Looking for a desktop Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printer? Read our guide to the best resin (DLP/SLA) 3D printers in winter 2016-2017.
Stereolithography (SLA) may trail Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) printers when it comes to sales, but in terms of outright quality then you’ll find that an SLA 3D printer is hands down the winner.
Both 3D printing technologies are still in their infancy for consumer grade machines, having entered the home and small business markets only relatively recently. 3D printing has been around for decades, but so too have their patents. As the technologies and materials advance — and patents expire — the sales gap between the two should quickly narrow.
Quality is of course what we all strive for when it comes to our 3D prints. While the majority of today’s FFF printers will turn out a passable model, compare an FFF print to one produced by any SLA 3D printer and you’ll quickly see that SLA takes the lead when it comes to the overall quality of finish.
At present however, there’s a very good reason why FFF printers are the popular choice; they’re fast, relatively clean, and cheap. By comparison, an SLA 3D printer is relatively slow, messy, and even the cheapest models are still expensive.
Looking at the current generation of desktop SLA 3D printers, their price and complexity is quickly falling, and there are now many models available for less than $5000.
With many SLA 3D printer models now affordable, and if quality is absolutely key for your requirements, then consider taking the plunge. Here we take a look at some of the best value resin 3D printers available today.
In our list, we considered only SLA 3D printers that cost around $7,000, so this leaves out the industrial 3D printers by companies such as EnvisionTEC, DWS, Prodways and others. Among the larger 3D printer manufacturers, only 3D Systems makes the list with its ProJet 1200.
As well as those at the top end, we’ve also excluded those at the lower end of the spectrum. We didn’t include DIY SLA 3D printer kits or SLA 3D printers that are only available with external projectors.
How Do Resin (DLP/SLA) 3D Printers Work?
The principle of a Resin, DLP or SLA 3D printer is that they use photopolymers as consumables. These are liquid materials that react to light by solidifying.
There are to ways to “activate” the photopolymerization reaction; one is by using a laser to “draw” the object’s layers. This is called pure stereolithography (SLA).
Another is by projecting the entire slice of the object using a digital projector just like the ones used to watch movies. This process is called digital light processing (DLP).
|3D Printer||Method||Resins||Build Volume (mm)||Resolution (µm)||Price (USD)||Check Price|
|Formlabs Form 2||SLA||standard, transparent, tough, flexible, castable wax, dental||145 x 145 x 175||Laser Spot Size: 140
Z-Axis Resolution: 25 - 100
|3D Systems ProJet 1200||SLA||standard, transparent, tough, castable wax||43 x 27 x 150||Laser Spot Size: 0.023 (585 dpi)
Z-Axis Resolution: 30
|DWS Lab Xfab||SLA||standard, transparent, flexible, castable wax, ceramic||180 x 180||Laser Spot Size: 250
Z-Axis Resolution: 10 - 100
XYZ Printing Nobel 1.0
||SLA||standard, transparent||128 x 128 x 200||Laser Spot Size: 300
Z-Axis Resolution: 25 - 100
Formlabs Form 1+
||SLA||standard, transparent, tough, flexible, castable wax||125 x 125 x 165||Laser Spot Size: 155
z-Axis Resolution: 25 - 200
|MoonRay||DLP||standard, transparent, tough, castable wax, dental||124 x 81 x 229||Pixel Size: 100
Z-Axis Resolution: 20 - 100
|Autodesk Ember||DLP||standard, investment, third party||64 x 40 x 134||Pixel Size: 50
Z-Axis Resolution: 10 - 100
|B9CreatoR v1.2||DLP||standard, transparent, tough, castable wax, dental||57 x 32 x 203||Pixel Size: 30, 50 or 70
Z-Axis Resolution: as low as 5
|UNCIA 3D||DLP||standard||102 x 77 x 170||100 (no specifications on exact x, y and z resolutions)||1,379|
|Morpheus 3D Printer||DLP||third party||330 x 180 x 300||Pixel Size: 174
Z-Axis Resolution: 25 - 200
|Kudo 3D Titan 2||DLP||Passive Self-Peeling||190 x 109 x 24.9||Pixel Size: 37 - 100
Z-Axis Resolution: 5
|CoLiDo DLP 1.0||DLP||standard||100 x 760 x 150||Pixel Size: n/a
Z-Axis Resolution: 50
The Best SLA 3D Printers
The Form 2 supplies a decent 145 x 145 x 175 mm build area (up from 125 x 125 x 165 mm on the Form 1+), and is capable of print layer heights of between 25 and 100 microns with a laser spot size of 140 microns.
