What is 3D printing?
Right, so you are here which I’m taking as you having an interest in 3D printing already. I’m also assuming (hopefully correctly) that you are no expert and either want to find out more or expand your existing knowledge.
3D printing is the process of making an object out of material. Just like “normal” printing takes a blank sheet of paper and turns it into a sheet of words, or a photograph or whatever, a 3D printer takes, well thin air, and eventually chucks out a 3D item – be it a model or whatever that you sent to it.
3D printing is the process of additive manufacturing which is a fancy way of adding something to something to eventually make something else. Don’t be afraid of the term, children use additive manufacturing when they are building something out of lego. We don’t need a degree here.
Instead of Lego, a 3D printer takes information sent in the form of a 3D object, sliced into tiny layers, and then goes about building the layers on top of each other until you get the end result. Lego again. If you want to mess with the space/time continuum you could even use one to make your own Lego. That’s extreme additive manufacturing!
To do this we need to use a program called a Slicer. Just like we use a word processor for sending text to an Inkjet printer we use a slicer to send information about our object to the 3D printer and just like a word processor performing this task, much of the hard work is done for us.
Of course, we still have to do some of the initial hard labor ourselves but if you are just looking to get something printed out you can just download a model from the internet, automatically slice it and send if to the printer and end up with spectacular results (alongside the occasional gooey disaster!)
Best Resin 3D Printer in 2021
Perfect build size for models
Market leader in budget 3D resin printing
Large online support community
2K mono screen will last a long time
Not the cheapest so position may come under threat soon
The Mars 2 Pro from Elegoo is the latest iteration of the Mars – one of the machines that helped start the home resin printing revolution. We had the Mars, the Mars Pro, the Mars 2 and now the Mars 2 Pro whichi is the top of the range. It’s super-simple to set up and level and be off printing in double-quick time with outstanding results. One of the major reasons the Elegoo comes out on top of the tree here is the size of the user-base and helpfulness of the community. If you have a problem with your prints you can be sure somebody somewhere has gone through the same issues so a quick trip to a Facebook support group or YouTube may well have you back up and running in next to no time.
The machine itself is well-built, relatively quiet and looks smart in whatever corner you tuck it away in. The UV protective lid fits well and stops the vast majority of resin fumes escaping. You still wouldn’t want to sleep next to it, but it does a decent job.
The biggest issue the mars 2 may face in the very near future comes from the likes of the Voxelab Proxima below which is seriously undercutting the price and offering pretty much the same features. Something is going to have to give and that can only be good for us, the end user.
Decent build size
Simple to level build plate
Perfect for intro to resin printing
2K mono screen will last a long time
No network connection. USB only
A little noisy when lifting print layers
The Proxima from Voxelab is the SLA printer that has got me into the hobby, and to be honest, I’ve fallen head-over-heels with it. I bought it because it was the cheapest option even though it only had a couple of reviews on YouTube at the time, they were solid. Don’t be put off by the fact you might not have heard of Voxelab, it’s actually a division of the highly credible Flashforge who have been making 3D printers affordably for a good while now.
Everything it says on the tine is true, you can basically pull the machine out of the box, level the build plate – which is pretty easy, although I did it twice initially to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, pour a bit of stinky resin into the VAT, being careful not to go past the handy MAX line or you are going to have a nightmare clean-up job on your hands, press PRINT on one of the sample models on the included USB stick and off you go.
That’s the theory anyway, in reality, you have another step to take which I can’t really understand why Voxelab has made you go through. The models on the stick are.STL files and haven’t been ‘sliced’ for the printer so you can’t print them without taking them to your PC and installing either the Voxelab software or the more popular Chithubox or LycheeSlicer, slicing them up and saving them back to the card and then hitting print. So in reality, certainly if you have never used a slicer before, the chances of you picking all that up in five minutes are slim. Nothing is inherently difficult, but it would have been nice if the included Deer model had been print ready, and as I said, I don’t really know why it isn’t.
Of course, you will have to get your hands dirty (wear gloves!) with the slicer sooner rather than later, but while the excitement to get your first print going is palpable, just give us the file ready to print.
This great little machine would have won this review round-up because of ease of set-up and price, but the one thing that is holding it back is it’s age. The Proxima has not had time to mature yet simply because it is so new. It is being bought up in decent numbers because of its price point and as such the support from Voxelab/Flashforge isn’t quite there yet, with many of the spare parts such as extra vats or FEP sheets being sold out on the company website and unavailable of Amazon. This in itself is certainly not a reason to not buy it as the almost guaranteed success of the machine means these items will quickly come back in stock, but I like the reassurance of being able to get what I need immediately, rather than waiting for stock to come back in and then be shipped from China.
