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Direct Drive vs. Bowden Extruder: Differences Explained

When you’re looking to purchase a 3D printer, one of the most significant decisions you’ll have to make is whether to buy a printer with a direct drive extruder or a Bowden extruder. Both extruders produce excellent results, but they have unique features you’ll want to consider before making your purchase. So, direct drive vs. Bowden extruder: what are the differences?

Direct drive extruders mount the motor directly onto the hotend, while Bowden extruders are on the frame of the printer. That difference in design makes Bowden extruders faster, lighter, and more precise, while direct drive extruders offer better retraction with less clogging.

This post breaks down the differences between direct drive and Bowden extruders so you can decide which type of extruder is right for your needs. Read on to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of each type of extruder.

An Overview of Direct Drive Extruders

A direct drive extruder is a type of extruder where the motor that drives the filament is on the hot end/x carriage. That’s in contrast to a Bowden extruder, where the filament feeding mechanism is on the side of the printer.

Direct drive extruders are more straightforward because there are fewer moving parts. That can be an advantage because it means fewer things can go wrong.

Direct drive extruders also have the advantage of being able to apply more force to the filament, which can be helpful when trying to print with complex materials. However, direct drive extruders can be louder than Bowden extruders, and they are often bulkier, which can make them more challenging to install on a 3D printer.

Direct Drive Extruder Pros

  • Allows thinner stepper motors: Because the filament path is shorter, direct drive extruders can use lighter stepper motors. That can be advantageous because it makes the extruder less expensive and easier to install.
  • Easier retraction: Direct drive extruders also have an advantage when it comes to retraction. Retraction is when the extruder pulls the filament back to prevent stringing. Because the filament path is shorter, retracting the filament with a direct drive extruder is easier.
  • Allows flexible filaments: Direct drive extruders can handle flexible filaments better than Bowden extruders. That’s because the shorter filament path means there’s less risk of filament buckling or kinking.

Direct Drive Extruders Cons

  • The heavier motor slows it down: One downside of direct drive extruders is that the heavier stepper motor can slow down the extruder. That can be a problem if you’re trying to print at high speeds.
  • Harder to upgrade: Because the motor is on the hot end/x carriage, it can be more challenging to upgrade a direct drive extruder. You may need to replace the entire hot end/x carriage assembly to upgrade the extruder, which can be more expensive than upgrading a Bowden extruder.

An Overview of Bowden Extruders

Bowden extruders are the most common type of extruder. They’re typically on the side of the printer, featuring a tube that goes from the extruder to the hot end. The line usually consists of PTFE, a type of plastic known for being durable and heat-resistant.

Bowden extruders are lightweight, which can be helpful if you’re trying to print at high speeds. They also tend to be quieter than direct drive extruders, which can be advantageous if printing in a home office or other noise-sensitive environment.

Bowden extruders use a push-fit PTFE connector to hold the tube in place. That can be an advantage because it makes it easy to disconnect the line for cleaning or replacement. However, it can also be a disadvantage because the tube might become loose if not installed correctly.

Bowden Extruders Pros

  • Faster: Bowden extruders are faster than direct drive extruders. The lighter weight of the extruder allows it to accelerate more quickly.
  • Quieter: Bowden extruders make less noise than direct drive extruders.
  • More accurate: Bowden extruders can be more accurate than direct drive extruders. The lighter weight of the Bowden extruder means that there’s less mass to move, so the extruder can start and stop more quickly with precision.

Bowden Extruders Cons

  • Stringing: One downside of Bowden extruders is that they can cause stringing. Stringing is when the filament droops while being extruded, causing the filament to stick to the print. However, you can prevent that by using a higher-quality filament or increasing the retraction speed.
  • Oozing: Bowden extruders are also more likely to produce oozing than direct drive extruders. Oozing is when the filament leaks out of the nozzle while the extruder is idle. That can be a problem because it can cause the filament to stick to the print or clog the nozzle.
  • The push-fit connector may pop off: If this happens, the tube can come loose, and the printer won’t be able to feed in more filament to complete your print.
  • Not the best for flexible filaments: Because the filament has to travel a longer distance and produce a bit of friction inside the PTFE tubing, it can be more challenging to print with flexible filaments. The filament may kink or buckle if it’s not supported correctly.

Differences Between Direct Drive & Bowden Extruder

Now that you know the basics of each type of extruder, let’s compare them side-by-side. After all, you’ll need to decide which kind of extruder is right for your 3D printer.

Here are the key differences between direct drive and Bowden extruders:

The Bowden Prints Faster Than the Direct Drive

Concerning printing speed, the Bowden-style extruder is the clear winner. As I mentioned, the Bowden’s hot end assembly has less weight, so it can accelerate and decelerate faster.

On the other hand, the direct drive extruder has a heavier hot end assembly. The extra weight makes it harder for the stepper motor to start and stop, slowing down the printing process.

