Just a few short months ago, 3D printing with stereolithography was an uncommon and very expensive proposition. Consumer-oriented SLA machines such as the Form1 and the B9Creator are as expensive as the upper echelons of squirting plastic printers and the community behind these machines isn’t even as diverse as the forums for the fly-by-night printers featured on Kickstarter every week.
This may be about to change with last month’s reveal of the Peachy Printer, a remarkably clever stereolithography printer that requires no special equipment, hardly any electronics, and costs $100. Even if the folks behind Peachy never ship a single unit, their clever engineering ensures that stereolithography will be a staple in the makers toolbox in the near future.
There is, of course, the problem of material. While plastic filament can be bought just about everywhere, UV curing resin is a little harder to come by and much more expensive per kilogram or liter. Where then does the stereolithography experimenter get their hands on some of this magical material from the future?
Before we get to the article…
I’ve been writing a 3D Printing column once a week for a few months now, and I’m running out of ideas. If you have something in the 3D printer world you’d like to see covered in a little more depth than the standard Hackaday post, send in a tip. I’ll send you a few Hackaday stickers if it’s a good idea.
This stuff is really complicated
Needless to say, the market for SLA resin is a bit complicated. Some printers use DLP projectors, others use lasers. Some printers require a low viscosity resin while in others it doesn’t matter as much. This has a direct effect on what types of resins can be used with which printers. The market is so convoluted there’s no standardized unit of how to sell resin; some sell it by volume, others sell it by mass. For better or worse, the makers behind these SLA printers have stepped in and are selling their own resin.
It’s like printer ink!
The most expensive resin printer, and by some accounts the best, is the Form 1. While the printer itself is not shipping yet – a result of a few legal problems with a major 3D printer manufacturer – they are selling liters of clear and grey resin for $149. Another printer manufacturer, B9Creator sells their cheapest kilogram of resin for $107.
Or go straight to the manufacturers
Just because your new Form 1 or B9 came with a specific resin doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with other resins. There are a few light-curing resin manufacturers out there that will sell to any joe off the street. Bucktown Polymers is a name frequently dropped around the RepRap forums, and for good reason: they have UV, visible light, and IR curing resins available in a huge array of colors.
Another notable vendor of UV resin is 3D Ink, purveyors of an orange and clear resin priced at about $75 a liter. If versatility in materials is what you’re after (or you simply live in Europe), Spot-A Materials in Spain sells flexible, hard, and elastic resins for between €68 and €78 ($92 to $105 USD) per kilogram. Spot-A also sells dyes for their resins, giving the SLA experimenter a more diverse palette.
Judging from price alone, it appears the most innovative resin manufacturer is MakerJuice who offers two resins of varying viscosity and shrink for $40 and $45 per liter. Not only do they also offer pigments, they’ll also pre-mix colors and sell you a quantity smaller than the kilogram/quart/liter other suppliers offer. 500 ml comes to around $25 from MakerJuice, a pittance compared to what UV resins were selling for a few years ago.
Now compare this to plastic filament
A few weeks ago, we took a look at suppliers for the cheapest PLA filament, with mean price for 1kg of PLA filament being $43.93. If you compare that to the cheapest UV resin above, it’s actually cheaper to print with UV resin than plastic filament. Let that sink in for a bit. Only a few years ago, printing a plastic octopus or Yoda head on an SLA printer would have cost far more than the actual value of the object. Now, we’re looking at a world of disposable plastic trinkets with unparalleled accuracy printed for just pennies.
As the price of resin comes down, be on the lookout for cheaper resin printers. As the technology improves, we should be looking for proper SLA printers – either cheaper Form 1s and B9s or upscaled Peachys – that approach the $1000 price barrier.