Build size is great for models
Large user base so easy community trouble-shooting
2K mono screen will last a long time
More expensive than the Proxima
The little brother to the Mono X below, the Mono from AnyCubic is in direct competition to the offerings from Voxelab and Elegoo and in truth is as similar as they are to each other. Packing a 2K mono LCD which offers great quality printing and a longer lifetime than the colour screen that were popular in the first phase of the hobby, the Mono is a great printer.
Where it suffers – is that again it is priced higher than the Proxima – so why would you buy it over that model? Again, established support base should probably come into your thinking but that will only work in its favor for a while. AnyCubic is a large, popular brand out there though and if you like the yellow lid, welcome it into your home, you will love it.
Large build volume
faster exposure time, so quicker prints
One of the downsides that puts many people off taking the plunge into resin printing is the small size of the build plate on the cheap models. To be able to build at a larger volume the cost goes up considerably and there aren’t too many home options. There is this – the Mono X, the Phrozen Mighty and the Saturn from Elegoo. Current supply issues means the Saturn is in very short supply as many of Elegoo’s customer base have stayed loyal to brand and snapped them up.
The 4K screened offering from AnyCubic is just as good however if you have the money and the need to build bigger. Bigger printers mean increased running costs however (more resin use obvs) so a bigger machine is only really useful for those with a specific need. Say for example you are printing miniature figures to sell on Etsy, you can do that easily enough on the printers above, but the Mono X’s larger build plate gives your the opportunity to print more at ones. Economies of scale. How much is your time worth if you want to go into this line of business.
Technologically speaking, the 4K screen allows your prints to emerge at an even greater resolution and the quality is truly outstanding. Do you need it? Probably not in all more the most extreme cases, but if you do, this a great option.
A step up from budget standard
Very fast layer curing
Expensive for hobbyist use
Taking a step up in price, but not really build volume is the semi-pro Special Edition of AnyCubic’s Photon Mono. This is an amazing quality printer that is ideal if you see a 3D printer making its way full-time into your daily business use – maybe you make jewellery to sell – if so, this is a fabulous option. Amazing quality and quick-cure times are only part of the appeal. The full metal chassis means this unit is designed to stand the rigors of regular usage. The extra couple of hundred on the price tag probably takes it out of the first-time hobbyist but if you are looking for an uprade on what you have had before the SE is well worth a look.
The model detail you can get from this is as good as anything I have seen on the market outside of the ‘price-of-a-house’ printers and you won’t realise how useful the wi-fi connection is until you start monitoring your prints from afar. Internet connectively seems to have been ditched on cheaper resin printers, and coming from an FDM printer connected with OctoPrint it is one thing I have missed. Problem solved here.
Things To Consider
Choosing the right 3D printer is a pretty big decision, so it’s important that you thoroughly consider your options before you buy. That also means thinking about what is most important to you in a 3D printer. With that in mind, here are some of the key things to think about when buying your 3D printer.
One of the first things that you need to think about when buying your 3D printer is what you are planning on using it to make. This can have a huge influence on the kind of machine that you should be buying. Here are just a few of the common things that you can make with a 3D printer.
First of all, you can create the kinds of objects that you would usually find around the house. If you are planning on making household objects with your 3D printer, you should get an FDM printer. If you are planning on creating things that are going to be used with food, make sure that you coat the items in a food-safe epoxy.
You can also make objects that you can use outdoors. In this case, you are going to need something extra durable. You should use something similar to ABS in this case. Likewise, if you are planning on making works of art with your 3D printer you should use a resin printer. For professional items, you can use a resin printer. For things like tools, you may need to pay a little extra to get a more heavy-duty 3D printer.
It’s also a good idea to think about your plans for the 3D printer in the long term. Is it something you just want to experiment with and use for fun, or do you plan on using it in the long term for bigger projects? There’s no point in buying a cheap 3D printer that will only give you a basic level of functionality if you have bigger projects planned later down the line. Sometimes it’s better to pay a little more money for a printer that’s going to give you more functionality if you plan on making 3D printing more than just a hobby.
There are a few different printer styles on the market that are worth thinking about. Again, what you choose can determine the sorts of things that you can make with the printer. The first type of 3D printer is the FDM printer. These are generally used by people that like to do 3D printing as a hobby. It’s often best to opt for a Cartesian style construction of FDM since this is usually going to give you significantly better control, and it may also improve the results that you get in the end.
