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Are Resin 3D Printers Worth It? Here’s How To Decide

Have you thought about getting a Resin 3D printer? With all of the 3D printer options available now, it can be confusing to sort through all of them. Are Resin 3D printers really worth it?

Resin 3D printers are worth it if your priority is exceptional accuracy, flawless surface finish, diverse functionalities, or practical uses. Specific advantages and disadvantages depending on the type of resin and the particular 3D printing technology.

All 3D printing technologies and materials have distinct strengths and weaknesses. Resin 3D printers are used in many industries due to their superior print quality. However, hobbyists are more comfortable with fused deposition modeling or FDM printers and thermoplastics.

Resin 3D Printer Pros

The benefits of Resin 3D printers include:

  • Resin 3D printers offer unmatched accuracy due to phenomenal resolution.
  • The surface finish of resin is unparalleled due to photopolymerization.  
  • More durable than thermoplastic filaments because resin monomers bond to form polymers.
  • The tensile and shear strengths of 3D printer resin make them truly functional.
  • Resin 3D printers’ precision or accuracy makes them versatile for diverse designs and models.
  • Greater practicality due to accuracy, finish quality, durability, integrity, and versatility.

Resin 3D Printer Cons

Resin 3D printers are not worthwhile if you want an inexpensive setup, low recurring costs, and convenient post-production.

Why Resin 3D Printers Are Worthwhile

Resin 3D printing uses a technology called stereolithography (SLA). 

The devices using this process are called SLA printers. Developed in 1984 by Chuck Hall, stereolithography is the oldest 3D printing process.

Two other 3D resin printing technologies are digital light processing (DLP) and liquid crystal display (LCD). Each of these three printing processes solidifies liquid resin using ultraviolet light, a technique known as photopolymerization.

Accuracy

This type of printing is more accurate than other techniques due to the resolution of the printers. 

An SLA printer’s laser or the ultraviolet rays in DLP and LCD resin printers are as tiny as voxels. In comparison, the standard nozzle size of typical hotends in FDM printers is 0.4 mm (0.016 inches).

When an ultraviolet laser or light solidifies and cures a resin layer, the accuracy is significantly better than the additive layering and fusing of thermoplastic filaments in FDM printers. Hence, 3D resin printers can create complex designs with exquisite aesthetic elements.

resin prints detail

Finish

The accuracy of 3D resin printers is one reason for a flawless surface finish. The other equally important reason is photopolymerization. 

Liquid resin is solidified when subjected to ultraviolet light as the material bonds at a molecular level.

The tiny atoms or molecules of liquid resin, known as monomers, form bonds to create polymers, a complex 3D structure. This structural bonding facilitates the integrity of the material in the final printed object.

Durability

Photopolymerization and the accuracy due to superb resolution make 3D printed resin objects durable. Resin 3D printing is an additive process like the technique of FDM printers using thermoplastic filaments.

However, the molecular bonding and accuracy make all the difference in tensile and shear strengths.

FDM printers melt, extrude, and add layers of thermoplastic filaments, meaning distinct layers are fused using high temperatures. Each layer of melted and extruded thermoplastic fuses on an existing base, but no atomic or molecular bonding exists. 

You can see the layering of thermoplastic in FDM printed objects.

3D printed resin models rarely have layer shifting and other problems associated with FDM printers, including extrusion issues, oozing, warping, stringing, and clogging. Photopolymerized resin through 3D printers is much more durable than FDM printed thermoplastic objects.

Functionality

3D printed resin has better tensile and shear strengths than fused thermoplastics. The exceptional integrity of the material is due to the molecular bonding through photopolymerization.

FDM printed thermoplastics may come apart due to layer shifting. 

Due to poor shear strength, FDM 3D objects don’t hold up well against external forces or pressures on the sides or the top. 3D printed resin models are not as fragile. That means that 3D resin objects are more functional.

FDM printed models are restricted to decorative purposes. 3D printed resin models can serve mechanical functions. This reliable functionality is why 3D resin printers are used in dentistry, jewelry design and manufacturing, and several industries for prototyping.

