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 artefacts 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 that’s not the way he’s taken it. 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.

When Does Moving To Resin 3D Printing Make Sense?

An Elegoo Mars DLP resin 3D printer, straight to my doorstep for a few hundred bucks. What a time to be alive.

Resin-based 3D printers using stereolithography (SLA) and especially digital light processing (DLP) are getting more common and much more affordable. Prosumer-level options like Formlabs and the Prusa SL1 exist, but more economical printers like the Elegoo Mars, Anycubic Photon, and more can be had for a few hundred bucks. Many printers and resin types can even be ordered directly from Amazon, right at this moment.

Resin prints can look fantastic, so when does it make sense to move to one of these cheap DLP printers? To know that, consider the following things:

  • The printing process and output of resin printers is not the same as for filament-based printers. Design considerations, pre-processing, and post-processing are very different.
  • Resin printing has a different workflow, with consumables and hidden costs beyond the price of resin refills.

Things may not be quite where fused deposition modeling (FDM) printers were just a few short years ago when we were extremely impressed with the quality of printer one could get for about $200, but it is undoubtedly far more accessible than ever before. Let’s look at how to inform a decision about whether to take the plunge. Continue reading “When Does Moving To Resin 3D Printing Make Sense?”

X-Rays Are The Next Frontier In Space Communications

Hundreds of years from now, the story of humanity’s inevitable spread across the solar system will be a collection of engineering problems solved, some probably in heroic fashion. We’ve already tackled a lot of these problems in our first furtive steps into the wider galaxy. Our engineering solutions have taken humans to the Moon and back, but that’s as far as we’ve been able to send our fragile and precious selves.

While we figure out how to solve the problems keeping us trapped in the Earth-Moon system, we’ve sent fleets of robotic emissaries to do our exploration by proxy, to make the observations we need to frame the next set of engineering problems to be solved. But as we reach further out into the solar system and beyond, our exploration capabilities are increasingly suffering from communications bottlenecks that restrict how much data we can ship back to Earth.

We need to find a way to send vast amounts of data back as quickly as possible using as few resources as possible on both ends of the communications link. Doing so may mean turning away from traditional radio communications and going way, way up the dial and developing practical means for communicating with X-rays.

Continue reading “X-Rays Are The Next Frontier In Space Communications”

Entry-Level SLA Printer Gets Upgrades, Prints Better

Fused-deposition modeling (FDM) printers have the lion’s share of the 3D-printing market, with cheap, easy-to-use printers slurping up thousands of kilos of filament every year. So where’s the challenge with 3D-printing anymore? Is there any room left to tinker? [Physics Anonymous] thinks so, and has started working on what might be the next big challenge in additive manufacturing for the hobbyist: hacking cheap stereolithography (SLA) printers. To wit, this teardown of and improvements to an Anycubic Photon printer.

The Photon, available for as little as $450, has a lot going for it in the simplicity department. There’s no need to worry about filament and extruder issues, since the print is built up a layer at a time by photopolymerization of a liquid resin. And with but a single moving part – the build platform that rises up gradually from the resin tank on a stepper-driven lead screw – SLA printers don’t suffer from the accumulated errors of three separate axes. But, Anycubic made some design compromises in the motion control area to meet their price point for the Photon, leaving a perfect target for upgrades. [Physics Anonymous] added quality linear bearings to each side of the OEM vertical column and machined a carrier for the build platform. The result is better vertical positioning accuracy and decreased slop. It’s a simple fix that greatly improves print quality, with almost invisible layers.

Sadly, the Photon suffered a major, unrelated injury to its LCD screen, but it looks like [PA] will be able to recover from that. We hope so, because we find SLA printing very intriguing and would like to dive right in. But maybe we should start small first.

Continue reading “Entry-Level SLA Printer Gets Upgrades, Prints Better”

Fail Of The Week: EPROMs, Rats’ Nests, Tanning Lamps, And Cardboard On Fire

It all started when I bought a late-1990s synthesizer that needed a firmware upgrade. One could simply pull the ROM chip, ship it off to Yamaha for a free replacement, and swap in the new one — in 2003. Lacking a time machine, a sensible option is to buy a pre-programmed aftermarket EPROM on eBay for $10, and if you just want a single pre-flashed EPROM that’s probably the right way to go. But I wanted an adventure.

Spoiler alert: I did manage to flash a few EPROMs and the RM1X is happily running OS 1.13 and pumping out the jams. That’s not the adventure. The adventure is trying to erase UV-erasable EPROMS.

And that’s how I ended up with a small cardboard fire and a scorched tanning lamp, and why I bought a $5 LED, and why I left EPROMs out in the sun for four days. And why, in the end, I gave up and ordered a $15 EPROM eraser from China. Along the way, I learned a ton about old-school UV-erasable EPROMs, and now I have a stack of obsolete silicon that’s looking for a new project like a hammer looks for a nail — just as soon as that UV eraser arrives in the mail.

Continue reading “Fail Of The Week: EPROMs, Rats’ Nests, Tanning Lamps, And Cardboard On Fire”

Have Yourself A Recursive Little Christmas: Ornament That Prints Ornaments

Sure there are the occasional functional Christmas tree ornaments; we had one that plugged into the lights and was supposed to sound like a bird gently trilling its song, but was in fact so eardrum-piercing that we were forbidden from using it. But in general, ornaments are just supposed to be for looks, right? Not so fast — this 3D-printed ornament has a 3D-printer inside that prints other ornaments. One day it might just be the must-have in functional Christmas decor.

Given that [Sean Hodgins] had only a few days to work on this tree-dwelling 3D-printer, the questionable print quality and tiny print volume can be overlooked. But the fact that he got this working at all is quite a feat. We were initially surprised that he chose to build a stereolithography (SLA) printer rather than the more common fused deposition modeling (FDM) printer, but it makes sense. SLA only requires movement in the Z-axis, provided in this case by the guts of an old DVD drive. The build platform moves in and out of a tiny resin tank, the base of which has a small LCD screen whose backlight has been replaced by a bunch of UV LEDs. A Feather M0 controls the build stage height and displays pre-sliced bitmaps on the LCD, curing the resin in the tank a slice at a time.

Results were mixed, with the tiny snowflake being the best of the bunch. For a rush job, though, and one that competed with collaborating on a package-theft deterring glitter-bomb, it’s pretty impressive. Here’s hoping that this turns into a full-sized SLA build like [Sean] promises.

Continue reading “Have Yourself A Recursive Little Christmas: Ornament That Prints Ornaments”

Seeing Like Bees With Ultraviolet Photography

When it comes to seeing in strange spectrums, David Prutchi is the guy you want to talk to. He’s taken pictures of rocks under long, medium and short UV light, he’s added thermal imaging to consumer cameras, and he’s made cameras see polarization. There’s a lot more to the world than what the rods and cones on your retina can see, and David is one of the best at revealing it. For this year’s talk at the Hackaday Superconference, David is talking about DIY Ultraviolet Photography. It’s how bees see, and it’s the bees knees.

Continue reading “Seeing Like Bees With Ultraviolet Photography”