Updated on May 22, 2020
Did you just get your first resin 3D printer? Do you feel overwhelmed about this fascinating process and not sure where to start? Then this post is for you.
We all were complete beginners at one point or another, so we know it can be tricky to pick out the right materials, tools and settings. This post is here to help you step into resin 3D printing as smoothly as possible. As with good dose of recommendations, dos and don’ts, you will get yourself on the right track in no time. Look below! We will provide you with a list of key points to get familiar with before printing your first resin 3D print.
Remember that we will not dive into each subject very deeply. Our goal is to help you get your first successful prints quickly and with least amount of failures! Later you will be able to choose what is more important for you!
1. Get the right tools
It will be hard to work if you do not get at least critical tools for SLA 3D printing. Some of those might look redundant but that is not the case.
Safety tools and measures are very important. 3D printing resins are irritant and can have negative impact for your health. No jokes here! Respect these chemicals and take appropriate safety measures!
- Nitrile gloves. Easy to get in every hardware store. Always wear it! Latex gloves are not suitable to use with 3D printing resin.
- Safety glasses. To avoid an accidental splash of 3D printing resin getting in contact with your eyes. It can severely irritate them!
- Silicon spatula. Get it in so you would be able to stir resin in the VAT or wipe off excessive resin from build plate. Never use metal spatula with VAT that has PDMS coating or FEP film. This will instantly damage PDMS or FEP. Silicon spatula will help you on daily basis, so it is a must. You will find more use cases later.
- Metal spatula. Metal spatula should mostly be used for removing 3D printed objects from build plate. We have learned that sturdy metal spatula is a better option than brake-off blades or other similar tools. Firstly, it’s easier to remove residuals from the build plate and it is less damaging to its surface. Moreover, it’s safer because compared to metal break-off blades it does not break that easily.
- Sealable plastic food containers. You want to store IPA in these. Two boxes are OK. One for dirty IPA and another for clean one. Usually for initial cleaning of resin 3D print you use IPA of one container and finalize in another one.
- Filter (optional) for resin. Sometimes when your printing fails, there are cured resin in the VAT in the form of small particles. They are bad! In order to preserve FEP or PDMS of your VAT, it is good to filter them out. You can also pick them out manually or with the help of silicon spatula. All in all, it is a tedious process.
- IPA or isopropyl alcohol. You can get that in majority of hardware stores. You will use IPA all the time to clean your printed objects. Remember never to pour dirty IPA down the drain. You must save it and utilize according to local regulations!
- Paper towels. These are for cleaning up your mess. SLA 3D printing is inherently messy, so have towels all the time. Remember to utilize these as well as they will be soaked in chemicals. By the way, do NOT clean PDMS or FEP of your VAT with paper towels. Paper tends to scratch both of them. Just use your silicon spatula and plenty of IPA.
Some resources and guides recommend buying a lot more stuff but we believe that you should start with key resources only.
2. Level your build plate
For most common bottom-up style printers, it is very important to thoroughly run initial leveling procedure. Forgetting to do so will definitely result in a failed resin 3D print because of model not sticking to build plate.
3. Dry run
Do not rush to pour resin! Start with “dry run” by running a few initial layers of your print without resin. This will allow you to see if printer works fine! In fact, this would help avoid potential mess caused by a simple mistake. But avoid staring into the light directly as UV light can do serious damage to your eyes!
4. Work with materials you get with the printer
Materials that you get with 3D printer are not always the best ones, but those should be the ones that you start with. Do not rush to work with other 3rd party materials. Remember, your goal is to get a successful resin 3D print as soon as possible! By adding more variables into the process, you will definitely reduce initial chances of success.
5. Look for correct exposure settings
Usually manufacturer has profiles for their materials that work with 3D printer. Get those! That is a good starting point. We recommend starting with standard layer thickness of 50μm (0.05mm). So seek exposure settings for this layer thickness.
