PolyJet vs. SLA: Differences and Comparison
Learn about the differences between these two 3D printing technologies.
PolyJet and SLA (stereolithography) are resin-based 3D printing technologies that use UV light to cure a liquid resin. Although both technologies print layer by layer, SLA uses a laser to outline a layer on the current surface of a tank of resin, while the platform drops deeper into the vat on each pass. PolyJet printers, on the other hand, build up a 3D model by spraying tiny droplets onto a dry building plate and a UV lamp is used to cure each layer as the model is printed. Other than the working principle, the key differences when comparing PolyJet to SLA lie in the materials they use and their applications.
The Polyjet process can print using a more versatile set of materials. Its biggest advantage is that it allows for multi-material printing – a part can be printed using multiple materials, at the same time. Although Polyjet can print small parts faster, this advantage disappears when the parts are larger than five cubic inches. PolyJet and SLA printers are similarly priced in terms of both raw materials and printing equipment.
This article will further compare PolyJet vs. SLA 3D printers, including their advantages, disadvantages, similarities, and differences.
PolyJet 3D printing was developed by Objet-Geometries in 2000. A PolyJet printer functions a lot like an inkjet printer. However, instead of drops of liquid ink, the PolyJet works by jetting droplets of photopolymer, layer upon layer, to form a 3D model. Each layer solidifies when exposed to UV light as the model is systematically built up.
SLA and PolyJet have fast printing speeds. PolyJet is the fastest printer for models that fit within a 5’’ cube. The speed declines outside of these limits, however. The printing speed of SLA is not dependent on the size of the model. In other aspects, PolyJet has some distinct advantages compared to SLA. PolyJet is not restricted to only resin-based printing. It can print a range of materials with different properties. These printers are also capable of higher production volumes compared to SLA. Although, Polyjet is limited in terms of build volume -- it is not suitable for manufacturing large-format parts.
PolyJet printers have multiple heads that can simultaneously lay down the final part material as well as the support material. In many cases, the support material can wash off with a water jet– eliminating the need for a time-consuming post-production process. Depending on the thickness of the support material, a chemical batch or a combination of a chemical bath, peeling, and washing off the support may be required. SLA, on the other hand, is limited by breakaway support material and is overall a very messy process. Post-processing steps with SLA have to be done manually and are very labor-intensive. The image below is an example of a PolyJet 3D printer:
To learn more, see our guide on the PolyJet Process.
A polyjet 3D printer.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/Moreno Soppelsa
PolyJet has the following advantages over SLA:
- PolyJet is more versatile than SLA. It has multi-material and multi-color capabilities.
- PolyJet parts have good tensile strength. This process can produce strong, sturdy, durable products.
- PolyJet is better in terms of resolution offerings.
- PolyJet-printed parts are sufficiently cured after printing. SLA, on the other hand, needs a UV oven to fully cure the part.
- PolyJet is capable of higher production volumes compared to SLA.
A disadvantage of PolyJet over SLA is its more costly materials.
Invented in the 1980s, SLA was the world's first 3D printing technology. It was invented by Chuck Hull, who later became the founder of 3D Systems. An SLA printer uses a UV laser to outline successive layers of the desired part at the surface of a tank of liquid resin. The build platform gradually retracts down into the tank, exposing fresh liquid resin for the laser to trace on its next pass. Exposing the liquid resin to the UV laser beam solidifies and hardens the resin and joins the just-deposited material to the layer below. After the product is completely printed, the model is submerged in a chemical bath for cleaning. Post-processing is done by manually removing the breakaway support and placing the model in a UV oven to cure. Sanding may also be necessary to achieve a smoother surface.
Compared to PolyJet, SLA is more useful for large prototypes and hollow structures. SLA uses an internal honeycomb structure to form high-quality hollow parts. PolyJet, on the other hand, is more useful for printing smaller models or parts. SLA is also used for prototypes in various industries, including healthcare and jewelry. The image below shows how an SLA 3D printer works:
To learn more, see our guide on SLA Technology.
An SLA 3D printer working.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/Moreno Soppelsa
An advantage of SLA over PolyJet is that SLA can print mostly hollow parts using an interior honeycomb structure.
Compared to PolyJet, SLA has the following disadvantages:
- SLA printers are not as stable as PolyJet printers. This results in variations of duplicate prints.
- SLA is not as versatile as PolyJet printers. SLA does not include multi-material capabilities and has limited color options (gray, white, and clear).
- SLA layers are thicker than PolyJet, with a minimum layer thickness of roughly 50 microns. PolyJet has a minimum layer thickness of 16 microns.
