Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between SLA and SLS?

When choosing a 3D printing or additive manufacturing process there is a lot to consider – here we revisit SLA and SLS. Tim wasn’t wrong in his last article on SLA vs SLS when he said it’s all about trade offs!

The development of SLA and SLS dates back to the early 80’s. Following this, the first commercial SLA systems were released 1986 by 3D systems. In the early 90’s the first SLS systems were commercialised by DTM, which later became part of 3D Systems. The point of this history lesson you ask? Really to emphasise how much additive manufacturing has evolved with over 20 years of industry experience. We are in a place where technology and materials have been tried, tested and well refined over the years.

What is the difference between SLA and SLS?
Stereolithography (SLA)

So, what is the difference between SLA and SLS? There are some common denominators, for example, both use a laser to trace out and build individual layers. For SLA a liquid resin is cured, whereas in SLS powder is selectively fused together. Selective laser Sintering (SLS)

 

 

Comparing the techniques isn’t easy as they both have pros and cons. If we were limited to a single sentence summary, it would have to be that SLS is generally tougher and lower in cost, whilst SLA produces parts with tighter dimensional tolerances and have a better surface finish more akin to injection moulded parts. However once we start looking in more detail, choices will then start coming down to individual project requirements. 

Feature definition

If feature definition is a consideration, SLA is generally better able to produce small and well-defined features. There are also high-resolution SLA systems designed for smaller parts. The definition of small features with SLS is slightly hindered by the powders grainy surface appearance.

Feature sizes

Feature sizes are roughly comparable on paper but SLA probably has the edge in reality, especially if high resolution SLA is considered, as shown below.

Feature

SLA

SLA (high-res)

SLS

Build Volume

1500x650x550mm (max)

250x250x250mm (commonly)

380x380x250mm (possible)

550x550x750mm or 

700x580x380mm

Thin walls

0.6-0.8mm

0.2mm

0.8mm

Holes

0.8-1.0mm

0.5mm

0.8-1.0mm

Clearance Space (in other words, to avoid joining)

0.6mm

0.4mm

0.3mm

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

Whilst SLA might be better for small features - SLS has the advantage over SLA in that the surrounding powder provides support to the parts during the build process. For SLA, parts either need to be designed to be ‘self supporting’ or additional support structures need to be built to support the part during the process. Note however, this will add time and cost due to post processing. With SLS the powder supports the part, allowing complex geometries and channels to be built which might not be possible to build without supports in SLA.Stereolithography

There is a common misconception that SLS parts are porous, but actually water absorption values quoted in data sheets range in the order of 0.1-0.5%. The surface of the part is likely to be water absorbent due to the powdery surface finish, but this doesn't mean the whole part is. 

Post Prosessing

Both SLA and SLS require post processing. SLA parts need to be cleaned to remove un-cured resin, undergo a post cure, and supports need to be removed. With SLS, excess powder needs to be removed. Both processes are relatively well matched on the ability to be machined, sanded and painted to achieve good surface finish and remove evidence of layers.

Commonly used materials

Here is a summary of some of the commonly used materials. 

Requirement

SLA

SLS

PA

 

DuraForm

DuraForm Ex

PA2200

PA2201

PP-Like

Accura 25

Somos 9120

PP-Like SLS

ABS-Like

Accura 55

Renshape SL7565

 

High(er) Temperature

Accura Bluestone

Accura CeraMax

Somos Perform

Somos Nanotool

DuraForm Glass Filled

DuraForm HST

3200 Glass Filled

Clear

Accura ClearVue

Accura 60

Watershed

Renshape SL7565

N/A

Flexible

N/A

DuraForm Flex

 

Please speak to us if you would like to know more about more specialist materials eg SLSPeak, SLAPeak,  SLSCarbon or SLAhigh-res.SLA Accura Bluestone

For specific material properties take a look at our data sheets here.

SLSPeakSLA v SLS - who wins?

So yes, it’s all about the trade off and this is often project specific. Both might be used in one project - for example we may opt for SLS as a first prototype to keep costs down, and then choose SLA for the final prototype for a better surface finish. The clear winner in this race is the end user as competition between the two methods drives forward developments in technology and new materials. 

