3D Printering: Smartphone Resin Printers Actually Work

Last spring, the world saw something amazing. It was a device that would revolutionize the planet, save the world, and turn your smartphone into a 3D printer. Kickstarters aren’t known for selling themselves short. I speak, of course, of the OLO 3D printer, later renamed the ONO 3D printer, ostensibly because of a trademark dispute.

While filament-based 3D printers are extremely capable and slicing software is only getting better, resin-based printers are able to produce prints of nearly unparalleled quality. If you want high-resolution objects and fine detail, a resin printer is the way to go. These resin printers, however, are a bit more expensive than your traditional filament printers. A few hundred dollars will buy you a serviceable i3 clone, and less than a thousand will get you a real Prusa capable of printing in four colors. The premier desktop resin printer, the Form 2 from Form Labs, starts at $3500 USD.

The ONO (or OLO) changed all of this. Instead of lasers and galvanometers or DLP projectors, this $99 resin-based printer used your smartphone display to shine light on a vat of resin. It was brilliant, according to the backers of the OLO Kickstarter. It is “a boon for democratizing 3D printing technology,” according to one idiotic tech blog. People with more sense questioned the feasibility of a resin printer powered by a phone.

For people who are more familiar with 3D printers, there were a few questions concerning the ONO. The Kickstarter campaign showed light-sensitive resin stored in translucent bottles. Control of the Z-axis stage of this printer was apparently through the headphone port. Different models of smartphones have different thicknesses, and there is no documentation how this would affect the distance from the resin tank to the screen. If a print on the OLO takes an hour, you can’t use your phone for an hour. OLO (or ONO) had a booth at this year’s World Maker Faire in New York, and I didn’t see one of these machines actually working. Simply put, we don’t know if the ONO actually works. For a 3D printer that made its debut on Kickstarter, this should come as no surprise.

However, just because the Kickstarter campaign doesn’t make any sense, is several months late shipping to backers, and there was apparently no working model in September doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the technology. The idea of using an LCD to shine light directly onto the bottom of a resin tank is interesting, and at least deserves some experimentation.

Someone finally did it. In a YouTube video uploaded this week, [Ionel Ciobanuc] demonstrated a homebrew 3D printer that is pretty much what ONO pretends to be. It’s a 5 inch LCD driven by a Raspberry Pi running nanoDLP with a simple motorized Z-axis pulling the print out of the resin. It works. Compared to a Form Labs print, or even a high-quality print off a filament-based machine it doesn’t work terribly well, but it works. In any event, it’s an experiment and proof of concept.

Whether or not the ONO works or not, and when it will ship is irrelevant. We’ve seen cooler printers with more interesting technology fail spectacularly. In any event, resin printers will, for the time being, be weird and exotic devices, powered by lasers and galvos or pricey DLP projectors.

However, this experimental 3D printer from [Ionel] shows what can be done with even the most minimal BOM. It’s not unreasonable to think this experiment in resin printing could be built for less than $100, and further experiments could bring that cost down even more. The idea presented by the ONO printer – putting a display at the bottom of a resin tank – actually works.

42 thoughts on “3D Printering: Smartphone Resin Printers Actually Work

      1. you could use a gentle current of air to fluidize the metal powder, and you could construct it like this. A very fat laser lol, and a reflective lcd. I don’t see much benefit in doing that over resin since you can always use resin to cast a metal part.

        1. You’d just use Selective Laser Sintering, the way they already do with metals. Smooth out a nice thin layer of metal powder. Run a laser over to melt certain parts of the powder together. Spread another layer above that, laser it, and keep going.

          Sort of the opposite of resin printing. Instead of drawing the object out of a liquid material (which must look pretty impressive speeded up), you’re building up the material and the object’s forming in that. Like an upside-down version, or maybe rightway-round version, because DLP etc does the base of the object first.

  1. This is what we used to call a ‘Dancing Bear.’ If you have ever seen a dancing bear performing it is clear the animal is a poor dancer, the wonder is that a bear is dancing at all.

  2. Ym “Smartphone resin printers actually work, as long as you don’t use an actual smartphone, or an actual smartphone LCD”. FTFY, hth, hand ;) Also even so the print is a horrible blob with essentially no resolution, and the video which I won’t dare to listen to with audio on has a large silent movie caption saying “It did not work” (Did it work on second try, or was that about the resolution?). And now the headline got posted on Facebook with the O’No printer that nobody’s yet seen as illustration….

