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The extruder is a vital component of an FDM 3D printer as it is the mechanism that pushes filament through a heated nozzle to create 3D objects. In my Bowden vs Direct Drive extruder comparison, I’m going to show you the differences between these two common extruder types.
I’ll look at how each extruder works, the pros and cons of Bowden and direct drive extruders, and list some alternative setups towards the end.
First, let us find out the main differences between a Bowden and a direct drive extruder.
Bottom Line Up Front: I have tested many 3D printers with Bowden or direct drive extruders, and my pick for the best printing experience is a Bowden extruder. They produce higher-quality prints, work quicker, and they are easier to maintain. If you aren’t fussed regularly working with flexible filament, go for a Bowden extruder for your 3D printer.
Table of Contents
Main Differences Between Bowden vs Direct Drive Extruders
The main differences between Bowden vs Direct Drive Extruders are:
- Bowden extruders allow 3D printers to have a larger build volume as they are positioned on the printer’s frame, whereas direct-drive extruders do not.
- Bowden extruders require little maintenance, and cleaning is straightforward, whereas direct-drive extruders are trickier to maintain.
- Direct drive extruders work well with flexible and abrasive filaments, whereas Bowden extruders do not.
- Bowden extruders print quicker, whereas direct-drive extruders require more time to print 3D objects and models.
- Bowden extruders require a more powerful motor, whereas Direct drive extruders can run effectively with lesser powered stepper motors
Exploring Bowden and Direct Drive Extruders Features
Direct drive and Bowden extruders work differently, and they have their pros and cons for your 3D printer. Let’s go through how these two extruder types compare to each other.
The build volume can be an essential specification when purchasing a 3D printer. The larger the build volume, the bigger the objects you can print, and while this might not impact you too much if you are printing miniature objects, having a larger build volume gives you more possibilities.
The type of extruder you use impacts the build volume of your 3D printer.
- Bowden extruders often allow for a larger build volume on your 3D printer. This isn’t always the case, and it depends on your 3D printer; however, a Bowden extruder has a smaller printhead carriage, which offers the potential for a more significant build volume.
- Direct drive extruders are often found on printers with a larger build volume, but the build volume is usually more limited with this type of setup.
A quick print job doesn’t always result in high-quality 3D objects, but you don’t want your print jobs to take excessively long either. Many variables come into how well a model prints, not just the speed, so are there any differences between a Bowden and direct drive extruder?
- Bowden extruders can print quicker than direct-drive extruders. A Bowden extruder carries less weight, and the extruder is mounted on the printer’s frame instead of the hot end. This means that the printhead can move cleaner and quicker, improving the speed of your 3D printer object.
- A direct drive extruder is slower as the extruder is mounted on the hot end, increasing the overall weight. The result of this additional weight is a slower printing speed and more power consumption, while there is also more strain on toothed belts and bearings.
Not every direct-drive extruder will result in slow print speeds; however, overall, a Bowden setup is often quicker in getting your 3D printed objects completed.
One of the main differences between a Bowden and a direct drive extruder is filament compatibility. While you may only work with one filament type at the minute – for example, the most common filaments are PLA and ABS – you may want to use other filaments in the future.
- Bowden extruders are limited in what filaments this setup is compatible with. This restriction is because flexible and abrasive filaments tend to wear out the tubes on a Bowden extruder. This problem is particularly evident in older 3D printers that utilize Bowden extruders.
- Direct drive extruders are compatible with a much broader range of filaments. You can use any filament type with a direct drive extruder. It works well with abrasive and flexible filaments. As a result, you can print reliable and high-quality objects with different filaments.
So, if you want to use various filaments for your 3D printed models, a direct-drive extruder is the best option. Bowden extruders can work with flexible filaments such as TPE, TPU, or TPC regularly, but there is a higher chance of complications in the printing process.
Another difference between a Bowden and a direct drive extruder is the power required to make the best use of these components.