The Bowden Prints Cleaner Than the Direct Drive

Another difference between these two types of extruders is the print quality. The Bowden extruder prints cleaner than the direct drive.

The reason is that the Bowden is on the side of the printer. That gives the hot end more space to move around, so it doesn’t have to fight against the weight of the extruder.

Conversely, the direct drive extruder is on top of the hot end. That means the hot end has to work harder to move the filament, which can cause the filament to drag and produce a less-than-perfect print.

The Bowden Is Easier To Upgrade or Swap

If you ever want to upgrade your extruder or swap out the hot end, the Bowden is the easier option. That’s because the Bowden drives are on the side of the printer, so you can easily access the extruder.

On the other hand, the direct drive is on top of the hot end. That makes it more difficult to access the extruder, so you may need to disassemble your printer to upgrade or swap out the extruder.

Less Time Dialing the Retraction in a Direct Drive

Since the direct drive is on top of the hot end, there’s less distance for the filament to travel. That means you won’t have to dial in as much retraction. As a result, you’ll save time when you’re printing.

On the other hand, the Bowden extruder is on the side of the printer. That means the filament has to travel a longer distance, so you’ll need to dial in more retraction.

The Direct Drive Prints Flexible Filaments Better

The direct drive is the better option if you want to print with flexible filaments. That’s because the shorter distance the filament travels makes it less likely to kink or buckle.

However, you can still print with flexible filaments on a Bowden extruder. You’ll just need to be careful to support the filament properly to prevent it from kinking or buckling. Besides, you’ll have to wait a bit longer for your prints since the Bowden prints these filaments slower than the direct drive.

The Bowden Has a Larger Build Volume

The build volume is another notable difference between the Bowden extruder and the direct drive. The Bowden extruder has a larger build volume because it has a smaller print head.

As a result, you can print larger objects with a Bowden extruder. Besides, the smaller print head gives you more space to maneuver around, so you can print complex things that you wouldn’t be able to print with a direct drive.

The Bowden Is More Compact

If you’re short on space, the Bowden extruder is a more compact option. That’s because the Bowden doesn’t have a bulky hot end assembly.

On the other hand, the direct drive has a larger hot end assembly. That makes it less compact and more difficult to work around.

The Bowden Is More Durable

The Bowden extruder is also more durable than the direct drive. That’s because the Bowden is pretty rigid and doesn’t have many moving parts.

In contrast, the direct drive has more moving parts. That makes it less long-lasting and more likely to break.

The Bowden Needs a More Powerful Motor

Finally, the Bowden extruder needs a more powerful motor than the direct drive. That’s because the tube that the filament travels through has high friction.

As a result, the motor has to work harder to move the filament. That makes it more likely to overheat and break down.

On the other hand, the direct drive doesn’t create as much friction. That means the motor doesn’t have to work as hard, so it doesn’t need to be as powerful.

For more insights into the differences between these two types of extruders, check out this video:

What Is Better Bowden or Direct Drive?

Now that you know the critical differences between Bowden and direct drive extruders, you might wonder which is better.

Neither the Bowden nor direct drive is better than the other. If you want an extruder that’s fast, accurate, and easy to upgrade or swap out, choose the Bowden. However, go with the direct drive if you want a reliable extruder that can accommodate more materials and offer a better retraction.

It comes down to your specific needs and preferences. So, take some time to think about what you want from your extruder. Then, choose the one that best meets your needs.

If you prefer a direct drive setup, you may want to check out this Official Creality Ender 3 S1 3D Printer with Direct Drive Extruder from Amazon.com. It features a dual-Z-axis for increased precision and durability, is compatible with a wide range of filaments, and offers a decent build volume.

On the other hand, if you need a Bowden extruder, check out this Redrex Ender 3 All Metal Bowden Extruder from Amazon.com. It’s made of high-quality materials, is easy to install, and features adjustable spring tension for optimal performance.

Tips for Choosing an Extruder

Now that you know the primary differences between Bowden and direct drive extruders and when to use each one, here are a few tips to help you choose the right extruder for your needs:

  • Consider the available space. If you’re short on space, choose a Bowden extruder. If you have more space, go with a direct drive.
  • Think about what you’ll be printing. Choose a direct drive extruder if you want to print with different materials. However, a Bowden extruder will suffice if you only need to print with filaments such as PLA and ABS.
  • Consider print quality. Although both Bowden and direct drive extruders can produce high-quality prints, the Bowden is typically more accurate. So, if print quality is your top priority, choose Bowden.

Final Thoughts

There you have it, a complete guide to Bowden and direct drive extruders. Now that you know the key differences between these two types of extruders, you can choose the one that’s best for your needs.

Remember, the Bowden is more compact, solid, and can print faster. The direct drive is more reliable, can accommodate more materials, and offers better retraction. So, take some time to think about your needs and preferences. Then, choose the extruder that’s right for you.