What is the Difference Between PLA and SLA?

Are you struggling to choose between PLA and SLA for your next 3D printing project? As a custom 3D printing parts manufacturer, we know how crucial it is to select the right material for your specific needs. PLA is a fantastic choice for those looking for an eco-friendly, easy-to-use option perfect for quick prototypes and hobbyist projects. In contrast, SLA stands out for its ability to produce high-detail models with incredible precision, making it ideal for intricate designs and professional applications. By understanding the differences between these two materials, you can ensure your project achieves the highest quality and efficiency. Ready to make an informed decision? Let’s dive into it.

What is PLA?

Polylactic Acid (PLA) is a biodegradable thermoplastic derived from renewable resources like corn starch or sugarcane. Introduced in the early 2000s, PLA has become one of the most popular materials for 3D printing due to its ease of use, safety, and eco-friendliness.

How PLA Printers Work

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) Process

PLA printers operate using the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) process. In this method, a filament of PLA is fed into a heated extruder, melted, and then extruded through a nozzle to form layers. These layers are deposited sequentially to build up the final object.

Extrusion and Layer-by-Layer Deposition

The extrusion process involves heating the PLA filament to a semi-liquid state and precisely depositing it on the build platform. Each layer adheres to the previous one, gradually forming the complete model. This method is straightforward, making PLA an excellent choice for beginners and hobbyists.

Common Uses of PLA


PLA is widely used in prototyping due to its ease of printing and cost-effectiveness. Designers and engineers can quickly create models to test form, fit, and function before moving to more expensive production materials.

Hobbyist Projects

Hobbyists favor PLA for its wide availability, range of colors, and minimal warping. It’s ideal for creating toys, decorations, and DIY projects that don’t require high mechanical strength.


What is SLA?

Stereolithography (SLA) is a 3D printing technology that uses a laser to cure liquid resin into solid plastic. Invented in the 1980s, SLA was the first 3D printing technology and remains a go-to method for high-precision applications.

How SLA Printers Work

Stereolithography Process

SLA printers use a process called stereolithography, where a UV laser selectively cures a liquid photopolymer resin. The build platform is submerged in a resin tank, and the laser traces a pattern on the resin’s surface, solidifying it.

Photopolymerization with UV Light

Photopolymerization occurs when the UV light triggers a chemical reaction in the resin, turning it from liquid to solid. This process is repeated layer by layer until the entire object is formed.


Common Uses of SLA

High-Detail Models

SLA is renowned for its ability to produce models with fine details and smooth surfaces, making it ideal for intricate designs and high-resolution prototypes.

Medical and Dental Applications

The precision of SLA printing makes it suitable for custom medical and dental models, such as surgical guides, dental molds, and prosthetics, where accuracy is critical.

Key Differences Between PLA and SLA

Category PLA (Polylactic Acid) SLA (Stereolithography)
Printing Process Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM); involves melting and extruding filament layer by layer. Uses a UV laser to cure liquid resin layer by layer through photopolymerization.
Ease of Use Simpler and faster, suitable for beginners and hobbyists. Requires more expertise due to resin handling and post-processing.
Print Quality May have visible layer lines; requires more finishing to achieve a smooth appearance. Produces high-detail, smooth surfaces with minimal post-processing.
Typical Layer Height 50 to 200 microns As fine as 25 microns
Strength and Durability Rigid and relatively strong but less suitable for parts under significant stress. Can be formulated for various properties; generally more brittle but can achieve high detail and smooth finishes.
Material Properties Biodegradable, derived from renewable resources, lower melting point. Can achieve flexibility, toughness, or biocompatibility depending on resin formulation; requires careful handling and disposal.
Cost More affordable with cheaper filaments widely available. Higher initial investment and material costs due to specialized resins and advanced technology.
Environmental Impact Eco-friendly, biodegradable under industrial composting conditions. Not biodegradable; waste includes uncured resin and support structures that require proper disposal.
Post-Processing Requirements Support removal, sanding, and finishing techniques like chemical smoothing for certain filaments. Thorough cleaning to remove uncured resin, additional UV curing, sanding, polishing, and sometimes painting.
Speed and Efficiency Generally faster, especially for larger parts. Slower due to detailed layer-by-layer curing process; more time-consuming but results in higher precision.
Best Applications Educational projects, quick prototypes, hobbyist creations, functional prototypes not requiring high mechanical stress. High-detail prototypes, custom medical and dental models, design validation, visual models.
Maintenance Regular cleaning, calibration, and part replacement; less frequent maintenance compared to SLA. More frequent cleaning of resin tank and laser optics; higher maintenance needs.
Software and Setup Comes with user-friendly software; shorter learning curve, making it more accessible. May offer advanced features for precision settings; requires proper setup to ensure optimal print quality.
Operating Costs Lower maintenance needs and cheaper consumables, reducing overall expenses. Higher operating costs due to resin handling, UV curing, and frequent maintenance.
Initial Investment Generally more affordable; suitable for budget-conscious users. Typically more expensive due to advanced technology and higher precision capabilities.
Troubleshooting Common issues include clogged nozzles; relatively easier to troubleshoot and resolve. Issues often involve resin curing problems; troubleshooting can be more complex and requires specialized knowledge.
Flexibility of Use Ideal for a wide range of applications, from simple educational models to functional prototypes. Best suited for applications requiring high precision, smooth surface finishes, and detailed features.
Learning Curve Shorter learning curve, making it accessible for beginners and those new to 3D printing. Steeper learning curve due to the complexity of the process and handling of materials.
Material Availability Wide variety of colors and types of PLA filaments available on the market. Various resins available, each with specific properties like flexibility, toughness, or biocompatibility.


Both PLA and SLA offer unique benefits and drawbacks. PLA is cost-effective, easy to use, and suitable for a wide range of applications. SLA provides high precision and excellent surface finish, ideal for detailed and professional models.

Choosing between PLA and SLA depends on your project goals, budget, and desired material properties. By weighing these factors, you can select the printer that best meets your requirements.

Experimenting with both technologies can provide valuable insights and help you discover the best approach for your specific needs. Embrace the versatility of 3D printing and explore the possibilities that PLA and SLA offer.

Since 2005, we have been providing top-notch 3D printing services, helping numerous businesses achieve rapid prototyping and parts production. Ready to bring your project to life? Send us your drawings to get a quote and discover how we can assist you in achieving your goals with precision and efficiency.

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