Ease of use is the key factor with this SLA 3D printer, where the design of the Form 2 has taken usability to the next level. The cartridge system makes changing materials a breeze, and although the cartridges are considered consumables, they can be reused a number of times before being replaced.
On the front of the machine is a touch screen. This makes navigation through settings and options easy, but it’s the direct Wifi connection for network printing that really stands out. Print procedures have been expertly thought out, and this makes the Form 2 perfectly suited as a general purpose workhorse rather than a specialist machine that can only be used by the office geek or home expert.
Where to Buy: Formlabs
Size is a major consideration for SLA 3D printer manufacturers who realise that their target audience is small business. The 3D Systems ProJet 1200, like the Autodesk Ember, is a small desktop 3D printer ideal for jewellery makers, dentists and electronics manufacturers.
The ProJet 1200 uses a variant of SLA printing called Micro-SLA, and the printer is the first attempt by 3D Systems (the company that invented stereolithography) to bring its professional level SLA 3D printer technology to the desktop.
The small print area of 43 x 27 x 150 mm is ideal for small scale prototyping. Layer height is 30 microns and laser spot size is 0.023 (585 dpi).
There’s a good amount of material from the 3D Systems Visit FTX range that include cast, clear, gold, green, silver, gray. These plastics are tailored for prototyping and casting patterns.
Where to Buy: 3D Systems
Marketed as the first high-end SLA 3D printer at a consumer price, the DWS Lab Xfab certainly brings a level of expectation. It might not be as affordable as the Form 2, but Digital Wax Systems is a company with a long running history of professional grade SLA 3D machines.
Based in Northern Italy, the company boasts some of the highest level SLA machines on the market. These have traditionally been aimed at the jewellery and dental markets. If you’re interested in one of those high end machines, they all start at a price well above €10,000.
The Xfab differs by offering a cylindrical build plate measuring 180 mm in diameter, and enabling a build area height of 180 mm. When it comes to layer heights it can achieve between 10-100 microns with a laser spot size of 250 microns.
Material support for the printer is also a step ahead of the Form 2, with 10 DWS high grade materials already available. These include nano-ceramic, rubber-like, castable and transparent resins, all in convenient, easy to use containers.
Where to Buy: DWSLab.
XYZ printing are known for their budget FFF printers, and now they bring the same ethos to a SLA 3D printer. The Nobel 1.0 is a great looking machine and offers a truly affordable SLA printer that will inevitably appeal to many home users.
The printer offers a moderate 128 x 128 x 200 mm build volume and layer heights of between 25 and 200 microns, with a laser spot size of 300 microns.
As with the rest of the XYZ range, the printer has been built with a budget in mind. So some of the higher end features and finish that you’ll find on the other SLA printers are somewhat lacking with the Nobel 1.0. That said, the Nobel 1.0 performs well and will give many their first proper taste of the high quality of SLA.
At present the resins available from the Nobel 1.0 are limited with a range of five colours in just one general usage material.
It also promises to be an almost entirely “plug & play” stand alone printer, thanks to the USB slot and a mechanism to automatically refill the resin as needed.
The Form 1+ is an update to the Form 1, which was the first low cost SLA 3D printer to hit the market back in 2012. Since its release in 2014, the Form 1+ has been a huge success and is the top-selling 3D printer in its category.
The Form 1+ has a slightly smaller platform when compared to the later Form 2, measuring 125 x 125 x 165 mm, and will print layer heights ranging from 25-200 microns with a laser spot size of 155 microns.
As with the Form 2, the Form 1+ offers pure stereolithography. Not relying on a projector (using a laser to design the slice instead) this means the printer is not dependent on image resolutions and can thus create high resolution larger objects.
FormLabs Resin library is expanding, and although there isn’t the support for multiple colours, the different resins available cover most uses and include castable and “Tough Resin”.
Where to Buy: Formlabs
The Best DLP 3D Printers
The MoonRay has a huge following and is another crowdfunding success story. The MoonRay from SprintRay first appeared on Kickstarter in Summer 2015, billing itself as the world’s best desktop DLP 3D printer. Backers believed them, to the tune of $422,830 in pledges.
Despite its compact size it still features a relatively decent print area of 127 x 81 x 203 mm. It has a layer height which can be set to 20, 50 or 100 microns and an X / Y resolution of 100 microns.
The parent company SprintRay has delivered a viable product, with a complete ecosystem of 3D printer, software, and resin consumables. It’s a nice design, too.
Offering a max resolution of 20 microns it compares well against the SLA printers, that’s 5 microns advantage over the FormLabs Form 2 . It’s certainly speedy, promising to fabricate objects at 1 inch per hour.
