Resin 3D Printing – Everything you need to know

The 3D craze that's taking over the maker-world

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What can I print on a 3D printer?

The world is your oyster – to a point. You can only print out things as large as your printer’s Build Bed will allow, and in the realm of consumer home-use 3D printers that we are dealing with here, that means objects that are pretty small in reality.

You would struggle for example to build out a stand for your laptop as it simply wouldn’t fit on the build plate of a cheap 3 D printer. There are ways around it, you can chop up the object and print it in several sections and then simply Super Glue it together when it’s done – and indeed many makers do that if they are making props or prototypes, but if you are looking to 3D print a Mandalorian helmet so you can do some crazy cosplay, just be aware you are going to have to do more work than pressing CTRL-P.

Which Is Better FDM Or Resin?

It really depends on what you want to print. Resin is better if you want to print small detail objects, FDM is better for larger more functional parts, although you can still print highly-detailed models with filament with a little practice. Note though that they are totally different techniques – you can’t print with resin on an FDM printer and vice versa.

What Is 3D Printing With Resin?

There are two main kinds of 3D printing – FDM – which you may have seen and involves a spool of spaghetti-sized plastic which then passes through a “hot end” which melts the living daylights out of it to a near liquid form which is then “drawn” onto a build plate and rapidly cools down. Then the process repeats many thousands of times over with a new layer of melted plastic being deposited on top of the last one, gradually forming your desired shape.

These shapes can be things such as models, toys, even spare parts. You can even build parts to enhance your 3D printer. It’s all very cool.

Resin, or SLA, 3D printing differs in that instead of taking a solid plastic, melting it into a form, and letting it harden again, it takes a liquid resin held in a small VAT and cures the desired shape with a flash of UV light (which hardens the resin – science stuff, we’ll deal with that later.

Then the resin printer’s build plate moves up and the process is repeated, again, gradually building up your item.

If this all sounds like witchcraft that’s what it felt like to me at first. I have had an FDM printer for a couple of years but only recently made the leap to resin as the price of the machines has tumbled of late.

How Do Resin 3D Printers Work

Science time. Sorry. Resin printers use a technique call Stereolithography to produce solid items.

Stereolithography belongs to a family of additive manufacturing technologies known as vat photopolymerization, commonly known as resin 3D printing. These machines are all built around the same principle, using a light source—a laser or projector—to cure liquid resin into hardened plastic. The main physical differentiation lies in the arrangement of the core components, such as the light source, the build platform, and the resin tank.

SLA 3D printers use light-reactive thermoset materials called “resin.” When SLA resins are exposed to certain wavelengths of light, short molecular chains join together, polymerizing monomers and oligomers into solidified rigid or flexible geometries.

Assuming that means nothing to you, in lay terms your printer will lower a build plate into a vat of uncured resin suspended over (generally speaking) an LCD screen which will display an image for a few seconds. While the image is displayed UV light is leamed through the image which cures (solidifies) a think layer of resin in the shape. This is then repeated for subsequent layers adding more and more cured resin to the shape as the build plate gradually rises upwards from the vat. It’s a very cool process.

How Dangerous Is Resin 3D Printing?

Dangerous is a strong word. You are unlikely to kill yourself printing a few small toy soldiers or a model of the space shuttle but there are definite precautions you NEED to take when printing with resin. The first, and most important coming from the fact the raw material is in liquid form is you absolutely do not want to get it on your skin. Rubber gloves are a must. You also need to take precautions not to let splashes get into your eyes. It is remarkably easy to slosh and splash it around so safety glasses are definite plus. Resin is a huge skin irritant and if you get any on you then you need to wash it off immediately and if you ingest it or get it in your eyes you need to seek urgent medical attention to be on the safe side.

Also be careful of secondary contact, such as drips and the like on your desk that you might not realise are there until you have put your hand in them or the cat has walked across them. Take your time, take sensible precautions and you will be just fine.

How Much Does A Resin 3D Printer Cost?

The price of 3D resin printers continues to fall dramatically with the Proxima from Voxelab now regularly picked up for around £170/$170 which is an insane price for the quality you can get from this machine. If you are looking for a resin printer to build larger models with the cost will rise dramatically to $600+, but in truth, most people will be absolutely fine with the small form factor ones. Certainly while they are learning the ropes.