How precise are 3D printers?

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If you want to achieve optimal performance using your 3D printer, you must understand how precision affects the overall quality of the created models. Furthermore, you also need to understand the difference between several terms, that is, precision, tolerance, and tolerance.

First, precision is ideally a measurement of your consistency, which is a measurement of repeatability, whereas accuracy measures the proximity to an actual value. Additionally, tolerance refers to the level of precision you need to achieve, meaning this is dependent on what you deem acceptable.

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By understanding all these three, you will be better placed to know how precise your 3D printer is in accomplishing its tasks.

How to understand the precision of your 3D printer

To help you understand how precise 3D printers usually are, you need to know several factors need to be considered. Additionally, whereas these factors are essential, you still should first identify what your needs are specifically. For instance, buying a 3D printer that is precise but inaccurate might be an excellent choice when using some applications.

Therefore, the cheap fused deposition modeling machine, despite producing less accurate parts, is the ideal choice for an instructor who is teaching students how to make use of a 3D printer for the first time. Additionally, knowing that your 3D printer will work consistently to create high-quality 3D models within your desired tolerance is essential if you are going to be successful in your 3D printing venture.

Thus, here are the four main factors that affect how precise your 3D printer is.


How precise and accurate you are when using the 3D printer significantly depends on the type of material you are printing. Moreover, a material’s mechanical properties also depend on this. Consequently, this may affect the possibilities of a print warping as well as whether you will be able to achieve fine details.

​For instance, PLA is usually seen as a much better material in comparison to ABS when you are printing fine detail is essential as it can easily print at lower temperatures hence reducing the chances of warping. Thus, the use of different materials results in different results, and the material you choose will play a considerable in the overall precision as well as accuracy.

Moreover, if you switch between materials, you will realize that the precision of your 3D models is affected, and this is because there has been a change in tolerance. Consequently, this affects repeatability similarly to how it does accuracy, showing the link between tolerance, precision, and accuracy.

This all, however, is dependent on the application you decide to use, for instance, when printing a 3D dental model, both precision and accuracy are vital. Nevertheless, when your goal is to print a concept model, precision and accuracy are less significant since you aim to bring out the object’s overall sense.

3D printing technology

3D printing is usually an additive process; hence, why it is also known as additive manufacturing, meaning parts are built one layer at a time. However, the building of a new additional layer brings with it increased possibilities of inaccuracy, plus the process of forming the layers also affects the precision level.

For instance, when using an FDM 3D printer, the nozzle extrudes the layers despite this 3D printing technology lacking the ability and control to produce sophisticated details that other technologies such as SLA provide you.

When using the stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing technology, the forming or every layer is carried out by an extremely precise laser that makes it easier to produce finer details. Subsequently, this makes it more dependable if done repeatedly, whereas still ensuring the results are of top-notch quality.

Furthermore, how precise your 3D printer is vital when using the selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printing technology which depends on the laser’s precision when melding nylon powder into a solid component.

Pixel Size

​The specs of your 3D printer are not the only factors that affect accuracy despite the popular misconception that the accuracy of the different 3D printing technologies is the XY resolution’s description. When you are using a digital light processing (DLP) 3D printer, the XY resolution is usually the projected size of the pixels, and most printers make use of this as the estimated XY resolution or pixel size when determining the accuracy figure.

For instance, this entails you taking the predicted 75-micron pixel size and then stating that the machine’s accuracy is ±75 microns. However, this information does not show how precise and accurate your 3D printer is as there still are numerous error sources such as calibration to components, which may affect both the precision and accuracy.


If you want to create 3D models that showcase your expertise and are of incredible quality, you then need to focus entirely on your work throughout the whole process. These include the materials you are using, the print preparation as well as the post-processing tools, with these three playing a part eventually in the quality of your work. Typically, having in place an integrated system ensures the different elements work together, thereby providing you get more reliable results.


Post-cutting is often necessary once you have completed 3D printing, but this process typically results in shrinkage. This is a typical scenario if any part of your 3D model has been produced using resin-based DLP or SLA technology, thereby requiring you to consider in designs with this dependent on your 3D printer.

Fortunately, you can use the free software application known as PreForm from Formlabs to compensate for the shrinkages. Doing this subsequently ensures that post-curd prints are accurate and precise in relation to the initial CAD designs.

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You must understand the concept of how precise 3D printers are if you want the subsequent 3D models to be of exceptional quality. Thankfully, having gone through this article, you now have a better understanding of this, as well as the close relationship between accuracy, tolerance, and precision of your 3D printer. Therefore, you are in a great position to know the precision of the 3D printer you are using.

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