I’ve had a filament 3D printer for a couple of years now after wanting one for a while and it’s been fun. It can be a right pain in the backside to get the build plate level and the quality, while great, was always not quite where I would have liked it.
I have had my eye on increasing my 3D printer collection with an SLA resin printer for the last few months and kept a close eye on developments. I was wary about poisoning myself with the resin, not really having much I wanted to print on such a small build area, and generally making a mess.
Then the Proxima appeared at a price I was more than willing to pay.
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 got 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 tin 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, always 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.
New (Karate) Kids on the Block
Resin printing has been arriving big-style in the last couple of years with Elegoo and AnyCubic, but Voxelab is now keen to disrupt that, even if that is by price alone and if the community’s reaction is anything to go by, they have hit the market.
Having done similar in the FDM field with it’s Creality Ender 3 clone, the Aquila, the Proxima is setting itself up for the same battle in the SLA market.
Printing with resin has, up until now been more niche. Not everybody wants to print Warhammer miniatures, but now you can anyway! It’s messy, you need to take certain precautions as resin is a toxic nastiness of a product, but man, the results you get are so worthwhile.
I have printed plenty of things over the years with filament but when I showed my 10 year old the model of Daniel Larusso from the Karate Kid (from the amazing PlaKit) his reaction was “Whoahh, that’s sick”. And indeed it is. The detail you can get, as well as the smooth solidity from the Proxima mean this is an option for printing toys and gifts for the kids that they won’t turn their noses up at. Hence mine has been printing Apex Legends models all week for him.
Voxelab also produces a limited range of resins that are kind of liquidy plug and play. The printer is set up for use with these right out of the box, but to be honest I have used other brands such as Elegoo and Nova3D resins with zero problems. None are cheap. As a general indicator, the images of the models I have printed in this article all worked out at about 3/4 dollars worth of resin each. I could have saved some money by hollowing out the models in the slicer software, but they feel pretty satisfying when they are as solid as these.
When it comes to resins, one thing you need to know is that you need to clean your prints carefully when they are done. Resin is grim stuff and you don’t want it on your skin at any point so gloves are essential.
The original (and cheaper resins) need to be cleaned off by submerging them in Isopropyl alcohol which is also a bit grim and full of toxic fumes. In fact, it stinks worse than the resin itself. More recently the market has seen resins that are water washable or soluble so you can just dunk your finished print in a jar of water and slosh it around and then set about it with a toothbrush.
After this is all done you need to cure your print further – at this stage it will feel a bit, well, gooey and just ‘not right’. UV light is what you need here so you can just stick it out in the sun for a bit and it will harden to perfection.
Many people, including myself, have plumped for a little artificial sunlight in the form of a UV light from Amazon, the kind of which sets nail varnish. Stick your model under that for a few minutes – job done.
So, what can you print?
I guess the answer to that question is just about whatever you want, as long as it fits on the build plate. Realistically then you are looking at detailed models, trinkets or I even printed a case for my MiSTer FPGA retro system. Resin is quite a brittle material so thin case walls aren’t ideal, but as the MiSTer doesn’t really move anywhere and I just wanted to protect the bare PCBs I think it came out great. The smoothness is something you would really struggle to get close to in FDM printing and as you can (sort of) make out from the image above the Proxima has no issues with the little details on the case, or on PlaKit’s Robocop model standing proudly on top of it.
One thing to watch is the prints really get stuck on to the build plate and was have a rough old time removing them, even with the included scraper, scratching the plate in a way that would have been detrimental in the long run if it had continued. so I invested in a magnetic flexible plate which attached to your build plate, then when it’s time to remove your model, detach the magnetic plate, give it a quick flex and the object pops right off. It’s a great quality of life upgrade and only costs just over $10. Getting one specifically for the Proxima is difficult though as it’s so new so I ended up getting one for a different printer and sacrificing a couple of mm off the size of build plate. Not big deal for the benefits but I will swap it out for the correct one at some point in the future.
So knowing what I know now, would I choose the Proxima again? Absolutely. it’s great. The quality is beyond what I expected and the ease of use takes things to the next level. If Voxelab can produce products like this at this price it will have to make the other manufacturers take note and either add more features or reduce their own prices. With this and Voxelab’s FDM Aquila I’m really looking forward to what whey come up with for the next tranche of products over the next year or so.
It’s exciting times in the 3D printer space and the Voxelab Proxima now holds a deserved seat at the top table.