- SLA products are known to be brittle and fragile and are therefore not ideal for functional prototypes.
- SLA is messy, in terms of resin spills and post-processing processes, and can give off an odor.
Degrades over time with light and heat exposure.
Good tensile strength
Accuracy and detail
Small detailed prototypes and intricate patterns
Large models and intricate patterns
Excellent resolution at 0.00063’’
Good resolution at 0.005-0.002
All colors, opaque and translucent
$6,000 to $75,000+
$1,200 to $100,000+
Table: PolyJet vs. SLA Comparison
Both PolyJet and SLA printers are mainly used for industrial applications. They overlap in terms of pricing. PolyJet prices usually start at around $6,000 and can go past $75,000. SLA, on the other hand, has a wider pricing range that starts at around $1,200 and goes up to $100,000+ for industrial use. SLA is best suited for large models, whereas PolyJet is ideal for small, detailed prototypes. Both SLA and PolyJet printers perform well with intricate patterns and deliver excellent quality products.
SLA was the first 3D printing technology and is therefore well-established. PolyJet printers work by spraying droplets of photopolymer, layer upon layer, to form a 3D model on a building tray. A UV light is used to cure the resin. SLA, on the other hand, uses a laser beam to print a 3D model from the resin tank.
PolyJet allows for a lot of versatility in terms of material selection. It can print rigid and flexible parts simultaneously in multiple colors. This is a unique feature that sets the PolyJet apart from most 3D printers. SLA, on the other hand, is limited to one material per printed object, with limited colors (gray hues).
The selection of either PolyJet or SLA will come down to the end product and its applications. PolyJet is one of the only printer types that allows for multi-color, multi-material printing. It is unmatched in terms of versatility. When printing with comparable materials, SLA performs better in larger prototypes, whereas PolyJet is better for smaller parts with finely detailed printing.
PolyJet printers are used in various industries including: medical, architecture, dentistry, and automotive. SLA printing, on the other hand, is used in industries such as jewelry, and healthcare.
PolyJet has a higher print volume than SLA—it is capable of producing more parts. However, the actual print volumes of both these types of printers are dependent on the model of printer used. In terms of build volume, SLA is capable of larger build volumes, whereas PolyJet is limited to smaller-sized prints.
SLA and PolyJet both produce parts with a smooth surface finish. The difference is that PolyJet-printed parts have a smooth surface right off the build. SLA, on the other hand, requires sanding to achieve a smoother surface finish.
PolyJet and SLA are comparable in price. Although SLA has a broader range of available features, and therefore, a wider price range. In terms of material cost, PolyJet materials are typically more expensive due to their superior versatility and more expensive materials that cannot be used with SLA.
Some alternatives to PolyJet and SLA 3D printers include:
- FDM: FDM (Fusion Deposition Modeling) is a material extrusion method that is specifically suited to printing in plastic and requires support structure much like SLA. Its similarity to PolyJet is that both technologies use an orthogonal printer transport mechanism for Z-axis layering.
- SLS: SLS (Selective laser sintering) and SLA both use lasers to fuse material. PolyJet and SLS produce parts with isotropic properties.
PolyJet and SLA share some similarities:
- Both form part of the 3D printing family called resin-based 3D printing.
- Both printers deliver excellent quality end products and are known for their accuracy and detail.
- Both SLA and PolyJet printers are used to print intricate details and patterns.
The following 3D printers compare well with PolyJet 3D printers:
- PolyJet vs. Multijet: Multijet Printing (MJP) shares the same technology and process as PolyJet. Both use UV lamps to cure liquid photopolymers. For more information, see our article on PolyJet vs. Multijet.
The following is an alternative to SLA:
- SLA vs. DLP: Like SLA, DLP (Direct Light Processing) builds parts by curing liquid photopolymer materials. Both technologies produce parts with very high levels of accuracy. For more information, see our article on SLA vs. DLP.
This article summarized the differences between PolyJet and SLA 3D printing technologies.
To learn more about PolyJet vs. SLA and to help select the perfect technology for your products, contact a Xometry representative.
Xometry offers a full range of 3D printing services for your project needs. Visit our Instant Quote Engine to get a free, no-obligation quote in minutes.
The content appearing on this webpage is for informational purposes only. Xometry makes no representation or warranty of any kind, be it expressed or implied, as to the accuracy, completeness, or validity of the information. Any performance parameters, geometric tolerances, specific design features, quality and types of materials, or processes should not be inferred to represent what will be delivered by third-party suppliers or manufacturers through Xometry’s network. Buyers seeking quotes for parts are responsible for defining the specific requirements for those parts. Please refer to our terms and conditions for more information.