DIY Monochrome LCD Hack Doesn’t Go As Planned

Manufacturers of low-cost 3D printers that use the masked stereolithography (MSLA) process are able to build their machines so cheaply because they’re using repurposed smartphone or tablet LCD panels to mask off the UV backlight. Considering the quality you get out of even the entry-level MSLA resin printers, we certainly aren’t complaining about this bit of thrift. But as [Jan Mr├ízek] explains in a recent blog post, there’s certainly room for improvement.

The problem is that those repurposed LCD panels are, as you’d expect, color displays. After all, even the bottom of the barrel mobile devices moved away from monochrome displays decades ago. But in this case, that’s not what you really want. Since the printer operates on a single wavelength of light, the color filters inside the LCD are actually absorbing light that could otherwise be curing the resin. So an MSLA printer with a monochrome screen would use less energy and print faster. There’s only one problem: it’s not very easy to find high-resolution monochrome displays in the year 2020.

So [Jan] decided to see if he could take a replacement screen intended for his Elegoo Mars MSLA printer and convert it from color to monochrome by disassembling it and manually removing the color filters. If this sounds a bit crazy, that’s because it is. Turns out taking apart an LCD, modifying its internal layout, and putting it all back together in working order is just as difficult as you’d think.

But it was still worth a try. [Jan] pulls the display apart, removes the liquid crystals, scrapes off the color filters, and then puts it all back together again. His first attempt got him a monochrome display that actually worked, but with debris trapped inside the screen, the image was too poor to be useful. He tried again, this time trying harder to keep foreign material out of the crystals. But when he got it back together a second time, he found it no longer functioned. He thinks it’s possible that his attempt to clean up the inside of the display was too aggressive, but really there are so many things that could go wrong here it’s hard to pin down just one.

Long story short, manually creating monochrome displays for low-cost MSLA printers might not be a viable option. Until a better solution comes along, you might be interested in seeing some slightly less invasive ways of improving your resin print quality.

Improving Exposure On A Masked SLA Printer

It’s taken longer than some might have thought, but we’re finally at the point where you can pick up an SLA 3D printer for a few hundred bucks. These machines, which use light to cure a resin, are capable of far higher resolution than their more common FDM counterparts, though they do bring along their own unique issues and annoyances. Especially on the lower end of the price spectrum.

[FlorianH] recently picked up the $380 SparkMaker FHD, and while he’s happy with the printer overall, he’s identified a rather annoying design flaw. It seems that the upgraded UV backlight in the FHD version of the SparkMaker produces somewhat irregular light, which in turn manifests itself as artifacts on the final print. Due to hot spots on the panel, large objects printed on the SparkMaker show fairly obvious scarring.

Now you might expect the fix for this problem to be in the hardware, but he’s taken it in a different direction. These printers use an LCD panel to block off areas of the UV backlight, thereby controlling how much of the resin is exposed. This is technique is officially known as “masked SLA”, and is the technology used in most of these new entry level resin printers.

As luck would have it, the SparkMaker FHD allows showing various levels of grayscale on the LCD rather than a simple binary value for each pixel. At least in theory, this allows [FlorianH] to compensate for the irregular backlight by adjusting how much the UV is attenuated by the LCD panel. He’s focusing on the printer he personally owns, but the idea should work on any masked SLA printer that accepts grayscale values.

The first step was to map the backlight, which [FlorianH] did by soaking thin pieces of paper in a UV reactant chemical, and draping them over the backlight. He then photographed the illumination pattern, and came up with some OpenCV code that takes this images and uses the light intensity data to compensate for the local UV brightness underneath the sliced model.

So far, this method has allowed [FlorianH] to noticeably reduce the scarring, but he thinks it’s still possible to do better. He’s released the code for this backlight compensation script, and welcomes anyone who might wish to take a look at see how it could be improved.

An uneven backlight is just one of the potential new headaches these low-cost “masked” SLA printers give you. While they’re certainly very compelling, you should understand what you’re getting into before you pull the trigger on one.