Resin Printers Are Now Cheaper, Still Kind Of A Hassle

Your run-of-the-mill desktop 3D printer is based on a technology known as Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), where the machine squirts out layers of hot plastic that stick to each other. But that’s not the only way to print a Benchy. One of the more exotic alternative techniques uses a photosensitive resin that gets hardened layer by layer. The results are impressive, but historically the printers have been very expensive.

But it looks like that’s finally about to change. The [3D Printing Nerd] recently did a review of the Longer3D Orange 10 which costs about $230, less than many FDM printers. It isn’t alone, either. Monoprice has a $200 resin printer, assuming you can find it in stock.

The resin isn’t cheap and it’s harder to handle than filament. Why is it harder to handle? For one is smells, but more importantly, you aren’t supposed to get it on your skin. The trade off is that the resulting printed parts look fantastic, with fine detail that isn’t readily possible with traditional 3D printing techniques.

Some resin printers use a laser to cure resin at particular coordinates. This printer uses an LCD to produce an image that creates each layer. Because the LCD exposes all the resin at one time, each layer takes a fixed amount of time no matter how big or detailed the layer is. Unfortunately, using these displays means the build area isn’t very large: the manufacturer says it’s 98 by 55 millimeters with a height of up to 140mm. The claimed resolution, though, is 10 microns on the Z-axis and 115 microns on the LCD surface.

Getting the prints out of the printer requires you to remove the uncured resin. In the video, they used a playing card and two alcohol baths. After you remove the uncured resin, you’ll want to do a final curing step. More expensive printers have dedicated curing stations but on this budget printer, you have to cure the parts separately. How? By leaving them out in the sun. Presumably, you could use any suitable UV light source.

There are a few other similar-priced options out there. Sparkmaker, Wanhao (resold by Monoprice). If you’re willing to spend more, Prusa has even thrown their orange hat into the ring. If you were wondering if you could use the LCD in your phone to do this, the answer is sort of.

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The Bluetooth LCD Sniffer You Didn’t Know You Needed

At one time or another, we’ve all suffered through working with a piece of equipment that didn’t feature a way to export its data to another device. Whether it was just too old to offer such niceties, or the manufacturer locked the capability behind some upgrade, the pain of staring at digits ticking over on a glowing LCD display and wishing there was a practical way to scrape what our eyes were seeing is well known to hackers.

That was precisely the inspiration for DoMSnif, the dot matrix LCD sniffer that [Blecky] has been working on. Originally the project started as a way to record the temperature of his BRTRO-420 reflow oven, but realizing that such a device could have widespread appeal to other hardware hackers, he’s rightfully decided to enter it into the 2019 Hackaday Prize. If perfected, it could be an excellent way to bolt data capture capabilities to your older devices.

The first phase of this project was figuring out how to capture and parse the signals going into the device’s KS0108 LCD. Getting the data was certainly easy enough, he just had to hook a logic analyzer up between the display and the main board of the device. Of course, figuring out what it all means is a different story.

After running the oven for a bit with the analyzer recording, [Blecky] had more than enough data to get started on decoding it. Luckily, the layout of this fairly common 128×64 pixel display is well documented and easy enough to understand. With a little work, he was able to create a tool that would import the captured data and display it on a virtual LCD.

Unfortunately, the Bluetooth part is where things get tricky. Ultimately, [Blecky] wants to ditch the logic analyzer and use a Adafruit Feather nRF52 Bluefruit to capture the signals going to the LCD and pipe them to a waiting device over Bluetooth. But his testing has found that the nRF52’s radio is simply too slow. The display is receiving data every 14us, but it takes the radio at least 50us to send a packet.

[Blecky] is looking at ways around this problem, and we’re confident he’ll crack it. The solution could be in buffering and compressing the data before sending it out, though you’d lose the ability to monitor the display in real-time. Even if he has to abandon the Bluetooth aspect entirely and make the device wired, we still think there would be a market for an easy to use hardware and software solution for scraping LCD data.

This Tiny TFT Pendant Is Digital Jewelry

Hackers have a multitude of skills, many are well-versed in the ways of all things that blink and flash. These abilities have often be applied to the field of jewelry and human adornment, and many LEDs have been employed in this work. [Deshipu] has been attempting something a touch different however, by constructing a tiny TFT pendant.

The basic idea is not dissimilar from those USB photo keychains of recent history. A SAMD21 Cortex M0+ serves as the brains of the operation, with the tiny microcontroller being soldered to a custom PCB that makes up the body of the pendant. A ST7735S TFT LCD screen is then attached to act as the display. Charging and delivery of images is done over USB, which can be handled natively by the SAMD21.

Currently, the pendant is capable of displaying 16-color BMPs, with the intention to create a converter for animated GIFs in the pipeline. Potential upgrades also involve creating a larger battery pack to sit behind the wearer’s neck, as currently the device has just 8 mAh to work with.

It’s a nicely designed piece, with the pendant appearing barely bigger than the screen itself. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a hacker take on a pendant, and we’re sure it won’t be the last. If you’ve got the goods, be sure to hit up the tip line. 

Prusa Printer Gets An LCD-ectomy, Gains A VFD

What’s wrong with the OEM display on a Prusa I3 Mk3? Nothing at all. Then why replace the stock LCD with a vacuum fluorescent display? Because VFDs are much, much cooler than LCDs.