    1. The resolution of the test print in the video is indeed terrible, as I’d expect from my understanding of the optics of using a flat screen in contact with the resin vat. The thickness of glass between the liquid crystal layer and the resin is an inherent limiting factor.

  3. I’d be willing to bet it would work. I have a resin printer, and I’ve done some experiments, though not with an LCD… yet. An OLED desplay, such as on the Samsung Galaxy S series would be my first choice of tests. (The red and green don’t matter to most resins, which cure below 420nm, a 405nm laser pointer is great for curing, or putting parts together, such as with my LittleRP’s tiny tiny bed.)

    You’d want it as close as possible to the resin, some of the flexvats would be ideal for that.

  4. Hm, you don’t exactly need a fast LCD, and LCDs are pretty cheap. The problem would be getting the backlight off for a clear panel. Still, people have done that in the past to hack old overhead projectors up to laptop screens.

    Other problem might be similar to the reason they use front-surface mirrors in lasers. The light travelling through layers of glass is going to have focus problems. You could use optics to correct that, but that’d mean throwing away much of the light, and of course the optics themselves will need adjusting.

    DLP is reflective, so you don’t get those problems.

    Butanyway… Might well be cheaper to just build a simple LCD, sourced with no backlight, transparent, and a computer like a Raspi to control it.

    I wonder how you stop bits of solid resin sticking to the screen / tank bottom after use? What makes them stick to the Z-carriage over the light source itself?

    Mobile phones have done a great deal, economics-wise, to bring all sorts of functions to the public. But this is a bit like Google Cardboard, or it’s plastic equivalents. Good for a novelty, for a try, but not really up to full-time use. I suppose if you could make the printer REALLY dirt-cheap, since it’s just a tank and a motor, people might buy it for one-offs, or occasional use. You could then make your profit on the resin. Wouldn’t need to patent it, just market it in such a way that people think they have to use your brand. Inkjet ink being the obvious parallel.

  5. Problem is your phone is at the edge of what will activate photopolymer resins meaning your phone is slow compared to a form1. I believe the selling point of the ONO was the fact that it used a specially designed formula optimized for phones.

    In any case, I doubt you really need the motorized z lift. You could probably use a wind up mechanism to slowly lift the platform and one of the phone sensors to sense the z height. Then your cost drops a lot, like probably being able to give away the mechanism with the photopolymer. Or charging 10-20 dollars for the mechanism.

    1. It’s the work piece that gets lifted, not the phone, so how would you sense that?

      A motor and a drive screw, and a bit of plastic, can’t be that expensive, within tolerable prices I think. Having it hand-actuated is asking for so much trouble, one of the basic parts of the whole thing, worked by an idiot meatbag who can’t provide a constant rate, and might try running it backwards. Using a phone is already getting rid of a big chunk of the hardware, I think we need to keep the Z-drive.

  6. How about using the scanning laser setup from an old HP printer to scan in the “X” direction, with a second mirror setup to scan in the “Y” direction, like CRT TV’s? Even 300 DPI should be a good resolution for w 3D print. Add a lens to adjust for spherical distortion.

      1. If you’re going to do a Kickstarter and sell them, then yes, you need to be able to source the parts. But this is Hackaday. Most of us are just saying “hey, I could build that!”, which means scavenged lasers are definitely kosher.

  7. I had a friend actually recieve an ibox nano from that kickstarter a few years back, I bought it from him for $100 unopened since he never had time for it. After letting it sit another 6 months I pulled it out and got it setup. It works exactly like the one in the linked video…and as expected the results are kind of shit. My point is I suppose, that this is hardly a new idea and has been available commercially (although shitty) before. That homebrew model gives me hope for my nano though, as if he makes those designs available it might not be too tough to mod the nano into that superior model.

  8. optics man, I don’t think this is going to work. When you do this kind of exposure you use a laser because it is colimated light.

    Smartphone displays shine out as a cone because they are non-collimated. given the cone of light angle you can calculate how bad the resolution will be given the distance from the resin. It is similar to lithography/resist for making a chip exposure, only the exposure light is completely fucked up. Every surface will have a draft angle.

    Optics to correct this will be hard. They require precise alignment and expensive lensing.

  9. Word was ONO didn’t work outdoors because there was too much light – but shouldn’t the box seal out the daylight? It didn’t work indoors at NYMF because the table shook too much. Then there’s the logistical question of going without your phone during the entire print. And having to shut off all notifications, turn off auto sleep, etc.