Versatility

The accuracy, finish quality, durability, and functionality of 3D printed resin provide the foundation for an array of designs. While FDM printed models are at best showpieces, 3D printed resin objects can serve a plethora of purposes.

The voxel-level accuracy empowers designers to be genuinely creative with their designs. The integrity due to polymerization enables users to create objects that can be subjected to some functional stress. 

The durability makes prototypes and usable objects sustainable.

All these attributes of 3D printed resin make it a versatile option. In contrast, FDM-printed thermoplastics have severe restrictions on what you can design to use as a final object.

Practicality

3D printed resin is used for dental implants. Castable resin is also used in the 3D printing of jewelry. Resin 3D printers are used in various industries and sectors, including: 

dentist resin 3d print
  • Healthcare 
  • Automobiles 
  • Aviation 
  • Construction 
  • Consumer goods 
  • Entertainment

Hobbyists or enthusiasts can design and create many functional objects and use them for valuable practical purposes. High-quality resin is also waterproof. The finished product can be airtight, too, depending on the design and sealing technique.

Why Resin 3D Printers Might Not Be Worth It

Nothing is perfect in this world. Even the shape of our planet is not a perfect sphere. Resin 3D printers are no exception. Despite DLP and LCD printers’ advent and growing popularity, SLA is the oldest 3D printing technology that hasn’t undergone much evolution.

Expensive

The most discomforting fact about resin 3D printers is the cost. You can get FDM printers for under $500, while a standard 3D resin printer will cost you more than $1,000.

You can get a relatively good-quality FDM printer at just below $1,000, and a professional-grade SLA printer will cost you more than $3,000. Then, you have to account for the high recurring cost.

The cost of ordinary or standard resin is around $50 per liter (33.8 fl. oz.). You may find cheaper resin, but the quality will be poor. Advanced resins cost anywhere from under $100 to more than $500 per liter (33.8 fl. oz.).

The costs of thermoplastic filaments used in 3D FDM printers vary between $15 and $70 per kg (2.2 lbs.), but thermoplastic pellets can be cheaper. Polymer or polyamide powder cost is usually between $50 and $80 per kg (2.2 lbs.).

Also, 3D printers using resin have a tank, also known as vat. Most SLA, DLP, and LCD printers require a full tank of resin for every session. So, you will need an ample supply and stock of liquid resin whenever you wish to print anything, even if it is a small proof-of-concept model.

Homogeneity

SLA, DLP, and LCD 3D printers are compatible only with liquid resin, and you cannot use any other material. 3D FDM printers may allow you to use two or more thermoplastic filaments. Many FDM printers have more than one extruder. 

Thus, you can use two materials at the same time.

Resin 3D printers require using the same material for support structures, but you may choose a different material with FDM printers. Thus, you can readily segregate the main components and the support structures to remove the latter during post-production.

Some thermoplastic filaments like PVA can dissolve in water. That means that support structures made of PVA can be easily removed by submerging the finished 3D model in a tub of water. 

However, 3D resin printers don’t offer any such convenience.

Waste

You must fill the resin tank up to the required level for every printing session. 

The capacity of most 3D resin printer tanks is more than 1 liter (33.8 fl. oz.). While you have to spend more to have sufficient reserve, the real-time involvement of the full resin tank leaves room for waste.

Any error in the 3D printer and accidental polymerization of some of the resin in the tank will lead to waste. If the excess solidification of liquid resin is attached to the model you want to print, it complicates the post-processing further.

Post-Processing

3D printed resin objects require time-consuming and tedious post-curing processing. The simplest post-processing is exposing the finished product to sunlight so the object becomes as durable as it can be. 

However, there may be quite a few imperfections in the printed object that you have to rectify.

Removing support structures from 3D printed resin objects is a messy exercise because you cannot wait for the entire model to be perfectly solidified. Post-processing is easier when the material is still a little soft. 

You must not expose your skin to liquid resin or its semi-solidified version, so you should wear protective gear.

You will need several processing tools, such as a putty knife, flush cutters, and polishing bits, as 3D printed resin objects require thorough cleaning. You may use rubbing alcohol to clean the model.

