FDM 3D Printing: Introduction To Fused Deposition Modeling AKA FFF

Are you wondering what FDM 3D printing is? Is an FDM 3D printer the best for your craft?

FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) 3D printing is one of the popular additive manufacturing technologies in the market.

You will either often encounter FDM and FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication). Now, the question is — are they the same?

FFF and FDM are often used interchangeably and while they are similar, they have some differences too and you will learn all of that things in this section. So, continue reading to get a good grasp of FDM 3D printing and FDM 3D technology!


What is FDM 3D Printing?

Fused deposition modeling 3D printing is a method of additive manufacturing where layers of materials are fused in a pattern to create an object.

It melts the material just past its glass transition temperature and extrudes it in a pattern next to or on to of the previous extrusions to create an object layer by layer.

In layman’s terms, it uses a plastic filament, melts its and deposits it in layers on the print bed. The layers are fused, building up throughout the print, and eventually, they will form the finished part.

FDM printers use an extruder to extrude the melted filament. The most common 3D printer materials being used are PLA and ABS filament. But it also caters to a wide variety of materials for different purposes like PETG filament, PC, Nylon filament, and carbon fiber-filled filaments.

FDM is the simplest way to 3D print and it is cheap and efficient. Due to the said reasons, FDM 3D printers dominate the 3D printing market. Many prefer it over other 3D printing technology that’s why they are very popular in the 3D printing community.

FDM technology works with specialized 3D printers and production-grade thermoplastics to build strong, durable, and dimensionally stable parts with the best accuracy and repeatability of any 3D printing technology. Stratasys founder Scott Crump invented FDM Technology more than 20 years ago and it has continued to lead the 3D printing revolution ever since.

FDM technology is clean, simple to use, and office-friendly. It supports production-grade thermoplastics that are mechanically and environmentally stable. Complex

When it comes to design and capability, you will likely find variations in the extrusion system, here are some variations that you might observe:

• Filament extruders, the most common and versatile variation which utilizes reels of thermoplastic filament
• Pellet extruders, exchanging the filament for granules of plastic
• Chocolate extruders (whoopee!)

Paste extruders, where any paste can be extruded. Common uses are ceramics and food. Paste extrusion is sometimes left in its own category, as the paste is not necessarily a thermoplastic material.

How FMD Works?

Objects created with an FDM printer usually start as computer-aided design (CAD) files. The CAD file will be converted to a format that a 3D printer can understand, usually .STL format. The output is a G-code file for the printer.

FDM printers use two kinds of materials — a modeling material and a support material. The modeling material constitutes the finished object while the support material acts as a scaffolding supporting the object as it is being printed.

The FDM printer heats the thermoplastic filament to its melting point and then extruded it layer by layer onto a base called a build platform or table.

In the typical FDM system, the extrusion nozzle moves over the build platform horizontally and vertically “drawing” a cross-section of an object onto the platform. The thin layer of plastic cools and hardens immediately binding to the layer beneath it. Once a layer is completed, the base is lowered by about one-sixteenth of an inch to make room for the next layer of plastic.

The printing time varies depending on the size of the object. in general, small objects take lesser time while larger and more complex objects take longer to print.

What Is FDM Printing Used For

FDM 3D printers are very popular because it is affordable and efficient. There are many 3D printers in the market using FDM technology.

If you are considering whether why FDM 3D printers are worth it, here are the popular applications of FDM 3D printing technology.

1. Prototypes

One of the earliest applications of FDM 3D printing technology is for prototypes. In fact, 3D printing technology was invented with the basic premise of rapid manufacturing prototypes that’s why 3D printing is called rapid prototyping. Until today, prototyping remains the leading application for 3D printing.

2. Prosthetics

Traditional prosthetics are costly and takes a long time to be manufactured. But with FDM 3D printing technology, the process is made faster and cheaper. Since it is more affordable, it increases the accessibility of the prosthetics which does not only improves physical independence but also helps heal emotional pain.

In addition, aside from reducing the cost and turnaround time, 3D printing prosthetics also makes it easy to improve and customize designs so it perfectly fits the person who will be using it.

3. Gifting

FDM technology enables one to design, iterate, redesign and print a part, according to their needs and requirements. With its power to customize anything, one can easily manufacture items perfects for presents. FDM 3D printing technology offers dimensionally, accurate, strong, and affordable gifting items.

3D printed parts can be post-processed in various ways to end up with the best aesthetically products that are perfect as birthday or wedding gifts.

4. Industrial applications

Aside from helping you manufacture gifting products and prototypes, 3D printing works so well when it comes to industrial applications. FDM 3D printing technology produces strong and functional products for end-use applications.

Desktop FDM 3D printers do not produce the same quality as industrial 3D printers. The latter is designed to produce end-use application parts for aerospace, automotive, manufacturing, and medical applications.

5. Architecture

Architecture models of residential complexes, power plants, and stadiums were expensive. They use multiple materials like wood filaments, polystyrene, and acrylic. The materials are costly and difficult to transport which only makes them more expensive and the manufacturing time longer.

With FDM 3D printing technology, architectural models can now be 3D printed, transported easily, and conveniently assembled on location.