- Bowden extruder requires a more powerful stepper motor, and this is because the filament is pushed and pulled through the tubes. This extra friction requires additional torque so that a Bowden extruder won’t work as well on a 3D printer with lesser power.
- A direct drive extruder doesn’t require as much power to work correctly, and this means you can run this setup on a 3D printer with a lesser-powered stepper motor. The extruder has a shorter distance to the nozzle, and the filament runs smoother and more efficiently. This is another reason it is more compatible with a wider range of filaments.
If you have a 3D printer with a motor that isn’t massively powerful, a direct drive extruder is better.
3D printing can require maintenance to ensure that your printer and hardware are kept in top shape. So, is there any difference in maintenance required between a Bowden extruder and a direct drive extruder?
- A direct drive extruder requires more complex maintenance than a Bowden extruder. The reason for this is that the extruder and the hot end are built together, and this mounting on the print head makes it harder to clean. I have found a direct drive extruder much more fiddly and clunky to keep in good shape, and while it won’t take hours and hours of more time, it does get annoying.
- A Bowden extruder is easier to manage and maintain. In addition, the design of a Bowden extruder means that you won’t spend as much time trying to access hard-to-reach parts or to clean the nozzle.
The print quality is the final feature to compare with a Bowden and direct drive extruder. This is one of the most critical aspects, as you don’t want to choose one setup if it is vastly inferior in how well your 3D printer models and objects come out.
- In general, Bowden extruders produce higher-quality prints more consistently than a direct drive extruder. This extruder type has cleaner movements as there is less weight, so the overall operation is more stable, resulting in higher-quality models.
- This isn’t to say that a direct drive extruder produces poor quality 3D objects; however, there is more potential for things to go wrong. For example, as the extruder is mounted to the printhead and carries more weight, vibrations can happen easily, which can spoil your finished prints.
Both extruders can produce high-quality prints, and print quality depends on many factors, but a Bowden setup has a better chance of offering quality consistently.
Comparing Bowden and Direct Drive Extruders Pricing
You can find both budget Bowden and direct-drive extruders and more expensive models.
There isn’t much difference as standard between the two extruder types, and I can’t say that one is definitely cheaper than the other. It depends on the extruder model you purchase and if you are purchasing a universal model or one specific to a particular printer – for example, a Creality, MakerBot, or LulzBot 3D printer.
Bowden and Direct Drive Extruders Ease of Use
I would say that a Bowden extruder is easier to use than a direct drive extruder.
Much of this will depend on the overall construction of the 3D printer, as the extruder is only one part of it. For example, some 3D printers have excellent usability features such as touchscreens, making things a lot easier.
The design of the Bowden style extruder means cleaning and carrying out general maintenance is much more user and beginner-friendly. In addition, a Bowden extruder is relatively straightforward to maintain as it is mounted on the frame of the printer, so in some ways, this type of extruder would suit you if you are new to 3D printing.
You can still use a direct drive setup as someone new to 3D printing, but the more intensive maintenance and potential for vibrations and things to go wrong make the Bowden design a bit easier to use.
Remember that other factors come into play when printing 3D objects, and you should consider the overall usability of the 3D printing and not just the extruder itself.
Pros and Cons
Bowden Extruder Pros
- Weigh less than a direct drive extruder
- Produces quick prints at decent speeds
- Offers high-quality printed models
- Easier to clean and maintain
- Often allows for a bigger build volume
- It moves cleanly and isn’t as noisy
Bowden Extruder Cons
- This extruder struggles with certain filaments
- Requires a more powerful motor to operate effectively
- Can be a delay between extruder and nozzle
Direct Drive Extruder Pros
- Can work easily with a wider range of filaments
- The filament can be retracted more efficiently
- This extruder type works with less powerful motors
- It can be more reliable as the extruder is mounted to the printhead
Direct Drive Extruder Cons
- It can cause frame vibrations which may ruin prints
- Slower printing times
- Maintenance is more challenging
- More weight impact on performance
Are There Any Alternatives?
Another extruder type that is found on 3D printers is a direct extruder.
