap resins and cheap filaments both if you’re willing to compromise some extra features and more quality.
Ease of Use – Is Filament Easier to Print Than Resin?
Resin can get pretty messy, and there’s hefty post-processing involved. On the other hand, filaments are much easier to use and are highly recommended for people who have just started with 3D printing.
When it comes to resin printing, it generally takes a lot more effort to remove the prints and get them ready in their final stage.
After the print, you’ll have to take into account a considerable amount of effort to get your resin model off the build platform.
This is because there’s a whole clutter of uncured resin that you have to deal with.
You have to wash the part in a cleaning solution, a popular one being isopropyl alcohol, then after the resin has been washed off, requires curing under a UV light.
Printing filament takes a lot less effort after the print is done. It used to be the case where you have to put some real force into getting your filament prints detached from the print bed, but things have definitely changed.
We now have convenient magnet build surfaces that can be removed and ‘flexed’ which results in finished prints popping right off the build plate with ease. They aren’t expensive to get, and plenty high-rated reviews attest to how great they are.
Filament or FDM prints don’t really require post-processing, unless you used support materials and they didn’t get removed so smoothly. If you don’t mind a few rough spots on a print then it doesn’t matter, but you can clean it up quite easily.
A good 3D printer toolkit can help out with cleaning up FDM prints. The CCTREE 23 Piece Cleaning Toolkit from Amazon is a great choice to accompany your filament prints.
- Needle file set
- Deburring tool
- Double-sided polished bar
- Knife set
It’s perfect for beginners or even advanced modellers and the customer service is top-tier if you run into any issues.
Other than that, post-processing might be at the same level of difficulty as resin, but the process is surely shorter with filaments.
With that being said, some common issues with resin and filament printing include poor adhesion to the build plate, delamination which is basically when your layers separate, and messy or convoluted prints.
To fix problems with adhesion with resin printing, you may want to check your build plate and resin vat, making sure you calibrate it properly.
Next, if the resin is too cold, it’s not going to stick to the build platform and leave the resin tank poorly attached. Try to move your printer to a warmer place so the print chamber and the resin aren’t as cold anymore.
Moreover, when there isn’t appropriate adhesion between the layers of your resin print, delamination may occur which can make your print look severely bad.
Fortunately, fixing this isn’t too hard. Firstly, check that the path of the layer isn’t being blocked by an obstruction.
To do this, you have to make sure that the resin tank is debris-free and leftovers from the previous print aren’t becoming a hurdle in any way.
Most importantly, use supports where necessary. This tip alone is enough to solve many problems in resin and filament printing alike, especially if we talk about quality issues like overhangs.
Additionally, as far as messy prints are concerned, make sure that you’re working with proper orientation, as misalignment is a notorious cause of print failures.
Besides, weak supports can’t back your print up very well. Use stronger supports if that’s the matter or you could even increase the number of support items used if you’re not worried too much about removing them afterward.
Once you have your process for resin or filament printing, they become pretty easy in their own right, but overall, I’d have to say filament FDM printing is easier than resin SLA printing.
Strength – Are Resin 3D Prints Strong Compared to Filament?
Resin 3D prints are strong with certain premium brands, but filament prints are a lot stronger due to their physical properties. One of the strongest filaments is Polycarbonate which has a tensile strength of 9,800 psi. Although, Formlabs Tough Resin states a tensile strength of 8,080 psi.
While this question can get very complicated, the best simple answer is that most of the popular resins are brittle as compared to filaments.
In other words, filament is way more robust. If you get budget filament and compare it to budget resin, you are going to see a significant difference in strength between the two, with filament coming out on top.
I actually wrote an article about The Strongest 3D Printing Filament That You Can Buy which you can check out if you’re interest.
Resin 3D printing still has a long way to go in terms of innovation that can incorporate strength in resin printed parts, but they are definitely catching up. The market has rapidly been adopting SLA printing, and so have been developing more materials.
You can check the Material Data Sheet for Tough Resin for Rugged Prototyping, though as previously mentioned you’ll be surprised to know that 1L of this Formlabs Tough Resin will set you back around $175.
Contrarily, we have filaments like Nylon, Carbon fiber, and the absolute king with respect to sheer strength, Polycarbonate.
A Polycarbonate hook actually managed to lift a whopping 685 pounds, in a test done by Airwolf3D.
These filaments are very strong in many different settings, and are going to be ahead of most strong resin you can find for your SLA printer.
This is why many manufacturing industries use FDM technology and filaments like Polycarbonate to create strong, durable parts that can perform exceedingly well and withstand heavy impact.
Although resin prints are detailed and of high quality, they are indeed notorious for their brittle nature.
As far as statistics on this topic are concerned, Anycubic’s colored UV resin has a tensile strength of 3,400 psi. That’s left well behind when compared to the 7,000 psi of Nylon.
Additionally, filaments, apart from lending strength to printed models, also provide you with a wide array of other desirable properties.
For instance, TPU, although a flexible filament at its core, packs serious strength and great resistance to wear-and-tear.
Quite noteworthy in this regard is the Ninjaflex Semi-Flex that can withstand 250N of pulling force before it breaks. That’s very impressive, to say the least.
Many YouTubers online have tested resin parts and found them to be easily breakable either by dropping them down or shattering them on purpose.
It’s evident from here that resin printing isn’t really solid for durable, mechanical parts that need to withstand heavy-duty impact and have top-grade resistance.
Another strong filament is ABS which, arguably, is a very common 3D printing filament. However, there’s also Siraya Tech ABS-Like Resin that claims to have the strength of ABS and the detail of SLA 3D printing.
Credit where it’s due, ABS-like resin is very tough as far as resins are concerned, but it still wouldn’t match up in a serious competition.