Isopropyl alcohol is the staple cleaning medium. You may also consider an ethanol solvent, tripropylene glycol monomethyl ether, or di propylene glycol monomethyl ether.

Those aiming for a professional-grade finish will need more tools and resources for immaculate curing

Common requisites are a curing station, including ultraviolet light, ultrasonic cleaning, and nail polish lamp. Some companies manufacture and sell curing stations for their SLA printers and approved resins.

Types of 3D Printer Resins

Contemporary 3D printing technologies use more than a dozen materials classified into three types: 

  • Liquid 
  • Filament 
  • Powder 

The most common liquid printing material is resin. 

The filaments are thermoplastics, such as PLA, ABS, HIPS, PVA, HDPE, and PC. The powder materials are metals, alloys, and silica. Nylon is available as both filament and powder. All resins used in 3D printers are liquid polymers. 

The resins are classified per their attributes, with the basic variant being ordinary or standard resin.

All other varieties are advanced resins. The specific features of advanced resins depend on the type and how a manufacturer formulates them.

Standard or Ordinary Resin

The cheapest of all varieties, ordinary or standard resin, is suitable for 3D proof-of-concept models. You can make various kinds of decorative objects. Also, you may create a few practical models.

However, the standard resin is not the finest, so the printed objects will have limited functionality.

Advanced Resins

There are more than 10 types of advanced resin. Manufacturers have different naming, labeling, or branding systems. You will come across flexible or elastic resin, high-temperature resin, low friction resin, high elongation resin, or durable resin.

Companies also categorize 3D liquid resins as castable, dental, and engineering. Then, there are transparent resin and different colors. You may prefer painting a 3D printed resin object. 

The resin type and its characteristics decide its compatibility for specific uses.

Engineering resin is suitable for complex designs, objects that must serve mechanical functions and have a perfect finish. Elastic resin is suitable for packaging and flexible objects. 

Ergonomic objects or parts of a larger model demand flexible resins.

Rigid resin is suitable for its durability as the finished product can endure impacts, while durable resins are usually reinforced with glass fiber. Choose a resin that is ideal for a design or the printed object’s functional purpose.

Types of Resin 3D Printers

Your experience with resin 3D printers will partly depend on the technology or printing process. The three common types of 3D resin printers are stereolithography or SLA, digital light processing or DLP, and liquid crystal display or LCD.

Let’s look at these in more detail.

SLA 3D Printer

SLA uses a laser to solidify or polymerize resin, and 3D printers using SLA direct the laser precisely to create one point or voxel of a layer. The process goes on till the entire layer is formed and cured. The cycle begins again for the subsequent layer.

SLA 3D printers are the slowest among the three using resin but still faster than FDM.  

DLP 3D Printer

DLP uses a projector to cast ultraviolet light instead of a laser. The printer still has the precision of a voxel because it uses ultraviolet light rays. 3D printers using DLP cast a projection on an entire layer. 

Thus, they are faster than SLA printers.

However, DLP printed resin objects may have some flaws or imperfections around the distant edges. The light disperses from a narrow source, and the scattering may lead to potential aberrations in the printed model. 

Midrange and high-end DLP 3D printers don’t have such problems.

LCD 3D Printer

LCD 3D printers use LEDs to generate ultraviolet light. The LCD screen serves as a filter and blocks the flow of ultraviolet light to 3D points or spaces inside the resin tank that don’t need polymerization and curing. 

The 3D model design determines this blocking.

Unlike DLP, LCD does not disperse or scatter the light rays from a narrow source. Hence, there is little chance of imperfections in any part of the model. Like DLP, LCD 3D printers work on an entire layer at once. 

Ultimately, the LCD is faster than SLA 3D printers.

Conclusion

DLP and LCD 3D resin printers are becoming more popular than SLA models due to faster print cycles. High-end DLP printers using premium-quality digital micromirror devices (DMDs) are better than LCDs but quite expensive. Entry-level LCD 3D resin printers are more affordable and suitable for beginners.