  • “Plunkett Associates have excellent breadth of experience, work with high quality partners and have a flexibility that we have found enables challenges to be met successfully, cost effectively and in a timely manner.”
    Nick Skaer, CEO, Orthox Ltd
  • Plunkett associates always find a solution. Whatever we need to prototype, they have a great grasp on the technologies available, costs and lead-times so we get the right solution tailored to the project needs. Have always delivered and never let us down.
    Naim Audio
  • “I can’t recommend Tim and his team highly enough. We ended up with a design which can be produced and assembled quickly, efficiently and reliably, in volumes that make sense”
    Simon Leggett, Director, Olivewood Technology
  • "Tim's experience, expertise and supplier base have been fundamental to us getting this project off the ground."
    Sam Pearce, Jelly Products Ltd
  • “We were really surprised at how quickly they turned round such a high quality prototype and the parts certainly proved their worth. They were of high enough quality to provide a fantastic visual representation and to undergo rigorous testing."
    Stuart Wilson, Design Director, TRT Lighting
  • “Accuracy, finish and delivery all first class.”
    Andrew Peters, JMDA Ltd
  • “We use Plunkett Associates because we want someone we can trust, that knows what they’re talking about, has all the contacts, will provide reliable advice and feedback and will get the right result for us.”
    Jim Copestick. Design Manager, Thorlux Lighting
  • “We always know exactly what we’re getting and we know we won’t be let down on quality, price or lead times.”
    Mark Williams, Research and Development Director, Johnson Safety Products
  • “Plunkett Associates truly offer a complete turnkey solution with Speed, Effectiveness and Precision.”
    David Harden, Director, Enica Ltd
  • “Kirintec were thrilled with Plunketts. They made a complex process simple and we were just amazed at the lead times achieved. Plus, every single deadline was met without any drama.”
    Penny While, Marketing Director, Kirintec
  • “Thanks to Plunkett Associates flexible, bespoke and cost effective service I was able to produce the objects that I had originally had in mind.”
    Simon Ryder, Artist
  • To create such a consistent quality finish in chrome was an amazing achievement and the prototypes really gave our stand the wow factor.
    James Clark, Group Commercial Director, The Airdri Group
  • Interestingly, people who look at it in its own right with little knowledge of what it does, just like it! It’s tactile and it looks good…
    Tim Collings, Operations Director, Troika Systems Ltd
  • "With their simple to understand language, willingness to go the extra mile and approachability, Plunkett Associates were a great partner for our company. We couldn’t be happier with the results of our project. (A working prototype that they got right first time, by the way). Thank you!"
    Carolina Ballon-Forrester, Director, Kittyrama Ltd
  • Plunkett Associates worked on the design and production of titanium frames for an artificial heart valve where precision and consistency was paramount. Communications were efficient and productive with concepts readily incorporated into the final design, and suggestions for improvements all highly appropriate. The quality of the end product was ideal and I have no doubt that I will use the advice and expertise of Plunkett Associates again.
    David Wheatley, Wheatley Research Ltd
  • “Thanks for the present that arrived this morning, as promised. Parts look first class, as always.”
    Jon Todd, Design Manager, PHS Group
  • “Plunkett Associates have a fantastic supply chain, work with all sorts of production processes and will always do their utmost to solve a problem.”
    Naim Audio
  • “ Plunketts developed a solution that met our precision requirements at a cost significantly lower than alternative manufacturing approaches we had investigated”
    Nick Skaer, CEO, Orthox Ltd
  • “Doing business with you has been an absolute pleasure. You have made my goals a reality. You have been patient, helpful and above all, responsive. Best service that I have experienced in ages. I consider Plunkett Associates to be an integral part of my business plan moving forward.”
    Jet Cooper, Sculptor
Related Processes

Stereolithography (SLA)

Produces accurate 3D models with a range of material choices. High Res SLA and Micro SLA for smaller parts.

more info

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is the second most commonly used process after Stereolithography (SLA). SLS parts can be produced with high functionality in very short lead times.

more info

Stereolithography (Hi-Res)

Usually smaller parts that are feature rich or where ultimate accuracy is required.

more info

Stereolithography (Micro)

Operates at 25 micron layers, allowing detail you need a magnifying glass to see.

more info

Read more expert articles in our FAQ section where we discuss topics on materials, methods and products.

