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Dual action polishers make the pad spin around the center of the pad AND orbit around the center axis of the polisher's head. This is motion is like how the earth spins around its own axis and orbits around the sun at the same time. This allows the pad to cover more area, much more quickly, allowing you to polisher entire panels in nearly half the time it would take with a rotary polisher. This motion also spreads out the heat and abrasion to a wide area, greatly reducing the risk of burning through and leaving marring behind. These factors give dual-action polishers an advantage when it comes to creating a smooth and glossy finish.
The trade off with dual-action polishers is that they are not as capable of correcting severe scratches, swirls, and imperfections. Since the movement is more complex and spread over a wider area, if you apply too much pressure, the pad will stop orbiting and spinning all together (except in the case of gear driven dual-action polishers like the FLEX XC 3401). Also, since the power is spread across a larger area, the abrasive ability at any one point is going to be less than it would be with a rotary polisher. This means that it generally takes dual-action polishers much longer to correct imperfections. The reduced power does, however, make dual-action polishers much more user-friendly and easier to control than their rotary counterparts.