    I suspect ONO is going to pull a Peachy Printer because the only thing an ONO can provably make is excuses.

    1. Ironically sunlight could work better because it might be more collimated than a backlight for a smarphone LCD (I.E. all the light rays are perpendicular to the exposure plane)

      This will prevent angled light, reflection problems, and other issues that destroy resolution in photopolymer exposure. Make a long black tube, point it at the sun, and I bet the light would be *pretty* collimated and remove a lot of weird effects.

  10. If that is a 3d printed cat I can make better 3d printed parts with clay modelling !
    Stop calling ridiculous blobs of plastic 3d prints.It is because of blogs of yours that 3d printing beginners go for the wrong 3d printers and lose faith in 3d printing.If at all call it ‘daylight resin printer experiment fail’

    And btw his whole ONO thing is a well thought out snake oil scam.I urge Hackaday to not promote this any further. We are yet to see a working prototype from ONO though shipping is slated to begin soon.

    1. Did you see his second YouTube channel video? The quality isn’t that bad… Especially compared to a cheap Chinese FDM printer. His build cost is uber low… Down to the cheapo 30~100w China led spotlight.

  11. Such anger! Why? This is Hackaday. He successfully built a working resin printer all by himself and iterated the design. He didn’t buy anything off of Kickstarter. This is exactly the kind of thing that should be posted here! I seriously doubt that he did it to vindicate ONO’s design. I heartily applaud his effort and hope to see more iterations.
    As for ONO, I beg to differ, we have seen a working prototype. What they are slated to be shipping soon is product not some kind of developer kit. Late, but par for the coarse with Kickstartups. (How long did it take Oculus to ship Product? Even after 2 Billion in funding?)
    Absence of evidence is still not evidence of absence.

    1. I exactly know the segment of kool-aid drinking KS backers that you fall into ;the ones that say “we’ll cross the bridge when we come to it” when doing business; the exact ones that snake-oil dealers like ONO look out for.
      If you haven’t yet seen it…all the stuff that has so far being demonstrated/seen on videos has been cleverly edited.They gave out ONOs as prizes at the ZBrush summit and not one…mind you ..not one video has surfaced after that !
      What I learnt later is that the boxes they gave away were taken back and exchanged for redeemable vouchers to be used if and when they go retail!

      I am not sure if these are not evidences of a scam for you then what is…good luck to you !

      1. No, no, no! I say “We’ll BURN that bridge when we get to it”, it adds so much more challenge and drama! Any true hacker knows that bridge is substandard and they know they can build a better one!
        That’s what [Ionel Ciobanuc] was thinking and I really want to see where he goes with it! Just think, I’ve got a spare 40″ if I want to print big things that don’t require sub mm precision, and if I want to print some nanobot parts or something, I’ve got a couple of micro displays with 4 x 12 micron pixel size on my bench!
        Thank you for your good luck wish. As for me, I wish good luck to ONO. They haven’t done anyone wrong yet, and to imagine a future where you are proved correct in your dire warnings seems like a waste of mental energy.
        I don’t know if you have been badly burned by someone, or you just feel an innate need to protect us all from our own poor judgement, but if there’s anything I’ve learned in the last half century, It’s that your future is directly affected by your own view of it. You take a chance on a better tomorrow, or go dig a hole and put on your tin hat.
        I know, I know.
        Your clairvoyance allows you to see right through the interwebs and tells you exactly what kind of person I am.
        Drink the Kool-aid, it tastes great!
        Take a chance, you might enjoy life and make more friends!

  12. Hello,
    after seeing this I keep wondering about the future, real high resolution printers that can print pretty fast.
    But the resin… though the printer could be cheap and simple, the resin would determine the cost of the final print, since no print is correct the first time (perhaps other people design everything first time right, my designs iterate many times). So this adds up in normal use I imagine. Low cost is what “melting plastic” printers do. PLA or ABS Reels of plastic in all sorts of colors are widely and cheaply available. Resin is more difficult, though this may change… How long can you store a bottle of resin? And how long can it be kept in the machine? How often do you need to clean your machine and with what chemicals?
    I can see the benefits of resin printers, reducing the complexity of the mechanical design although optical problem are added. And the potential of higher speeds and resolution seems appealing but currently don’t convince me to try it out.
    Because mainly, well… cost is one thing, but resin just seems a little messy, so I rather stick to ABS.

    In the mean while I keep watching all developments from the sideline.

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