Home 3D Printer has been on the market for many years and is affordable for anyone who wants one. They have evolved from the curiosity of a hobbyist into useful tools that can help you fix minor problems around the house, create works of art, or help you prototype parts for the projects. The use of 3D printers is limited only by your imagination!
Now, however, a completely different type of 3D printer is entering the home market. These “plastic” 3D printers use very different principles to create 3D objects than those you may have seen so far. What is a plastic 3D printer and should you buy one over the traditional models already on the market?
General 3D printer summary
If you want an in-depth explanation of how 3D printers work, check out HDG Explains: How does 3D printing work? If you don’t have time for that, here’s the short version.
What most people think of as a “3D printer” is actually something called an FDM (fused deposition modeling) printer. It runs a filament of material (usually plastic) through a hot extruder and then deposits precise layers of material to slowly build up the model.
The most common FDM machine is the “Descartes” type of 3D printer. This has a printhead mounted on movable rails that can precisely place the printhead at any XYZ coordinate within the printer’s build volume.
Whatever type of FDM printer you’re looking at, it’s the multi-layer extrusion of filament material that’s shared among all of them. Plastic printers are fundamentally different in this regard.
Plastic 3D printer explanation
Resin 3D printers differ from FDM printers in a few fundamental ways. First, the material is a liquid plastic rather than a fiber tube. This liquid is kept in a storage tank.
The rosin printer still uses the build platform for the model being printed, but it is often upside down. The platform is lifted out of the plastic barrel as each layer is formed. The rosin itself is light sensitive and cures when exposed to the right kind of light.
The correct light source is used to layer each layer on top of the previous one until the entire model is pulled out of the bin. It certainly looks much more futuristic than FDM printing!
Types of Plastic Printers: SLA, DLP & LCD Technology
Although all rosin printers use the basic principle of curing photosensitive resin with a light source, not all of them do it in the same way. In fact, there are three main sub-categories of 3D plastic printers.
SLA: Stereoscopic photography
Solidmaker 3D Laser Printer
SLA is truly the original 3D printing technology and has a long history in the engineering industry, especially in aerospace.
This type of printer uses a laser and movable mirrors to direct a small point of light. Wherever the laser is focused the laser will harden the plastic, so each layer can be painted quickly.
SLA printers can have an upside down design where the model looks like it’s been pulled out of the tank, but they can also have an upright design where the platform is lowered into the plastic tank as each layer is completed. Fort.
SLA printers typically produce very smooth surfaces and provide highly accurate detailed prints.
DLP: Digital Light Processing
Spintray Moonray DLP Printer
You may have heard the term “DLP” in relation to projector technology before, and that’s really the connection here. DLP printers use the same digital micromirror technology that DLP projectors use to project images.
In this case, the DLP projection is used to process the entire layer of resin at a time, which makes the DLP printer slightly faster than the SLA model, which processes only one point at a time.
DLP printers are also known for their beautiful smooth surface, but large print areas may not display details as sharp and accurate as laser-based SLAs.
LCD: Liquid crystal display plastic printer
PHROZEN Sonic Mini UV LCD Plastic 3D Printer
These printers use a monochrome LCD panel with UV backlight to cure each layer. Basically, the LCD screen acts as a mask by selectively blocking light or letting light through. This is a clever use of LCD technology that is already well understood and matured and has brought down the cost of plastic printers significantly. Most of the conventional plastic printers that you can buy today use LCD technology.
Plastic LCD printers are faster than SLA printers and more accurate than DLP printers, which can be distorted. The downside of LCD printers is that they have a shorter lifespan than the aforementioned technologies and they require more maintenance.
Advantages and disadvantages of plastic printers
So why should you (or shouldn’t) buy a plastic printer instead of the more conventional FDM machines?
On the positive side of the equation:
- Plastic printers provide much smoother and detailed models.
- Plastic prints don’t require extensive post-finishing to look good.
- They are faster than FDM machines.
- Plastic models are usually stronger and more resilient.
On the negative side of the equation:
- Plastic printing is more expensive overall.
- It is cluttered and requires more maintenance.
- You need to prepare a safe environment to print and store your rosin.
- Plastic printers have a smaller average build volume.
- Uncured resin is toxic and must be handled with care.
It is important for any prospective resin printer owner to be fully prepared for the realities of rosin printing, the hazards, environmental issues, and maintenance burdens. Take some time to watch a few YouTube videos to see the printing process from start to finish.
Who Should Buy a Plastic Printer?
The main market for desktop plastic printers is those who have a need to create small, detailed models. For example, if you want to create intricate 3D board games or jewelry pieces, a rosin printer can be a good choice. If you are a 3D sculptor using software like Zbrushonly a plastic printer can do justice to your finely detailed models.
You can perfectly paint models with rosin, although you do need to follow a lengthy process to prepare the plastic surface to hold the paint. If you don’t need the detail and quality of your plastic prints, then you’re better off choosing an FDM 3D printer. You can also improve the finish of your FDM prints by using techniques such as sanding, for a smoother model surface.
Recommend 3D plastic printer
There are more and more plastic printer options on the market from time to time, but there are one or two that stand out.
First, yes Elegoo Mars 2, is a UV resin LCD printer with 2K resolution. It has a quick curing system and uses a longer-than-usual LCD display. It also has several measures to make plastic printing safer and less messy, such as disposable plastic containers and silicone seals to limit unwanted odors and leaks. With over 2500 reviews and a 4.5-star average on Amazon, this seems like a great low-end choice for the money.
The AnyCubic Photon Mono X also caught our attention as a much more premium (and expensive) option. The significantly higher asking price gives you a larger LCD screen, higher resolution, and an impressive build volume, at least for plastic printers.
Of course, you should do your own research according to your specific needs, but based on customer reviews and their specifications, these two printers are a great place to start.