This type of extruder is placed on top of the hot end, similar to a direct drive extruder, and it is better when using flexible or abrasive filaments. This extruder type provides better retraction control as there is less distance for the filament to travel, so it isn’t as likely you will experience bends or clogs compared to a Bowden setup.
Direct extruders do contribute to additional weight, as it is bulkier. However, this construction means that weight is added to the print head, and it can suffer issues such as reducing print speeds.
However, direct extruders are on many popular 3D printers, offering high-quality prints and reliability.
Another alternative to a direct and Bowden extruder design is a geared extruder.
A geared extruder uses a transmission ratio that reduces rotations’ speed when grinding filament but increases the torque. A significant advantage of a geared extruder is that it can work with weaker stepper motors without losing performance when pushing filament through.
As the name suggests, this extruder type uses gears to increase the torque, allowing you to work with larger filament sizes. In addition, you will find that the motor is much less likely to stall with a geared extruder, although it can still suffer some filament problems.
A geared extruder is an excellent choice if you plan on using a 3mm filament, as the extra torque is necessary to work with this size. However, some people also find that geared extruders can require more maintenance after a while.
Frequently Asked Questions about Bowden and Direct Drive Extruders
Question: Can a Bowden extruder work with flexible filaments?
Answer: A Bowden extruder can work with flexible and abrasive filaments; however, there is a higher chance of complications. These printing issues come from the Bowden design, as flexible filament can bend and clog in the tubes, making it challenging to print with these filaments when using a Bowden extruder.
Question: Can a Direct Drive Extruder Work with Flexible Filaments?
Answer: Yes. A direct drive extruder is perfect for printing with flexible and abrasive filaments. This is one of the significant advantages of using a direct drive extruder, as it won’t suffer as many issues as a Bowden extruder when using these filaments.
Question: Is a Bowden Extruder Cheaper Than a Direct Drive Extruder?
Answer: Not really. There are budget and expensive Bowden and direct drive extruders, and one is not necessarily cheaper than the other. It depends on the model you buy and if it has been manufactured for a specific 3D printer.
Question: What are the Advantages of a Bowden Extruder?
Answer: A Bowden extruder allows for a larger build volume as the extruder mounts on the printer frame. Also, using a Bowden extruder can enhance print speed as it doesn’t weigh as much as a direct drive extruder, and print quality is very high too.
Question: Does the Ender 3 have a Bowden or Direct Drive Extruder?
Answer: The Creality Ender 3 is a popular entry-level 3D printer due to its reliability and reasonable price. The Ender 3 uses a Bowden extruder, and you will find this type of extruder on many entry-level and budget FDM 3D printers.
Question: Do Direct-Drive Extruders Help With Stringing?
Answer: Stringing is often a common problem for many 3D printing enthusiasts, and it ruins many printed objects and models. Some direct-drive extruders do suffer from stringing; however, you can find many modifications for the extruder to help eliminate this problem.
Question: Are Direct Drive 3D Printers Slow?
Answer: A direct drive 3D printer isn’t necessarily slow, but it takes more time than a Bowden extruder. The decrease in print speed is due to the additional weight that a direct drive extruder carries. A Bowden extruder offers cleaner movements and less weight, which means it can print quicker.
In my opinion, the best extruder to use on your FDM 3D printer is a Bowden Extruder.
This extruder has some limitations, mainly the issues that can arise when printing with flexible and abrasive filaments. However, the problems don’t happen all the time, and if you are printing with these filaments irregularly, the advantages of using a Bowden extruder outweigh any negatives.
I love the fact that a Bowden extruder offers quick printing without a reduction in quality. This extruder’s reduced weight and cleaner movements ensure that your prints come out well, and the positioning and lessened vibrations will limit any movement in the 3D printer frame. Also, the construction of a Bowden extruder allows for a larger build volume in most cases.
Overall, there is a reason why Bowden extruders are used on many popular 3D printers. They offer high-quality models, allow for bigger build volumes, are lighter and easier to maintain, while they enhance the speed of your prints.