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FDM vs SLA Printed Models Explained

As the tabletop gaming community grows and grows alongside 3D printing technology, you might be wondering how your miniatures are made. On this page we’ll talk you through some of the key differences between FDM vs SLA printers, and provide you with some insight about how we go about 3D printing our models at Forged Terrain.

3D Printing: The Basics

Filament 3d Printing (Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and Resin Printing (Stereolithography (SLA) are the most commonly used and recommended 3d printing technologies, and the types that we use and favour at Forged Terrain. In general, SLA resin printers are used for high-detail models, and FDM (filament) printers are used for larger, bulkier models such as terrain pieces or buildings. These technologies enable the production of highly accurate, detailed products in a versatile manner.

What is a FDM Printer?

A FDM 3D Printer will most commonly use plastic Filament which gets fed through a very hot nozzle (+200 Celsius) with a thin opening. A model is then made by adding continuous layers of melted plastic on top of each other at the same time cooling it enough to solidify. The most common types of filament plastics are PLA and ABS.

Why do we use an FDM printer for terrains and large models?

An FDM 3D printer is the most obvious and best option if you want to create large-scale models such as buildings or terrain pieces. This is because:

  • They typically have a larger print bed and capacity.
  • They create more durable items that are less prone to damage.
  • They print with interior gaps, saving weight and material.
  • Miniatures can be printed but any fine details will be lost and the ability to support small sections like swords is limited.

At Forged Terrain we use a few different Prusa and Creality FDM printers to create our more robust terrain pieces and buildings, like these Ancient Ruins, for example.

While FDM printing is an ideal solution for creating strong terrain pieces for your tabletop, it might be tricky to execute at home. There are many print quality issues common to FDM. You might find yourself up against layer shifting, warping, step lines, under/over extrusion, stringing problems, to name a few. These problems do all have solutions, however it can take multiple attempts and a lot of trial and error to achieve your desired outcome.

What is SLA Printing?

SLA printers – often known as Resin Printers – have thin layer heights, which is how we get such high levels of detail in comparison to FDM printers. SLA printers use UV light to cure liquid resin into layers. The print bed is then lifted slightly to allow the next layer to cure.

SLA printers work best if you want highly detailed models or miniatures. Miniature printing saves time because each layer prints at the same rate regardless of the number of models. The main drawback is the print area is significantly smaller than on an FDM printer.

Why do we use an SLA Printer for miniatures?

SLA printers have a big advantage over FDM printers when it comes to its high levels of detail, especially on a smaller scale prints.

While SLA printers are capable of printing anything, they are not the ideal option for terrain. Here’s a few reasons we wouldn’t want to print terrain pieces on an SLA printer:

  • The smaller build area
  • Large, flat surfaces suffer from warping
  • Higher costs when making larger objects
  • Results are more brittle and easily damaged.

If you are considering using a SLA 3D printer at home, there are some things you should keep in mind. SLA printers have a relatively limited range of materials available for 3D printing. The resins tend to be costly and usually manufactured by the SLA printer makers themselves. Beyond the cost factor, the process itself requires some extra work. The nature of printing parts in a liquid resin is a particularly sticky one, and the resin can find its way out onto your larger work space. It can also produce a strong chemical smell which can be a problem if you’re working in your own home. The resin itself can be highly toxic too, which calls for diligent protective equipment like goggles and gloves.

There are also multiple steps to complete post processing, including:

Washing the print to remove excess resin, clipping off supports (and being careful not to remove features of the actual print) and finally curing with a UV lamp.

Which is Better: FDM or SLA Printing?

The maker community is divided on whether FDM or SLA is best for 3D printing. Really, the answer is that it depends. SLA and FDM printers are both available at various price points, ranging from entry-level units to high-end prosumer versions. Printing with FDM can be as simple as plugging in a printer and hitting the print button, FDM printing requires a lot less effort due to not having a post print process. SLA printing on the other hand, is more difficult, requiring additional steps washing, support removal and curing the models, this is in addition to dealing with the smell from resin and wearing gloves when handling uncured resin.

In conclusion… FDM vs SLA Printing

3D printing is not as simple as “get a printer, create miniatures”. You need a lot of thorough research and familiarization in which printers are most suited to the models that you want to create.

3D printing is likely to continue expanding its technology as it gains popularity in the tabletop gaming industry. 3D printing is a fascinating hobby in and of itself; it is amazing to watch as the printer slowly completes your creations.

If 3D printing at home is not a feasible option for you, but you have something special that you’d like produced then Forged Terrain might be able to help. Get in touch with the details of your request, or visit our FAQ page if you have a question about our printing process.