Therefore, filament printing is the champion in this category.
Speed – Which is Faster – Resin or Filament Printing?
Filament printing is generally faster than resin filament because you can extrude more material. However, diving deep into the subject, there are considerable variations.
First off, if we talk about multiple models on the build plate, resin printing could turn out faster. You may be wondering how.
Well, there’s a special kind of 3D printing technology called Masked Stereolithography Apparatus (MSLA) which differs considerably than regular SLA.
The main difference is that with MSLA, the UV curing light on the screen flashes in shapes of whole layers instantly.
Normal SLA 3D printing maps out the beam of light from the shape of the model, similarly to how FDM 3D printers extrude material from one area to another.
A great MSLA 3D printer that is high quality is the Peopoly Phenom, a fairly pricey 3D printer.
The Peopoly Phenom is one of the faster resin printers out there and you can see a quick breakdown of the machine in the video below.
Although MSLA is fast for 3D prints with several models, you can usually print single models and a lower number of models faster with FDM and SLA printing.
When we look at the way SLA prints work, each layer has a small surface area that can only print so much at a time. This drastically increases the overall time it takes to finish a model.
FDM’s extrusion system, on the other hand, prints thicker layers and creates an internal infrastructure, called infill, all of which decrease print times.
Then, there are the extra post-processing steps in resin printing as compared to FDM. You have to clean thoroughly and cure afterward to make sure your model turns out good.
For FDM, there’s simply the support removal (if any) and sanding which may or may not be required depending on the case. Many designers have started to implement orientations and designs which don’t require supports at all.
There are actually a few types of resin printing, SLA (laser), DLP (light) & LCD (light), which is nicely explained in the video below.
DLP & LCD are very similar in the way they build the model. Both of these technologies use resin but neither involve a laser beam or any extruder nozzle. Instead, a light projector is used to print whole layers at once.
This, in many cases, becomes faster than FDM printing. For several models on the build plate, resin printing comes out on top using this technology.
However, you can switch your nozzle sizes in FDM printing to tackle this as mentioned above in another section as well.
Instead of the standard 0.4mm nozzle, you can use a 1mm nozzle for a massive rate of flow and very quick printing.
This would greatly help bring down print times, but it would, of course, take the quality along with itself as well.
I did an article about Speed Vs Quality: Do Lower Speeds Make Prints Better? It goes into a little more detail, but more so about filament printing.
This is why it depends on you to choose whether which aspect you’d like to sacrifice to gain the other. Usually, a balance of both sides yields the best results, but you can always focus on either speed or quality as you’d like.
Safety – Is Resin More Dangerous Than Filament?
Resin and filament both have significant safety concerns. It only makes sense to say that both are dangerous in their own ways.
With filaments, you have to watch out for harmful fumes and high temperatures whereas resins run the risk of potential chemical reactions and fumes as well.
I did an article called ‘Should I Put My 3D Printer in My Bedroom?‘ which talks about the safety of filament printing in a little more detail.
Resins are chemically toxic in nature and can release dangerous by-products that can do a number on your health in many ways, if not used safely.
Irritants and pollutants released by resins can irritate our eyes and skin both, alongside causing respiratory problems to our body. Many resin printers today have good filtration systems, and advise you to use it in a well-ventilated, spacious area.
You don’t want to get resin on your skin because it can worsen allergies, cause rashes, and even cause dermatitis. Since resin reacts to UV light, some people who got resin on their skin then went into the sun have actually experienced burns.
Additionally, resins are toxic to our environment as well and can hold adverse ecological impacts such as on fish and other aquatic life. This is why it’s important to handle and dispose of resin properly.
A great video that details how to safely handle resin can be watched below.
On the other hand, we have filaments that are somewhat dangerous as well. To speak of one, ABS is a very common thermoplastic that is melted at high temperatures.
As the temperature increases, the number of fumes that are released increases. These fumes usually have Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in them and are injurious to health upon inhalation.
Even more toxic than ABS is Nylon, which melts at even higher temperatures and subsequently, poses an even greater health risk.
Here are a few pointers to make sure you’re playing it safe with filament and resin printing both.
- Always have a pack of Nitrile Gloves by your side when handling uncured resin. Never touch them barehanded.
- Use Safety Glasses to protect your eyes from irritation from resin fumes and splashing
- Print in a well-ventilated area. This tip is very applicable to filament and resin printing both.
- Use an enclosed print chamber to minimize the regulation of fumes in your environment. An enclosure also increases print quality.
- Try using environment-friendly, low-odor resins such as the Anycubic Plant-based Resin.
Resin Vs Filament for Miniatures – Which to Go For?
Simply put, resins are easily the best choice for miniatures. You get unmatched quality and you can create several parts very quickly using an MSLA 3D printer.
Filaments are in a league of their own, on the other hand. I’ve made many miniatures with it, but they’re nowhere near the same quality.
It’s what resin printers are made for; paying attention to very small details. They are truly worth the extra cost if you’re planning on mainly printing minis that are 30 mm or below.
This is why resin printing is actively used in industries where depth and precision are prioritized above anything else.
Take a look at this video for detailed information on resin vs filament in miniature printing.
You can get very far with FDM 3D printers in terms of quality, but with the amount of effort you’ll have to spend in getting every setting right, a resin 3D printer will be your best bet.
Having said that, filaments are much easier to handle, much safer, and can be a great start for beginners. They are also the choice of preference in terms of rapid prototyping – an aspect where they shine.
Additionally, when you can let a bit of detail, surface finish, and smoothness slide here and there, filaments can pay off very well for you in this regard as well.
Now that you’ve gathered the pros and cons of both sides of the coin, we hope that you can make a good decision for yourself. I wish you happy printing!