Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen massive price reductions on consumer 3D printers based on masked stereolithography (MSLA) technology. As the name implies, these machines use a standard LCD panel to selectively mask off the ultraviolet light coming from an array of LEDs. Add in a motorized Z stage, and you’ve got a simple and cheap way of coaxing UV resin into three dimensional shapes. These days, $200 USD can get you a turn-key MSLA printer with resolution far beyond the capabilities of filament-based FDM machines.
But [JD] still thinks we can do better. His project aims to produce a fully-functional MSLA printer for $30, and perhaps as low as $15 if manufactured in sufficient quality. He believes that by making high-resolution 3D printing more accessible, it will allow users all over the globe to bring their ideas to life. It’s no wonder he’s calling his machine the Inspire 3D Printer.
This isn’t just some pie in the sky concept rolling around in [JD]’s head, either. You can order the Inspire Development Kit right now for just $30, though he makes it clear what you’ll receive isn’t quite a functional MSLA printer. By leveraging a common LCD module, the ESP32, and several 3D printed parts, he’s proven his price point for the kit is achievable; but there’s still plenty of work that needs to be done before the machine is ready for the general public.
For one thing, he’s still working the kinks out of the Z movement. The current design is 3D printed, but [JD] says he’s not quite happy with the amount of slop in the movement and is considering replacing the entire thing with the linear actuator from an optical drive. We’ve already seen these parts reused for accurately positioning lasers, so there’s certainly precedent for it. The firmware for the ESP32 is also in its infancy, and currently only allows the user to print from a selection of simple hard-coded shapes as a proof of concept.
[Jan Mrázek] is no stranger at all to home-grown improvements with his Elegoo Mars SLA 3D printer, and there is a lot going on in his experimental multi-LED upgrade which even involved casting his own lens array. In the end it did speed up his prints by a factor of three to four, though he cooked an LCD to failure in the process. Still, it was a fun project done during a COVID-19 lockdown; as usual there is a lot to learn from [Jan]’s experiences but the mod is not something he necessarily recommends people do for themselves.
[Jan] started by wondering whether better print quality and performance could be obtained by improving the printer’s UV light source. The stock printer uses a single large UV LED nestled into a reflector, but [Jan] decided to try making a more precise source of UV, aiming to make the UV rays as parallel as possible.
To do this, he took a two-pronged approach. One was to replace the single large UV LED with a 4×7 array of emitters plus heat sink and fans. The other was to make a matching array of custom lenses to get the UV rays as parallel as possible.
Casting one’s own lens array out of clear epoxy was a lot of work and had mixed results, but again, it was a lockdown project and the usual “is-this-really-worth-it” rules were relaxed. In short, casting a single custom lens out of clear epoxy worked shockingly well, but when [Jan] scaled it up to casting a whole 4×7 array of them, results were mixed. Mold deformation and artifacts caused by the areas between individual lenses robbed the end result of much of its promise.
More success was had with the array of UV emitters, which enabled faster curing thanks to higher power, but the heat needs to be managed. The stock emitter of the printer is about 30 W, and [Jan] was running his new array at 240 W. This meant a blazing fast one second exposure time per layer, but the heat generated by the new lighting was higher than anticipated. After only ten hours the LCD failed, probably at least in part due to the heat. [Jan] halved the power of the array down to 120 W and added an extra fan, which appears to have done the trick. Exposure time is two to three seconds per layer, and it’s up to 150 hours of printing without problems.
Again, it’s not a process [Jan] necessarily recommends to others (and he definitely recommends buying lenses if at all possible instead of casting them) but as usual there is a lot to learn from his frank sharing of results, both good and bad. We’ve seen 3D-printed lenses as well as adding WiFi connectivity to one of these hobbyist printers, and it’s great to see the spirit of hacking alive and well when it comes to these devices.
Recent price drops put entry level masked stereolithography (MSLA) resin 3D printers at around $200 USD, making them a very compelling tool for makers and hackers. But as you might expect, getting the price this low often involves cutting several corners. One of the ways manufacturers have made their machines so cheap is by simplifying the electronics and paring down the feature set to the absolute minimum.
If this were a traditional 3D printer, he might have installed OctoPrint and been done with it. But resin printers are a very different beast. In the end, [Luiz] had to develop his own remote control software that worked around the unique limitations of the printer’s electronics. His software runs on a Raspberry Pi Zero and uses Linux’s “USB Gadget” system to make it appear as a flash drive when plugged into the USB port on the Elegoo Mars Pro.
This allows sending object files to the printer over the network, but there was a missing piece to the puzzle. [Luiz] still needed to manually go over to the printer and select which file he wanted to load from the menu. Until he realized there was an exposed serial port on control board that allowed him to pass commands to the printer. Between the serial connection and faux USB Mass Storage device, his mariner software has full control over the Mars Pro and is able to trigger and monitor print jobs remotely.
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 Mrázek] 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.
For one reason or another, the World Maker Faire in New York has become the preeminent place to launch 3D printers. MakerBot did it with the Thing-O-Matic way back when, and over the years we’ve seen some interesting new advances come out of Queens during one special weekend in September.
Today Prusa Research announced their latest creation. It’s the resin printer you’ve all been waiting for. The Prusa SL1 is aiming to become the Prusa Mk 3 of the resin printer world: it’s a solid printer, it’s relatively cheap (kit price starts at $1299/€1299), and it produces prints that are at least as good as resin printers that cost three times as much.
The tech inside the SL1 is about what you’d expect if you’ve been following resin printers for a while. The resin is activated by a bank of LEDs shining through a photomask, in this case a 5.5 inch, 1440p display. Everything is printed on a removable bed that can be transferred over to a separate ‘curing chamber’ after the print is done. It’s more or less what you would expect, but there are some fascinating refinements to the design that make this a resin printer worthy of carrying the Prusa name.
Common problems with a masked SLA printer that uses LEDs and an LCD are the interface between the LCD and the resin, and the temperature of the display itself. Resin is not kind to LCD displays, and to remedy this problem, Prusa has included an FEP film on the bottom of the removable tank. This is a user-replaceable part (technically a consumable, at least to the same extent as a PEI build plate on a filament printer), and Prusa will be selling those as spare parts on their store. The LCD is also cooled; one of the major drawbacks of shining several watts of UV through an LCD is the lifetime of the display. Cooling the display helps, and should greatly increase the lifetime of the printer. All of this is wrapped up in an exceptionally heavy metal case with the lovely hinged UV-opaque orange plastic lid.
Of course, saying you’ve built a resin printer is one thing, but how do the prints look? Exceptional. The Prusa booth at Maker Faire was loaded up with sample prints from the machine, and they’re of the same high quality you would expect from the Form 3D printers that have been the go-to in the resin printer world. The Prusa SLA also works with big-O Open resins, meaning you’re not tied to a single resin vendor.
This is just the announcement of the Prusa resin printer, but they are taking preorders. The price for the kit — no word on how complex of a kit it is — is $1300, while the assembled printer is $1600, with the first units shipping in January.