As someone looking for a 3D printer, one question that you will come across in your buying process is whether you should get a delta or a Cartesian 3D printer.
The main differences between a delta and a Cartesian 3D printer are speed, size, and weight. Delta 3D printers are much faster than Cartesian printers, but they have much smaller build areas. They can print taller objects, though, and are comparatively lighter than Cartesian printers.
There’s no clear winner between delta and cartesian printers as each has their own advantages and disadvantages. We’ll take a look at these advantages and disadvantages in detail in this post to help you make a better decision.
What are delta 3D printers
Delta 3D printers are tall, thin 3D printers that have a fixed circular build plate in the center. The hot end is mounted on 3 rails and moves in all 3 axes with the help of stepper motors that pull it. Delta 3D printers will always use Bowden extruders because the hot end has to be as light as possible.
Delta printers also use the Cartesian system of coordinates to move the nozzle in 3D space, but the nozzle moves in all directions at all times.
Pros of delta 3D printers
Because of the unique way the nozzle moves, you can achieve very fast prnting speeds with delta 3D printers. The print bed is stationary and there is no heavy gantry to move up, so the lighter toolhead is able to zoom around with ease.
It’s not uncommon to print at speeds upwards of 100 mm/s with delta 3D printers.
Delta 3D printers are great at printing tall objects. The design is such is that the build plate is smaller, but you have a lot of height to work with.
The toolhead can just keep moving up the rails as long as you have space!
You may be tempted to build a super-tall delta printer at home, but please bear in mind that excess height can result in an unstable printer.
The last big advantage of delta printers is their smaller footprint. Because these printers are tall rather than wide, you can fit a whole printer in a comparatively smaller area than you’d need for a cartesian 3D printer.
However, you do need height clearance, so while the surface footprint is small, you need vertical space to be able to fit it. So if you’re trying to fit it on a counter below a shelf, you’ll have to measure in advance and make sure you’ll be fine!
Cons of delta 3D printers
Delta printers are not without their disadvantages, though. So where do delta printers fall short?
Small build plate
Delta printers have a much smaller build plate than cartesian printers. Even though they have the advantage of height, if you need to print parts that have a large footprint, you may find yourself running out of space when you try to 3D print them.
Also, Delta printers have circular build plates, so if you’re printing square objects, there will be some unutilized space on the sides.
Requires lots of vertical clearance
Most delta printers are very tall and need lots of vertical clearance to fit anywhere. If you’re setting up in a workshop or garage and have cabinets or shelves, you may find it tough to fit the 3D printer you want it its space and may have to compromise with a smaller printer instead.
May be difficult to print flexible filaments
Delta printers may have difficulty printing flexible filaments because of their extruder setup. Delta printers need to keep their toolheads very light, so they need to use a Bowden extruder. The Bowden extruder is mounted quite far from the toolhead, so the flexible filament needs to travel a long distance between the extruder and the nozzle.
Flexible filament can be like a wet noodle, so it may end up getting in places it should not be.
Also, you need to print flexible filament very slowly, so you lose the advantage of fast print speed! Your printer may be capable of above 100 mm/s, but flexible filaments will only print well at around 15-30 mm/s.
What are Cartesian 3D printers
Cartesian 3D printers are cube or rectangular shaped. They get their name because the nozzle moves on the cartesian coordinate plane of the X, Y, and Z axes.
(Technically speaking, Delta printers also use cartesian coordinates, but since these printers are proper cuboids, the name stuck here).
Most consumer printers are based on the Prusa i3 design, where the bed moves back and forth for the Y axis, the nozzle moves back and forth for the X axis, and the gantry moves up and down for the Z axis.
Some printers like the Ultimaker move the build plate up and down instead of the gantry, but the basic principle is the same
Cartesian 3D printers have a box-shaped build area, so the biggest thing you can potentially print is a huge cuboid that takes up the entire build plate and goes the entire height of the 3D printer.
Pros of Cartesian 3D printers
Bigger print volume
The biggest selling point that Cartesian printers have over delta printers is the bigger build volume. There are some really huge Cartesian printers like the Creality CR-10 which have massive build volumes. There’s no consumer delta printer (yet) that has that kind of build volume.
If you need to print big things, or a LOT of small things, then you need to get a Cartesian 3D printer.
Works with flexible filaments
Cartesian 3D printers are better at printing flexible filaments than Delta printers because they print slower. Direct drive printers like the Prusa MK3S handle flexible filaments like a boss, but even models with Bowden extruders can print flexible filaments well with a bit of tweaking.
Cartesian 3D printers are much more popular than delta printers. As a result, there’s a lot more content about them online and they have much more active communities.
In 3D printing, being part of a community is a huge help because you’ll inevitably run into issues, and the community is a treasure trove of information and support.
If you had a particular problem, chances are someone else has had it too.
Even this site, for example, has a lot more content about cartesian printers than delta printers, simply because Cartesian printers are more common!
Cons of Cartesian 3D printers
Slower print speeds
The best Cartesian printers can realistically manage just around 100 mm/s print speeds, though you’ll usually print much slower at around 60 mm/s.
Because of the way the axes are situated on the printer, they can only move so fast. Direct drive printers also have added weight on the toolhead, so that reduces the print speed even more.
Much bigger footprint
Because of the design and the larger print area, Cartesian printers generally take up a lot more space than Delta printers. You’ll need a much bigger table to fit even a moderately-sized 3d printer.
You’ll need to budget at least 20 cm more than the build plate on either side, as well as 20 cm more than the maximum print height.
Some printers have filament mounts on the top, but you can really easily move the mount to the side.
CoreXY vs Cartesian 3D printers
CoreXY printers are very similar to Cartesian printers except that the print bed moves on the Z axis, and the print head moves on both the X and Y axes. The print head moves using long belts attached to stepper motors.
CoreXY printers are quite temperamental because the belts need to be just tight enough. Otherwise, your prints can go bad really fast.
There are some new CoreXY printers on the market but in my opinion, they still don’t beat out the tried-and-tested Cartesian robots that are out there.
After all these pros and cons, which one is better? If I were buying a 3D printer today, I’d pick a Cartesian simply because the communities are so much bigger. Bigger communities mean more parts on Thingiverse, too. Plus, the flexibility of more filaments and the larger build area outweigh the disadvantages of size and print speed.