6. Household items

Aside from helping industries and engineers, one can use FDM 3D printers to print regular household items from gasses, plates, forks, frames, showerheads, and more. It can also help you 3D print tools from scissors, pliers, screws to the more complicated multitool pocket knife.

FDM 3D technology can also help you manufacture office supplies from pens holders, stackable drawers, lamps, organizers, and more. You can also use it for personal stuff you need like mobile covers, buttons, books, and keychains to name a few.

What is the Difference Between FFF and FDM?

Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is actually just the same as fused filament fabrication (FFF).

However, Stratasys, one of the top 3d manufacturers right now, trademarked the term “fused deposition modeling” and the abbreviated word “FDM”, hence the need for a second name and that’s why many refer to the same technology as FFF or fused filament fabrication.

There is not much difference between FFF and FDM because the FDM is equivalent to FFF. The main difference between the two is their historical background.

FDM is a proprietary 3D printing technology developed and Coined by Stratasys in 1989. FDM 3D printer is an enclosed machine with an extruder, nozzle, print chamber, and a filament feeding system. The material is guided to the extruder where it is heated above its melting point.

The nozzle will then extrude the melted filament onto the build plate of a print chamber, creating the 3D printed model.

The process usually takes inside an isolated chamber which maintains a temperature of about 90-degree Celsius. The printed model retains all of the material’s mechanical properties.
Meanwhile, FFF or Fused Filament Fabrication technology is developed by the RepRap project and is designed for the rapid production of complicated designed objects without expensive, industrial-grade tools.

FFF-based machines were designed without a print chamber to make it as value-engineered and cost-efficient as possible. The material usually experiences temperature fluctuation due to a cold environment during its extrusion onto the heated bed but it’s a lot cheaper compared to FDM. However, most budget-friendly FFF 3D printers do not have a build plate that can be heated.

Oftentimes, FDM technology is the term used for industrial applications and professional printing with plastics. Meanwhile, FFF-based devices are for hobbyists.

Fused deposition modeling (FDM) and stereolithography (SLA)

Have you wondered about the differences between FDM and SLA? Do you often see the two being compared? FDM vs SLA, which is better?

FDM and stereolithography or SLA 3D printers are the two most popular types of 3D printers on the market today. Both 3D printing technologies have been adapted and refined for the desktop. They are also more affordable, capable, and user-friendly. In this section, we take a closer look between the two printers n terms of quality, materials, applications, workflow, speed, costs, and more.

FDM offers you more freedom in designing, faster lead times, and stronger thermoplastics. It utilizes strong, engineering-grade materials like ABS and Polycarbonate and ULTEM 9085 RESIN.

FDM is fast and low-cost but it delivers low accuracy, low details, and has limited design compatibility. It can be used in low-cost rapid prototyping and basic proof-of-concept models.

It only requires minor training on build setup, machine operation, and finishing. However, you will need moderate training on maintenance. It supports standard thermoplastics including ABS, PLA, and their various blends. It also supports a removal system for machines with soluble supports finishing tools.

On the other hand, SLA is a great value with high accuracy, smooth surface finish, and range of functional applications. It is sensitive to long exposure to UV light and caters to varieties of materials, including resin, standard, engineering (ABS-like, PP-like, flexible, heat-resistant), castable, dental, and medical (biocompatible). When it comes to training, it is easy to use because it is plug-and-play and only requires minor training on build setup, maintenance, machine operation, and finishing.

Unlike FDM that needs an air-conditioned environment or custom ventilation for desktop machines, SLA desktop 3D printers are suitable for an office environment.

When it comes to build volumes, FDM is available in a wide range of build volumes from smaller desktop versions to large-format industrial versions. The largest FDM printer packs a volume of approximately 2,475 liters. SLA has limited build volumes and is generally not big because the largest SLA printer is approximately 618 liters.

Both FDM and SLA processes use support structures to facilitate 3D printing more complex geometries and the removal represents the last step in post-processing. However, the supports on FDM parts need to be manually torn away or dissolved in water depending on the support material.

Post-processing is required and both FDM and SLA parts can be machined, primed, painted, and assembled for specific applications or finishes. However, FDM parts require additional sanding before priming or painting.

Integrating 3D printing support into the design is more of an art than science. You need to come up with elements that simultaneously fit into the overall design and can support the overhangs or bridges. When done correctly, it can enhance the beauty of the model and saves you time, money, and labor.

When it comes to choosing between the two, here’s a tip — an FDM printer is very helpful if you want to 3D print strong and usable parts but if you want to deliver parts with intricate details go for SLA 3D printers.


An FDM 3D printer is similar to an FFF 3D printer and both share the same 3D printing process and materials or thermoplastic. However, the latter is cheaper compared to the former.

Also, the FDM 3D printer is an industrial-grade technology that caters to part applications requiring high-quality and engineering-grade prototypes that can withstand mechanical loads. Meanwhile, FFF comes in various sizes, if you want a desktop 3D printer using the said technology, you will easily find one in the market.

Many prefer to use an FDM 3D printer because of its speed, accuracy, and ease of use. CD drawings can be transformed into finished products in one step using easy to use 3D software application. Also, 3D printing automatically scales parts down to size to fit inside a production space without losing accuracy.

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