Stereolithography (SLA) may trail behind FDM 3D printers when it comes to consumer sales, but in terms of quality, you’ll find that an SLA 3D printer is usually the way to go.
Both 3D printing technologies are still in their infancy as far as the consumer market goes, having entered the home and small business markets only relatively recently. 3D printing has been around for decades, and so have their corresponding patents. As the technology and materials advance — and patents expire — the sales gap between SLA and FDM printing should quickly narrow.
Of course, quality is what we generally strive for when it comes to our 3D printing endeavors. While the majority of today’s FDM printers will produce a decent model, compare an FDM print to one produced by any SLA 3D printer and you’ll quickly see that SLA takes the lead when it comes to the overall quality of finish.
There’s a very good reason why FDM printers are the popular choice; they’re fast, relatively clean, and cheap. By comparison, an SLA 3D printer is relatively slow, messy, and even the cheapest models are still expensive.
Looking at the latest generation of desktop SLA 3D printers, both the price and complexity are quickly falling. There are now many models available for less than $5000.
With many SLA 3D printer models being affordable, those who require high-quality prints should consider taking the plunge. Here we take a look at some of the best value resin 3D printers on the market today.
In our list, we considered only SLA and DLP 3D printers that cost under $7,000, so this leaves out most of the industrial 3D printers by companies such as EnvisionTEC, DWS, Prodways and others. Among the larger 3D printer manufacturers, only 3D Systems makes the list with its ProJet 1200.
The aim here is to offer you consumer printers that teeter in between affordability and quality.
The commonality of DLP and SLA 3D printers is that they both use resin-based photopolymers as consumables. These are liquid materials that react by solidifying when struck by a high-powered laser or light source.
There are two ways to “activate” the photopolymerization reaction; one is by using a laser to “draw” the object’s layers. This is called pure stereolithography (SLA).
Another is by projecting the entire slice of the object using a digital light projector. This process is called digital light processing (DLP).
The Form 2 is the breadwinner of the desktop SLA 3D printing market, far and away the most popular of the bunch. It supplies a 145 x 145 x 175 mm build area (up from 125 x 125 x 165 mm on the Form 1+), and is capable of print layer heights of between 25 and 100 microns with a laser spot size of 140 microns.
Ease of use is the key factor with this SLA 3D printer, where the design of the Form 2 has taken usability to the next level. The cartridge system makes changing materials a breeze, and although the cartridges are considered consumables, they can be reused a number of times before being replaced.
On the front of the machine is a touch screen. This makes navigation through settings and options easy, but it’s the direct Wifi connection for network printing that really stands out. Print procedures have been expertly thought out, and this makes the Form 2 perfectly suited as a general purpose workhorse rather than a specialist machine that can only be used by the office geek or home expert.
Oftentimes, size is a major consideration for SLA 3D printer manufacturers who realize that their target audience is small business. The 3D Systems ProJet 1200, like the Autodesk Ember, is a small desktop 3D printer ideal for jewelry makers, dentists and electronics manufacturers.
The ProJet 1200 uses a variant of SLA printing called Micro-SLA, and the printer is the first attempt by 3D Systems (the company that invented stereolithography) to bring its professional level SLA 3D printer technology to the desktop.
The small print area of 43 x 27 x 150 mm is ideal for small scale prototyping. Layer height is 30 microns and laser spot size is 0.023 (585 dpi).
There’s a good amount of material from the 3D Systems Visit FTX range that include cast, clear, gold, green, silver, gray. These plastics are tailored for prototyping and casting patterns.
XYZ printing are known for their budget FDM printers, but they’ve also taken aim at the SLA 3D printing market with their Nobel line. The Taiwanese company recently upgraded their Nobel 1.0 to the Nobel 1.0 Advanced.
The printer offers a 128 x 128 x 200 mm build volume and an X/Y resolution of 130 microns.
As with the rest of the XYZ range, the printer has been built with a budget in mind. So some of the higher end features and finish that you’ll find on the other SLA 3D printers are somewhat lacking with the Nobel 1.0A. That said, the printer performs well for its price and will give you a proper introduction to high quality of SLA.
At present, the resins available from the Nobel 1.0A include multi-colored acrylic resins, flexible resin, and castable resin.
It also offers advantages in being almost entirely a “plug & play” stand alone printer. This is thanks to the USB slot and a mechanism to automatically refill the resin as needed.
Marketed as the first high-end SLA 3D printer at a consumer price, the DWS Lab Xfab certainly brings a level of expectation. It might not be as affordable as the Form 2, but Digital Wax Systems is a company with a long running history of professional grade SLA 3D machines.
Based in Northern Italy, the company boasts some of the highest level SLA machines on the market. These have traditionally been aimed at the jewellery and dental markets. If you’re interested in one of those high end machines, they all start at a price well above €10,000.
The Xfab differs by offering a cylindrical build plate measuring 180 mm in diameter, and enabling a build area height of 180 mm. When it comes to layer heights it can achieve between 10-100 microns with a laser spot size of 250 microns.
Material support for the printer is also a step ahead of the Form 2, with 10 DWS high grade materials already available. These include nano-ceramic, rubber-like, castable and transparent resins, all in convenient, easy to use containers.
Known as one of the leaders in affordable desktop 3D printers and scanners, FlashForge is looking to increase their stake in the SLA/DLP market with the new FlashForge Hunter 3D printer. The machine includes a UV-protective translucent cover, enabling users to observe the entire printing process.