Back to FAQs
  • “Plunkett Associates have excellent breadth of experience, work with high quality partners and have a flexibility that we have found enables challenges to be met successfully, cost effectively and in a timely manner.”
    Nick Skaer, CEO, Orthox Ltd
    Nick Skaer, CEO, Orthox Ltd
  • Plunkett associates always find a solution. Whatever we need to prototype, they have a great grasp on the technologies available, costs and lead-times so we get the right solution tailored to the project needs. Have always delivered and never let us down.
    Naim Audio
    Naim Audio
  • “I can’t recommend Tim and his team highly enough. We ended up with a design which can be produced and assembled quickly, efficiently and reliably, in volumes that make sense”
    Simon Leggett, Director, Olivewood Technology
    Simon Leggett, Director,  Olivewood Technology
  • "Tim's experience, expertise and supplier base have been fundamental to us getting this project off the ground."
    Sam Pearce, Jelly Products Ltd
    Sam Pearce, Jelly Products Ltd
  • “We were really surprised at how quickly they turned round such a high quality prototype and the parts certainly proved their worth. They were of high enough quality to provide a fantastic visual representation and to undergo rigorous testing."
    Stuart Wilson, Design Director, TRT Lighting
    Stuart Wilson, Design Director, TRT Lighting
  • “Accuracy, finish and delivery all first class.”
    Andrew Peters, JMDA Ltd
    Andrew Peters, JMDA Ltd
  • “We use Plunkett Associates because we want someone we can trust, that knows what they’re talking about, has all the contacts, will provide reliable advice and feedback and will get the right result for us.”
    Jim Copestick. Design Manager, Thorlux Lighting
    Jim Copestick. Design Manager, Thorlux Lighting
  • “We always know exactly what we’re getting and we know we won’t be let down on quality, price or lead times.”
    Mark Williams, Research and Development Director, Johnson Safety Products
    Mark Williams, Research and Development Director, Johnson Safety Products
  • “Plunkett Associates truly offer a complete turnkey solution with Speed, Effectiveness and Precision.”
    David Harden, Director, Enica Ltd
    David Harden, Director, Enica Ltd
  • “Kirintec were thrilled with Plunketts. They made a complex process simple and we were just amazed at the lead times achieved. Plus, every single deadline was met without any drama.”
    Penny While, Marketing Director, Kirintec
    Penny While, Marketing Director, Kirintec
  • “Thanks to Plunkett Associates flexible, bespoke and cost effective service I was able to produce the objects that I had originally had in mind.”
    Simon Ryder, Artist
    Simon Ryder, Artist
  • To create such a consistent quality finish in chrome was an amazing achievement and the prototypes really gave our stand the wow factor.
    James Clark, Group Commercial Director, The Airdri Group
    James Clark, Group Commercial Director, The Airdri Group
  • Interestingly, people who look at it in its own right with little knowledge of what it does, just like it! It’s tactile and it looks good…
    Tim Collings, Operations Director, Troika Systems Ltd
    Tim Collings, Operations Director, Troika Systems Ltd
  • "With their simple to understand language, willingness to go the extra mile and approachability, Plunkett Associates were a great partner for our company. We couldn’t be happier with the results of our project. (A working prototype that they got right first time, by the way). Thank you!"
    Carolina Ballon-Forrester, Director, Kittyrama Ltd
    Carolina Ballon-Forrester, Director, Kittyrama Ltd
  • Plunkett Associates worked on the design and production of titanium frames for an artificial heart valve where precision and consistency was paramount. Communications were efficient and productive with concepts readily incorporated into the final design, and suggestions for improvements all highly appropriate. The quality of the end product was ideal and I have no doubt that I will use the advice and expertise of Plunkett Associates again.
    David Wheatley, Wheatley Research Ltd
    David Wheatley, Wheatley Research Ltd
  • “Thanks for the present that arrived this morning, as promised. Parts look first class, as always.”
    Jon Todd, Design Manager, PHS Group
    Jon Todd, Design Manager, PHS Group
  • “Plunkett Associates have a fantastic supply chain, work with all sorts of production processes and will always do their utmost to solve a problem.”
    Naim Audio
    Naim Audio
  • “ Plunketts developed a solution that met our precision requirements at a cost significantly lower than alternative manufacturing approaches we had investigated”
    Nick Skaer, CEO, Orthox Ltd
    Nick Skaer, CEO, Orthox Ltd
  • “Doing business with you has been an absolute pleasure. You have made my goals a reality. You have been patient, helpful and above all, responsive. Best service that I have experienced in ages. I consider Plunkett Associates to be an integral part of my business plan moving forward.”
    Jet Cooper, Sculptor
    Jet Cooper, Sculptor