(Pedantic Editor’s Note: VFDs actually run a little warm.)

At least that’s the reasoning [Scott M. Baker] applied to his Prusa upgrade. We have to admit to a certain affection for all retro displays relying on the excitation of gasses. Nixies, Numitrons, and even the lowly neon pilot light all have a certain charm of their own, but by our reckoning the VFD leads the pack. [Scott] chose a high-quality Noritake 4×20 alphanumeric display module for his upgrade, thriftily watching eBay for bargains rather than buying from the big distributors. The module has a pinout that’s compatible with the OEM LCD, so replacing it is a snap. [Scott] simplified that further by buying a replacement Prusa control board with no display, to which he soldered the Noritake module. Back inside the bezel, the VFD is bright and crisp. We like the blue-green digits against the Prusa red-orange, but [Scott] has an orange filter on order for the VFD to make everything monochromatic. That’ll be a nice look too.

A completely none functional hack, to be sure, but sometimes aesthetics need attention too. And it’s possible that a display switch would help the colorblind use the UI better, like this oscilloscope mod aims to do.

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Driving A 16×2 LCD With Voltage Modulation

The basic 16×2 LCD is an extremely popular component that we’ve seen used in more projects than we could possibly count. Part of that is because modern microcontrollers make it so easy to work with; if you’ve got an I2C variant of the display, it only takes four wires to drive it. That puts printing a line of text on one of these LCDs a step or two above blinking an LED on a digital pin on the hierarchy of beginner’s electronics projects.

What’s that? Even four wires is too many? In that case, you might be interested in this hack from [Vinod] which shows how you can drive the classic 16×2 with data and power on the same pair of wires. You’ll still need a microcontroller “backpack” for the LCD to interpret the modulated voltage, but if you’ve got an application for a simple remote display, this is definitely worth checking out.

The basic idea is to “blink” the 5 V line so quick that a capacitor on the LCD side can float the electronics over the dips in voltage. As long as one of the pins of the microcontroller is connected to the 5 V line before the capacitor, it will be able to pick up when the line goes low. With a high enough data rate and a large enough capacitor as a buffer, you’re well on the way to encoding your data to be displayed.

For the transmitting side, [Vinod] is using a Python script on his computer that’s sending out the text for the LCD over a standard USB to UART converter. That’s fed into a small circuit put together on a scrap of perfboard that triggers a MOSFET off of the UART TX line.

We actually covered the theory behind this technique years ago, but it’s always interesting to see somebody put together a real-world example. There might not be too many practical uses for this trick in the era of dirt-cheap microcontrollers bristling with I/O, but it might make a fun gag at your hackerspace.

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An FPGA Drives This Antique LCD Screen

If you’re reading this article on a desktop or laptop computer, you’re probably staring at millions of pixels on a TFT LCD display. TFT became a dominant technology due to its picture quality and fast response times, but it’s not the only way to build an LCD. There are cheaper technologies, such as STN and its color variant, CSTN. They’re rarely used nowadays, but [Wenting Zhang] had one lying around and wanted to take a crack at driving it.

Still scenes aren’t bad, but motion blur is readily apparent on any moving content.

The screen in question came courtesy of a 20th century laptop. It’s a Hitachi SX21V001-Z4, with a resolution of 640×480 pixels. Driver boards for CSTN screens were once readily available, however now such things are difficult to come by.

[Wenting] instead grabbed an FPGA and got to work. Driving displays can be taxing for small microcontrollers, so an FPGA is always a great choice when working on such projects. They’re easily capable of generating whatever weird and wacky signals are required, and can generate many such signals in parallel without breaking a sweat.

[Wenting] successfully got the screen up and running, and hooked up to a VGA input. Image quality is surprisingly passable for still images, though things absolutely go to pieces when motion is introduced. [Wenting]’s demo shows off the screen playing Breath of the Wild, and it’s a great showcase of how far technology has come since the mid-90s.

Driving strange LCDs is a hacker rite of passage, and we see plenty of efforts around these parts. Video after the break.

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Driving A Controllerless LCD With The Humble Arduino Uno

These days, you could be forgiven for thinking driving an LCD from a microcontroller is easy. Cheap displays have proliferated, ready to go on breakout boards with controllers already baked in. Load up the right libraries and you’re up and running in a matter of minutes. However, turn your attention to trying to drive a random LCD you’ve yanked out of a piece of old equipment, and suddenly things get harder. [Ivan Kostoski] was in just such a position and decided to get down to work.

[Ivan]’s LCD was a 320×240 STN device salvaged from an old tape library. The display featured no onboard controller, and the original driver wasn’t easily repurposed. Instead, [Ivan] decided to drive it directly from an Arduino Uno.

This is easier said than done. There are stringent timing requirements that push the limits of the 8-bit platform, let alone the need for a negative voltage to drive the screen and further hardware to drive the backlight. These are all tackled in turn, with [Ivan] sharing his tips to get the most flexibility out of the display. Graphics and text modes are discussed, along with optimizations that could be possible through the varied use of available RAM and flash.

The code is available on Github. If you need inspiration for your own controllerless LCD driver. [Ben Heck] has done similar work too, using FPGA grunt to get the job done.