Exposure settings may vary based on ambient room temperature that your printer is in. You will need to use longer exposure in a cold room. Make sure you run your first resin 3D print in a room temperature of 22-25°C (71.6-77°F)
6. Print small
Start with calibration parts like AmeraLabs town. Smaller parts are way easier to print. Calibration parts will also help you evaluate if your settings are correct. See our blog post so you could understand how to analyze your printing performance. You can find it here: “Guide to understand AmeraLabs town”
7. Start with ready to print objects
Go ahead and start with such resin 3D print that is already with supports and attachment/raft layer added. In this way you will be sure that you have correct model. One example is our AmeraLabs town, which is ready to print immediately. A lot of failures are caused due to absence of attachment/raft layer and incorrect supports strategy.
8. Use long exposures for initial bottom layers
Each print typically starts with a few bottom layers (usually 1 to 3) that are severely over-exposed. This assures good adhesion to build plate and helps avoid common failure that beginners often face, i.e. model simply falling off the build plate. We recommend using 15-20x normal exposures for initial bottom layers (if that does not work, you can increase it up to 25-30x). So, if your recommended exposure for 50um is 5s, first few layers should be cured for 100-150s. Remember, at first conservative settings are preferred!
9. At first start cleaning with IPA
Fill two plastic containers with isopropyl alcohol (IPA). Keep one for initial cleaning to get rid of remaining resin from the printed object. Then do secondary cleaning in second IPA container to finalize cleaning. DO NOT leave your resin 3D print submerged in IPA for prolonged periods of time as that can cause a lot of issues. You can read more about that here. Also, DO NOT mix with IPA and water. Some people tend to clean with water after cleaning with IPA and that can cause white residuals on your print and other issues. Also let the model dry out before post-curing as that will substantially improve your results. If you see “wet” spots on the model after it is dry, that might be the residue of resin. Repeat cleaning cycle until you see that model is free from remains of resin.
10. Don’t forget post-processing
After printing your objects will have quite a tacky surface. That is because they need post-curing under UV light to finalize curing on the outer layers of resin 3D printed object. Although, many would recommend buying UV oven, there is no need for that in the beginning. Just place your object under sunlight for a few hours. After that it should be good to go. After getting more and more familiar with this resin 3D printing technology, get yourself UV oven to speed up post-cure process.
These are just the tips before making first steps. We did not get into complex details of various other topics that greatly influence your 3D printing results and we did it for a reason! We simply want you to be able to get a good resin 3D print right away without getting into tricky stuff too early.
In fact, there are quite a few topics that you should pay attention to right after good initial results and start printing your own models. To be more precise, pay attention to the following subjects below.
- Hollowing of models. Resin 3D print should not be printed as solid, thick object. It needs to be hollowed to reduce cross-sectional area and shrinkage. This is especially important for bottom-up style machines like Zotrax Inkspire, Prusa SL1, Epax, Anycubic Photon, Phrozen Shuffle, Phrozen Sonic. When hollowing, remember to put drainage holes to your model.
- Proper supports strategy. Failing to implement correct supports strategy is a straight way to failure. You can read more about that here: 6 Key Principles of 3D Printing Supports that Work. Remember that supporting strategies listed here are quite different compared to FDM/FFF 3D printing.
- Analyze use cases. On our blog, you can find a few SLA 3D printing use cases. They cover all steps of SLA 3D printing. Go ahead and read those! We believe they might be helpful for your learning. You can find those articles here: AmeraLabs case studies.
- Design methodology for 3D printing. As in all additive manufacturing technologies good design is critical for your success. The same applies to resin 3D printing. We have compiled a set of recommendations that we believe are critical at first. You can read more about that here: How to design parts for SLA 3D Printing.
- Orientation importance. Model orientation is really important. Proper orientation helps to minimize the number of supports, lower the visibility of layer lines and increase overall chances of success. Moreover, you can reduce cross-sectional area and preserve it in a uniform way to reduce potential lines on models. You can read about that here: 10 reasons why you get unexpected horizontal lines on your 3D printed parts.
- Attachment layer. This is probably the most important aspect in the beginning. A lot of failures are caused due to absence of this feature. You can read more about that here: Attachment Layer in SLA 3D printing: what you need to know.
- Lifting speeds. Ability to change lifting speeds severely depends on your 3D printer. Some machines allow to do that, some don’t. But if you have this ability, read more about this so you could improve your success rate and printing quality.