Where to Buy: SprintRay
Autodesk have been a long running name in the 3D modelling and animation industry, so it was no surprise when they announced the Ember. What did surprise the other DLP manufacturers was that Autodesk would be selling a fully open source DLP 3D printer, which reinforces just how important 3D printing is to the established CAD software companies.
The Ember machine is small compared with the many other DLP machines, but although it has a limited print area of just 64 x 40 x 134 mm it will at least comfortably sit on your desktop and brings true DLP printing to your home or small business. Layer heights are inline with all other DLP printers at this level, at between 10-100 microns and X / Y resolution of 50 microns.
Ease of use has been well thought through as the Ember can leverage on an entire ecosystem for online, connected and multi-station 3D printing, as well as a support fund called Spark, which finances any 3D printing company that helps to developing what Autodesk calls “the future of making things”. This fund includes the likes of HP and 3D Hubs, as well as many other fascinating projects like Carbon and Voxel8.
Where to Buy: Autodesk
The B9 is one of the most distinctive looking 3D printers, with the projector at its heart on full show. It was also one of the first sub-$5000 machines to feature DLP 3D print technology. This means that is uses light from a projector rather than a laser to cure the photopolymer resin.
It also comes in two flavours, a standard B9CreatoR v1.2 and a dental version which has some slight changes to the hardware and software to tailor the machine for use by dentists.
The print platform is quite small for the size of the machine at 57 x 32 x 203 mm, and quotes a layer height of just 5 microns and X / Y resolution of 30, 50 or 70 microns.
The B9CreatoR v1.2 has at present five different resins in an assortment of colours and types with different mechanical properties — such as dental — with prices varying between $100 and $200 for the resin.
In the true replicator fashion and more akin to FFF printers, this DLP printer is also available as a kit for $3,490. It has won over a large crowd of fans who are extremely happy with its reliability and quality.
Where to Buy: B9Creator
The UNCIA 3D is the evolution of a $299 printer that reached its funding goal on IndieGoGo in just four days. Like the B9CreatoR v1.2, the UNCIA 3D is a DLP 3D printer and this is an upgraded version of the original machine.
The design may lack the finesse of the other printers, but who’s to argue when the whole package including the integrated projector can be purchased for just $1,379?
The printer’s build area is actually quite impressive at 102 x 77 x 170 mm and has a maximum layer height of 100 microns.
In general use the printer proves effective, although many users may find issue with the initial calibration (especially the vat height), and the overall design means that this is one of the more messy printers of its type on the market. Although once calibrated correctly, it does prove reliable.
One of the biggest issues that many users have found is the lack of support, but then again at this price it is a bargain.
Where to Buy: Unicia 3D
Early Verdict on the new DLP 3D Printers
The imminent launch of the Mk4 could herald a new era for DLP 3D printers, as it boasts one of the largest build volumes, highest resolutions and print speeds for a resin printer in its class and price.
At just $5000 it has a build volume of 330 x 180 x 300 mm, and a layer height of between 25-200 microns and X / Y resolution of 174 microns.
The size of the build area will enable tabletop board gamers to create and print an entire board in one go. Modellers will find the printer ideally suited to printing large monocoque chassis and hulls as well as highly accurate scale models. Artists and jewellers should also find the additional print area less restrictive for realising their designs and creations.
Where to Buy: Morpheus.
Like several others on this list, Kudo3D is startup company with a crowdfunding approach. Their first DLP 3D printer, the Titan 1, raised nearly $700,000 from backers.
The Titan 2 DLP projector claims to offer better resolution and speed compared to most of their laser-based competitors, as well as advanced connectivity and workflow processes.
The Kudo 3D Titan offers a large build area of 190 x 109 x 248 mm, with a layer height of just 5 microns and X / Y resolution of between 37 and 100 microns.
Their secret to better detail and speed is called Passive Self-Peeling (PSP). It minimizes the separation force between the cured layers and the vat of resin, speeding up the process of 3D printing.
Like the Form 2, the Kudo 3D is Wifi enabled and features a print app. This will come in handy as it will enable you to use the printer through a tablet or mobile device rather than having to go to your computer.
Kudo3D now offer two resin containers that can be used in one print.
Where to Buy: Kudo3D
The CoLiDO DLP 1.0 is one of the newest resin based printers to hit the market.
As with CoLiDo’s other printers, the design lacks the refinement of models from FormLabs and Stingray, but looks to offer all the design features that you would want.
Featuring a build area of 100 x 76 x 150mm and a layer height of 50 microns the specification certainly make it interesting.
The company has also produced a line of custom resin materials which are quoted as having shorter curing times and are apparently less stinky than others, which would be a definite bonus!
Where to Buy: CoLiDo
License: The text of "12 Best Resin (DLP/SLA) 3D Printers in Winter 2016-2017" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.