Oct 28, 2018

Dual Extrusion – 3D Printing Simply Explained

The introduction of dual extrusion FDM 3D printers to the market has opened up countless possibilities. We take a look at what exactly dual extrusion is and some of the ways it's achieved.

What Is Dual Extrusion?

Dual extruders of an Ultimaker 3. Source: Ultimaker

In the early days of fused deposition modeling (FDM), 3D printers had only a single extruder. That meant that the user could only print in one material at the time. 

In the last few years, dual extrusion has emerged. With a second nozzle and extruder, makers now have the possibility to print parts composed of two different materials.

The process of printing with dual extruders is the same as it is with “normal” FDM 3D printers. The only difference is that the printer automatically switches between filaments at designated times. In the following, we’ll see why this version of the technology has so much to offer.

Pros & Cons

3D printing with a dual extruder 3D printer. Source: Planet Wi-Fi

There are many advantages that come with dual extrusion 3D printing.

Supports

From a functional perspective, perhaps the most significant is the ability to combine a standard material with an easily dissolvable support material. This is extremely useful because not only does it eliminate the need to remove supports, it also ensures that no support marks are left on the final print.

The most popular dissolvable filaments used for support structures are PVA and HIPS. PVA dissolves in water while HIPS dissolves in limonene.

Colors

If you’re interested in aesthetics, an obvious advantage of dual extrusion 3D printing is the ability to print in two different colors. This can also play a functional role if you need different regions of a print to stand out from one another. Examples might include educational models in anatomical or automotive areas.

Structure

Another use case we’ll mention here is the opportunity to reinforce a material with a tougher one. For example, one nozzle could print the majority of a print out of PLA while the other prints only specific areas using a carbon-fiber-based filament. In this way, the final print can be much stronger.

Disadvantages

There aren’t many disadvantages to using a dual extrusion 3D printer, the major ones being cost and maintenance.

A dual extrusion 3D printer typically costs more than its closest single extrusion counterpart. And, naturally, you’ll need to buy a second filament.

3D printer parts don’t last forever. They require care and, every once in a while, replacement. And don’t forget that, with a second nozzle and extruder, the possibility of hot end issues is essentially doubled. You’re also going to have to make sure that both are perfectly calibrated.

Dual Extrusion 3D Printers

The Ultimaker S5's top end dual extrusion. Source: Ultimaker

Many dual extrusion 3D printers are available on the market today. There are so many, in fact, that it may be tricky to decide which one is the best for your needs.

Arguably, the most popular dual extrusion 3D printers of today are the Ultimaker 3 and the Ultimaker S5. Ultimaker’s 3D printers are most often used by professionals, which places them at around $3,500 and $6,000, respectively. That said, it is true that with high price tags come excellent quality and service.

If you don’t have the budget for an Ultimaker, you still can get into dual extrusion 3D printing with the Flashforge Creator Pro. It offers a very good balance of price (approximately $900) and quality.

One of market’s favorite, affordable dual extruder 3D printers is the Creality CR-X. What’s especially interesting about this machine is that it only has one nozzle. Two filaments enter the print head through a “Y-splitter”, which merges the two materials and deposits a single strand. That means it has the option to print in one, the other, or a mix of the two. Naturally, the two filaments will need to have similar temperature requirements. For this feature, as well as a decently large build volume, you’ll be paying around $750.

For more dual extrusion 3D printers, check out our selection of the 10 Best Dual Extruder 3D Printers of Fall 2018.

If you’re not interested in purchasing a printer but still want to have something printed in multiple materials, consider a 3D printing service. To find the best one for your needs, check out our Price Comparison Service. We provide real-time quotes from the most popular companies, including Shapeways, i.Materialise, and Sculpteo:

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Dual Extrusion Upgrades For Standard FDM 3D Printers

The Palette 2 in action. Source: 3D Printing Nerd / YouTube

If you already own a 3D printer, and you fancy the idea of 3D printing with multiple materials and colors, there are a few different accessories that make it possible to turn “normal” machines into multi-material factories.

One of the most innovative solutions comes from a Canadian company Mosaic Manufacturing. Their product, the Palette, is an add-on for 3D printers that basically creates a single filament out of multiple filaments. The device slices the filaments and fuses them into a single strand. And this is done exactly according to your specifications and the needs of your model.

If you’re into 3D printing, you’re probably familiar with the Original Prusa i3. But what you might not have heard about is their recently developed multi-material upgrade. As you can imagine from the name, essentially what it does is allow the i3 to print with multiple materials. How many materials, you ask? Up to five! Similar to the Palette, it slices the filaments and creates a single strand, which is then passed on to the i3’s extruder.

Final Remarks

A low-poly Squirtle 3D printed on a dual extrusion 3D printer. Source: Pinshape

Dual extrusion 3D printing is an exciting and useful area of additive manufacturing. Thanks to the wide variety of multi-material machines, there are many ways to take advantage of the technique.

Right now, the prices for dual extrusion 3D printers are still relatively high. However, there are a few printers that offer dual extrusion for under $1000, such as the Flashforge Creator Pro, which is great. If, however, buying a new machine isn’t something you’re interested in, options for add-ons exist, too.

It should be interesting to see where multi-material 3D printing will go in the next few years. One thing’s for sure: With printers like the CR-X appearing on the market, slowly dual extrusion is making its way into more affordable 3D printers.

For more information on multi-material 3D printing, feel free to read our overview of the various techniques.

License: The text of "Dual Extrusion – 3D Printing Simply Explained" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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