Fused Deposition Modeling: Everything You Need To Know About FDM 3D Printing

fused deposition modeling fdm 3d printing

Fused Deposition Modeling (also known as FDM), is the most commonly used 3D printing technology for everyday makers and consumers. In this article, 3DSourced explain the history of FDM; setting up an FDM 3D printer; the printing process, which 3D printing filaments and materials to use; FDM 3D printer prices; FDM 3D printer performance vs Stereolithography and Selective Laser Sintering; FDM’s applications; and advantages and disadvantages of FDM.

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Approx: 5 minute read.

Fused Deposition Modeling: Explained

We have included a number of infographics and videos in addition to images to try and help you understand the process. There is a summary at the end which concisely explains everything again.


Fused deposition modeling is sometimes called fused filament fabrication, or FFF. These 3D printing processes are the same, but we will use FDM in this article. If you see FFF 3D printer written anywhere, it is an FDM 3D printer.

History of FDM

Fused deposition modeling was developed by S. Scott Crump in the late 1980s before he founded Stratasys. With Stratasys, Crump commercialized FDM in 1990, and the successful 3D printer company continue to make FDM 3D printers to this day.

Another big year for 3D printing using fused deposition modeling was 2005, the year the RepRap movement started to take off. The RepRap movement is based on the open source community and involves 3D printing the parts of your own 3D printer, and assembling them yourself. Once you have 3D printed your own 3D printer, you are morally obliged to print the pieces to another 3 for other people as per the RepRap code.

2009 marked the year when the first fused deposition modeling patents expired, allowing enthusiasts to develop their own DIY 3D printers and commercialize them. Companies such as Makerbot and Lulzbot became hugely successful for making DIY printer kits, with Makerbot becoming the $400M-valued giant that it is today.

You can read more about the history of 3D printing here.

RepRap FDM 3D printer fused deposition modeling
This RepRap 3D printer uses FDM technologies to 3D print more copies of itself in a process of self-replication.

Setting up an FDM 3D printer

To print anything on your FDM 3D printer, you’ll first need a 3D file. Usually an .STL file, you can either download these from sites such as Thingiverse or Shapeways, or design them on a 3D software program such as SolidWorks or SelfCAD.

Once you have your .STL file, you need to use a slicer tool such as Cura to slice the file into layers. These are the individual layers the 3D printer will print, one at a time, until the three-dimensional model is finished. Once sliced, you just need to choose your printing parameters, and press print!

3D Printing with Fused Deposition Modeling

Fused deposition modeling involes heating a thermoplastic filament to its melting point – around 200ºC, though this depends on the material – through a heated nozzle and then extruded, layer-by-layer, to build the model. The 3D printer deposits material on the platform, where the filament solidifies to form a solid part. The layer sizes depend on your preferences, but are usually around a sixteenth of an inch.

In printing, the heated filament is extruded using an extruder, and moves through the 3D printer’s nozzle. It is placed using the 3D printer’s X, Y and Z axes. Once each layer is finished the platform descends slightly, and the next layer is printed.

fused deposition modeling process
The Fused Deposition Modeling 3D printing process. The spool travels to the extruder, which prints each layer.

Parameters for High-Quality 3D Printing

Fused deposition modeling is a very versatile 3D printing method. There are many parameters which you can customize, including build speed, extrusion speed, and nozzle temperature. These settings control the consistency of the filament material.

Nozzle diameter and layer height are the most important parameters for print quality. If you use smaller nozzle diameters and a lower layer height, your 3D print will have a smoother finish. Consequently, a large nozzle diameter and higher layer heights will result in a more rugged finish.

Color FDM 3D Printing

Some 3D printers have the ability to 3D print color. An FDM 3D printer that does this is the Da Vinci Color by XYZPrinting, which can print 10 million different colors! If you have a dual extruder 3D printer then you can also print two colors or two materials simultaneously.

da vinci color FDM 3D printer fused deposition modeling
The Da Vinci Color, the FDM 3D printer which can 3D print in over 10 million colors!

Removing Supports & Stopping Warping with fused deposition modeling

One thing you must be careful of with FDM 3D printing is warping. Parts can warp when using FDM because parts cool at different times. Due to this, sections of the 3D printed model can contract and shrink. This can be remedied however with a high quality heated bed with good bed adhesion.

FDM 3D printers use supports when printing anything that overhangs more than 45 degrees. These can be removed in two ways; firstly by soaking the model in a mix of water and detergent solution. The other way is to simply snap off the supports with your hands, though this risks damaging the print.

You can also sand the print for a smoother finish, or paint it for a nicer look.

Here is an example of painting a 3D print where YouTuber RCLifeOn paints a Rick & Morty model which he printed with an FDM 3D printer:

Fused Deposition Modeling Materials & Filaments

Fused deposition modeling 3D printers use filaments which are thermoplastics in the form of wires. They are coiled around a spool and fed into the FDM 3D printer. These 3D printer filaments usually come in sizes of either 1.75mm or 3mm diameter.