Reports have surfaced that the Hunter will come equipped with a “self-developed light engine,” setting it apart from other printers that integrate externally produced light projectors. This will likely allow FlashForge to finely tune the photo-curing process, optimizing the wavelength of their light source.
While the manufacturer recommends utilizing their own proprietary resins, rumor has it that third party materials can also be used. The FlashForge Hunter offers an X/Y resolution of 62.5 microns and a Z axis layer height of 25 to 50 microns. The light source is a 405nm LED, while print build amounts to 120 x 67.5 x 150mm.
This printer is a direct evolution of the FlashForge Explorer DLP 3D printer, but this time around comes with more material options and higher quality prints. As of now, the printer is only listed on FlashForge’s Hong Kong website, but will likely make its way to North America, Europe, and Australia soon.
Back in 2015, SprintRay built a huge following and crowdfunding success story with the MoonRay DLP 3D printer. Since then, the manufacturer has upgraded their concept into the MoonRay S.
Despite its compact size it still features a decent print area of 5 x 3.2 x 8 inches. It has a layer height that can be set to 20, 50 or 100 microns and an X / Y resolution of 100 microns. The printer is capable of printing 1 inch per hour, enabling a consistent print speed unmatched by other DLP 3D printers on the market.
SprintRay has delivered a complete ecosystem alongside their product, complete with software and resin consumables. The sleek and compact design will bring a futuristic vibe to your desktop, and will print some high quality objects to boot.
The MoonRay S is equipped with the RayOne UV DLP projector, a light projector specifically developed for 3D printing. The UV projector is optimized to ensure high details and accuracy within your prints.
SprintRay has also released the more advanced MoonRay D, their DLP 3D printer that is engineered for digital dentistry.
The B9 is one of the most distinctive looking 3D printers, with the projector at its heart on full show. It was also one of the first sub-$5000 machines to feature DLP 3D print technology. This means that is uses light from a projector rather than a laser to cure the photopolymer resin.
It also comes in two flavours, a standard B9CreatoR v1.2 and a dental version which has some slight changes to the hardware and software to tailor the machine for use by dentists.
The print platform is quite small for the size of the machine at 57 x 32 x 203 mm, and quotes a layer height of just 5 microns and X / Y resolution of 30, 50 or 70 microns.
The B9CreatoR v1.2 has at present five different resins in an assortment of colours and types with different mechanical properties — such as dental — with prices varying between $100 and $200 for the resin.
In the true replicator fashion and more akin to FFF printers, this DLP 3D printer is also available as a kit for $3,490. It has won over a large crowd of fans who are extremely happy with its reliability and quality.
The UNCIA 3D is the evolution of a $299 printer that reached its funding goal on IndieGoGo in just four days. Like the B9CreatoR v1.2, the UNCIA 3D is a DLP 3D printer and this is an upgraded version of the original machine.
The design may lack the finesse of the other printers, but who’s to argue when the whole package including the integrated projector can be purchased for just $1,379?
The printer’s build area is actually quite impressive at 102 x 77 x 170 mm and has a maximum layer height of 100 microns.
In general use the printer proves effective, although many users may find issue with the initial calibration (especially the vat height), and the overall design means that this is one of the more messy printers of its type on the market. Although once calibrated correctly, it does prove reliable.
One of the biggest issues that many users have found is the lack of support, but then again at this price it is a bargain.
The imminent launch of the Mk4 could herald a new era for DLP 3D printers, as it boasts one of the largest build volumes, highest resolutions and print speeds for a resin printer in its class and price.
At just $5000 it has a build volume of 330 x 180 x 300 mm, and a layer height of between 25-200 microns and X / Y resolution of 174 microns.
The size of the build area will enable tabletop board gamers to create and print an entire board in one go. Modellers will find the printer ideally suited to printing large monocoque chassis and hulls as well as highly accurate scale models. Artists and jewellers should also find the additional print area less restrictive for realising their designs and creations.
Like several others on this list, Kudo3D is startup company with a crowdfunding approach. Their first DLP 3D printer, the Titan 1, raised nearly $700,000 from backers.
The Titan 2 DLP projector claims to offer better resolution and speed compared to most of their laser-based competitors, as well as advanced connectivity and workflow processes.
The Kudo Titan 2 offers a large build area of 190 x 109 x 248 mm, with a layer height of just 5 microns and X / Y resolution of between 37 and 100 microns.
Their secret to better detail and speed is called Passive Self-Peeling (PSP). It minimizes the separation force between the cured layers and the vat of resin, speeding up the process of 3D printing.
Like the Form 2, the Kudo 3D is WiFi-enabled and features a print app. This will come in handy as it will enable you to use the printer through a tablet or mobile device rather than having to go to your computer.
Kudo3D now offer two resin containers that can be used in one print.
The CoLiDO DLP 2.0 is an upgraded from one of the newer brands to hit the resin-based 3D printing market.
As with CoLiDo’s other printers, the design lacks name brand appeal that models like FormLabs and Stingray have, but still offers all the design features that you would expect from your DLP printer.
Featuring a build area of 3.9 x 3 x 5.9 inches and a layer height of 50 microns, the specifications certainly make it interesting little machine.
The company has also produced a line of custom resin materials which are quoted as having shorter curing times and are apparently less stinky than others, which is definitely a major bonus!
License: The text of "11 Best Resin (DLP/SLA) 3D Printers 2017" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.