For incredibly detailed work, you should opt for an SLA printer. These printers are incredibly precise. DLP printers on the other hand are much smoother in terms of operation than FDM machines are. You can also opt for SLS or Selective Laser Sintering printers, but these are usually best for creating industrial-level parts that may be a little difficult to make.
If you are looking for a beginner’s 3D printer, it’s definitely best to get an FDM printer, and they are also usually a lot more affordable too.
It’s important to assess the overall quality of the printer before you buy. Naturally, there are two main things that can determine the quality of the printer: the print speed and the print resolution.
If you want to have a lot of detail in your projects, you will need to get a printer that has a has smaller microns, since this will give you more details. In addition to this, if the printer can move its extruder faster, it will print the items much more quickly.
It can sometimes be a little difficult to gauge the quality of the printer just by reading the specifications set out by the manufacturer, however. In these circumstances, it’s best to turn to the internet for help! Other customers will often post photos of their finished results, and these can show you the quality of output you’re getting from the printer.
3D printing can get rather dangerous if you’re not careful, so it’s important to ensure that your machine has some precautions in place in case something goes wrong. There are some safety features in particular that you should consider getting. For instance, look for models that have automatic nozzle cooling once you have finished printing. Sometimes 3D printers will come with heated beds, and the printer may come with an automatic shut-off feature for this when the project is complete. These are just a few of the things that you should take into consideration.
Print Resume Function
Sometimes unexpected things may happen. For instance, your printer may suddenly pause in the middle of your work, perhaps because the power has cut off. Naturally, you don’t want your entire printing project to be ruined. In these situations, having a print resume function can be incredibly helpful. Your printer will just continue where it left off, rather than starting the entire project again from scratch.
Having a 3D printer that’s easy to use can go a long way, and can certainly make your user experience far more enjoyable. You don’t want to spend unnecessary time on playing around with a rotary knob, after all. With this in mind, you should look for a printer that comes with a touchscreen interface if possible, since this will generally be a lot easier for you to use.
Print Bed Size
The size of the print bed of your 3D printer can determine the size of projects that you can make, so it’s important to think carefully about this. If the print bed is bigger it means you can print larger things. This may not be that important to you if you are primarily going to be making smaller objects, however.
So, what else can your 3D printer offer you? There are a few things worth looking for. For starters, what is the connectivity on the printer like? Can it connect easily with a computer or a laptop, or do you need something like an SD card to get the printer to work? Also, has the printer come already completely assembled, or are you just going to get a 3D printer kit? Finally, consider the amount of noise that the 3D printer makes – these devices can be rather noisy, so it’s worth considering if you’re going to be working in an environment where the noise is going to be a problem. If you are then you may need to consider getting a quieter model.
What is 3D Printing with Resin?
Today we are going to be dealing specifically with 3D printing with resin – or SLA printing as it is known in the trade. 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.
What can you make with 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.
How do resin 3D printers work
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.
Are resin 3D printers better?
It all comes down to what want to print. It’s perfectly reasonable, and many people do, have a resin and a filament FDM printer. Resin printers are much better if you want to print, small detailed models – maybe miniatures for printing, or other intricate parts such as jewellery. Unless you are prepared to spend big on a resin printer though you will be limited to printing much smaller items than even on the most budget filament 3D printer.
Resin is also more costly and indeed messy to print with but the results can be truly spectacular.
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.
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 precaution 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 one you 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.
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.
This is really tough as there is actually very little difference in the printers in the resin market at the moment. The differences in technology are minimal so it will generally come down to a couple of key factors – price and build volume – and both are directly linked to each other. The printers that fall in the sub-$300 category are pretty much identical in terms of build size and price, the exception being the new kid on the block – the Voxelab Proxima, which is actually the printer I use at home.
With that in mind, the established Mars 2 Pro from Elegoo takes the crown even though it is more expensive and not *that* different. It’s just easier to get supplies for at this moment in time. Will I come back and revisit this article in six months or so and update it if things have changed. I certainly will. I’ll also be a lot further into my relationship with my own Proxima by then.
The other factor is size. If you want or need to build bigger stuff then you are going to be looking at a machine such as the Saturn (impossible to get hold of at the moment) or the Mono X which offers that extra breathing space that really does make a difference. Unfortunately, this extra size also makes more breathing space in your bank account. If you are just getting into the hobby it’s probably more advisable to start off with one of the smaller machines to cut your teeth on before looking to upgrade when you decide it’s for you..