Skip to Content

3D Printing With USB or SD Card? Which One Is Better?

Printing from a USB drive may seem more straightforward technologically if USB is the media storage and data transfer tool you know best. However, USB is not the best if you want high-quality, high-speed prints, especially when you plan to create models that are very intricate and detailed.

3D Printing is better with an SD card than a USB drive. It produces more accurate prints and works faster because the SD card interacts with the 3D printer’s motherboard directly rather than going through a computer to find the information from the USB drive to send to the printer. 

In the following paragraphs, I will explain the differences between printing from these two storage mediums, the pros and cons of each storage and printing method, and why it is ultimately better to print from an SD card than a USB stick.

The Pros and Cons of 3D Printing From a USB Drive

There are plenty of good things about printing from a USB stick. If you’re 3D printing via USB, you have a program on your computer that gives you a great deal of control over the print process, including the ability to cancel prints and modify print parameters.

Likewise, USB is the most common formatting method for 3D printing. You may have even gotten a USB flash drive with your 3D printer when you unboxed it. So, using a flash drive or other USB connection is usually the most convenient way to transfer data to your printer. 

Though these are excellent and vital features, they are available in almost any 3D printer with an LCD interface and an SD card slot. 

USB can give you everything an SD card can, but it has to run through the computer and then to the printer, adding an extra step to the printing process. The extra effort slows down the whole printing process and affects accuracy.

There are even printers that recommend not printing via USB. It provides a lot of room for error by involving the computer and facilitating the transfer of information through a means that is more complicated than necessary. 

The problem with printing from a USB stick isn’t that it’s excruciatingly slow or produces prints that are deficient in quality. It’s just that an SD card can do what a USB stick does but much more efficiently.

Another downside to using a USB is the bulk. Flash drives are sticks, after all. They can get in the way more than you would think. 

For example, I had to ditch the USB flash drive for my Prusa printer because the port was inconveniently located right next to the inlet for my filament. Because of its location, my filament frequently became tangled in the drive, resulting in failed prints. 

However, you don’t need to worry about such things with an SD card. 

The Pros and Cons of 3D Printing From an SD Card

There are many advantages to printing from an SD card instead of a USB stick. It’s faster, more accurate, and less prone to failure due to the simplicity of the process. The SD card interacts directly with the printer itself, removing the computer from the process, and significantly reducing the margin for error.

One of the most apparent advantages of using an SD card is its size. SD cards are small, and they go directly into your 3D printer. Because of the minimal bulk of these devices, they blend seamlessly into your print area and won’t become an obstruction. 

SD cards are also generally cheaper than USB drives, which makes the other benefits of using them all the sweeter. 

Printing your projects from an SD card inserted directly into your 3D printer with an LCD screen is the best way to transfer your projects from your digital workspace to the printer.

An SD card provides the most direct form of information transfer and is thus the fastest and most accurate. 

The way that SD cards transmit information is where the SD card Beats the USB stick by a considerable margin. 

USB sticks must go through a computer for a decoding and flashing process — hence the name “flash drive” — providing an entirely new set of obstacles in transferring the print data. 

During this flashing process, your printer’s computer could glitch and cause corruption in the transferred data, resulting in an aborted print, wasted time and filament, or a flawed object that doesn’t meet your expectations visually.

However, SD cards are immediately readable by your 3D printer. Thus, printing from an SD card enhances your printer’s ability to read the G-code of your prints, resulting in a smaller margin for error. If that is your goal, it will allow you to be more creative and artistic as a printer. 

An SD card is objectively the technologically superior method for 3D printing. Printing through a USB stick and a computer is like making a call through an operator. It is an unnecessary and outdated step that you can easily bypass with a simple piece of modern technology.

USB or SD Card: Which One Should You Use? 

You should use an SD card for 3D printing. The benefits of an SD card for 3D printing far outweigh the advantages of using a USB drive or connection. SD cards are faster, cheaper, and smaller. 

Most 3D printers come with a flash drive and outlet, making USB the most convenient method for transferring data to your 3D printer. 

However, upgrading to an SD card will help you get faster, better prints at a low initial cost and without the bulk of a flash drive or USB cable. 

Conclusion

Though SD cards may seem outdated, they are the more modern and straightforward data transfer method in 3D printing.

SD cards provide a faster and more accurate print because they interact directly with the printer’s motherboard. This direct access makes for speed and dimensional accuracy in printing. 

USB fails in these aspects because it has to go through the extra step of a computer and software.