PLA: Another commonly used material is PLA (Polylactic Acid) – a biodegradable plastic formed by cornstarch or a similar vegetable. A positive of using PLA is that it is more environmentally friendly as it is a renewable raw material, which is why it also has wide applications in food packaging.

You can print PLA on a 3D printer without any serious changes – you don’t require a heated bed like you would for 3D printing ABS. It also melts at a low and safe temperature, around 150°C. However, prints in PLA are generally more fragile than those in ABS.

ABS: The most common material used with FDM is ABS. ABS material is a polymer which is also used in household items like Lego, and is popular because it is inexpensive, offers good chemical resistance, and is fairly strong. You print with ABS you need to heat it to its melting point – around 200°C – a relatively safe and low temperature compared to some tougher filaments, though higher than PLA.

However, to print with ABS you need an FDM 3D printer with a heated bed, or your print will warp significantly.

Other materials you can use include PC (polycarbonate), PEI, TPU, PEEK, and many other filaments for specialized types of FDM 3D printing.

Basic polymer filaments such as ABS and PLA are the cheapest, usually around $25 per kilo. However, expensive, high-quality filaments such as PEEK can cost much more, up to $500 per kilo.

fused deposition modeling fdm 3d printer filament
Plastic filaments are used in FDM 3D printers to print objects using fused deposition modeling techniques.

Support materials can either be made from the same material as used in 3D printing, or from PPSF, PVA, or HIPS. If you are using a dual extruder 3D printer, the other extruder can print supports in these other materials concurrently. Any areas which were previously covered by removed supports will have a noticeably smoother finish than those that were not.

For more information about materials and extruders, check out our 3D printer extruder guide.

FDM 3D Printer Price

Fused deposition modeling is the most affordable 3D printing technology, making it ideal for beginners and hobbyists. Due to this, it is the most commonly used 3D printing technology.

FDM 3D printers can start at around $200 to $300 for basic 3D printers such as the Creality CR-10, or Da Vinci Mini by XYZprinting. RepRap 3D printer kits start at around this price, though a Prusa 3D printer will cost you just under $1,000. DIY 3D printer kits such as the Creality Ender 3 offer a good mix of quality and low cost.

Medium-range FDM 3D printers can cost $2,000 to $3,000. These include 3D printers by brands such as Makerbot, Ultimaker and Zortrax. They are more professional and higher quality, but cost more as a result.

Professional FDM 3D printers such as those by Stratasys cost far more, ranging from $10,000 to $300,000! These printers print much higher quality (accuracy >50 microns) and 3D print fast, but cost far more as a result.

zortrax fdm 3d printer
These Zortrax FDM 3D printers are known for high quality printing.

FDM 3D Printer Performance

Though affordable, accessible, and simple to use, FDM / FFF 3D printers lack in some areas. Firstly, they are slow. Due to tracing each layer slowly, larger prints can take days to print sometimes. If you are looking to 3D print with speed, you are much better off with SLA or SLS, or even with Carbon 3D’s CLIP technology for super high speed printing!

Furthermore, the print quality adequate, but not great. Though the best FDM 3D printers are accurate up to around 50 microns, this is not ideal and sometimes you can still see the layers on a model. 3D printing technologies such as SLA and Binder Jetting are better for high-quality printing as they offer higher precision and quality overall.

Applications of FDM

Fused deposition modeling is great for rapid prototyping as it can produce cheap copies of designs . Therefore, this is the main use of FDM, though it has some use in aerospace, medical, and art sectors too.

Well-known companies such as BMW, Hyundai, and Nestle are known for using FDM in their processes. This is in rapid prototyping to create protypes quickly to measure their effectiveness.

Advantages and Disadvantages of FDM

FDM Advantages

  • FDM is a cheap and accessible 3D technology. This makes it perfect for beginners to 3D printing. It’s also the most commonly used rapid prototyping technology due to its ease of access.
  • The technology is simple to use, and printers are often user-friendly. This is because FDM is mostly a consumer rather than industrial process so effort is made to make the 3D printers easy to use.

FDM Disadvantages / FDM Limitations

  • The print quality of FDM / FFF 3D prints are not as good as those by SLA or SLS.
  • 3D printing with fused deposition modeling is slow. This makes it unusable in some industries when large numbers of parts are needed quickly.
  • The layer-by-layer printing in FDM can sometimes lead to problems with warping and minor shrinking.

Therefore to summarize, FDM is a great 3D printing option for beginners due to its simplicity and cheap cost. However, for users looking to print large numbers of models quickly, and at very high quality, you are better off elsewhere.

If you enjoyed this guide, be sure to check out the other guides and rankings on our site.

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