How To: Setup a Desktop Fabrication Station for Resin 3D Printing
Resin 3D printing can bring exceptional print quality to your production line, but you need to be sure you are set up to be successful.
Your resin 3D printer is on its way and you can’t wait to get to work with it. I would be excited too, but make sure you have your workspace just as ready as you are. There are a few more considerations to resin 3D printers than for plastic-based, FFF 3D printers, so I’ve gone ahead and compiled a checklist to remind you of anything you may not have thought of in preparing for your new arrival.
Let’s get started!
Choosing a Location:
I would highly encourage you to set up your resin 3D printers in a secluded spot away from anyone. The resins used for 3D printing give off a lot of fumes that can very quickly grow overwhelming if you spend too much time around them. Besides the resin, you will likely be working with a lot of isopropyl alcohol to clean your parts, so that’s just another layer of fumes. If you can, a ventilation system to evacuate the fumes is the ideal choice, but having everything in an area that is relatively private is enough for the smaller print farms.
Whenever we use a resin 3D printer at MatterHackers HQ, we always make sure it’s set up in our Print Lab, which is removed from most of the office space and if necessary a fan can be set up to vent air out the door (though we’ve almost never had fumes strong enough to warrant it).
I’ve also seen makerspaces and other users set up a smaller room as their resin 3D printer room to contain all the fumes and keep everything tidy.
Keep your resins in a cool, dark place. 3D printing resins solidify, or cure, with exposure to light, so make sure your lids are screwed on tightly, and dedicate a cabinet or toolbox for resin storage. Compared to FFF 3D printing, you likely won’t accumulate an overwhelming supply of resin, as you can basically use every last drop of resin without any sort of special set up like runout sensors, instead you can just top off the resin vat and properly dispose of the bottle.
Tools for Success:
Read the manual. As resin 3D printers have an element of toxicity, there will likely be some section within the handbook listing out all the proper handling the manufacturer expects to be used. It’s important to follow these guidelines to avoid things like overflows, spills, and general messes; some may specify a different order of operations or specific refill instructions. There are of course the obvious supplies like gloves, paper towels, and isopropyl alcohol, but there are many other tools that will prove helpful. Many of the tools you might find in an FFF 3D printing station will also be helpful with resin 3D printing, like flush cutters for support removal, a tool like a spatula to remove parts from the buildplate, or a file to remove the burrs where supports were. These are some of the common tools, but there are some that differ, like a silicone mat or tray to go under the printer or workspace to contain any potential spills and debris, a washing station, and a curing station. The washing station can be as easy as a jar to dip and swish the printed part in, a vegetable washer like a pickle container with a built in strainer, or as high-tech as an ultrasonic cleaning setup. A curing station just the same can be as low tech as you need, from using the power of the sun to cure the printed part to a UV lit cabinet with turntable to cure from all angles. Just because I didn’t list out a tool here doesn’t mean it won’t make resin printing easier, so keep an eye out for any tools I missed that you find to be invaluable to your process.
Cleanliness is a much bigger part of resin 3D printing than FFF; if you aren’t careful, you will get resin everywhere leaving a sticky trail wherever you go. Isopropyl alcohol is your friend here and will help you clean up almost any mess. Let me give you some tips in a logical working order: from opening a new bottle to disposing it.
- Put on some nitrile or latex gloves and have paper towels and IPA on hand to wipe up any spills as you handle the resin.
- Check the fill line on your resin printer’s vat. Some have a printed or molded in line showing you a maximum fill line, while others rely on you knowing where that is without marking. In that case, lower your buildplate to the vat (usually through the LCD) for the next step.
- Shake the bottle of resin to thoroughly mix together the pigment in it. You can experiment with this a little bit, as not shaking the bottle can turn what would otherwise be an opaque print into a smoky, transparent print if not completely mixed.
- Wet a paper towel with IPA and crack open the bottle. Gently pour resin in up to the fill line, or if it doesn’t have one, with the buildplate pressed against the vat pour resin in until you have at least a quarter inch of space below the top of the vat.
- Quickly tip up the bottle and wipe the mouth off with the prepared paper towel. This will prevent any drips from accumulating and getting the lid stuck in place or it will prevent you from having a really sticky bottle.
- Store in your resin cabinet until your printer needs a refill.
- When you’ve poured out every drop that you can, you are ready to dispose of the bottle. Pour a little alcohol into the bottle, close the lid, and shake it up. This will thin out the resin enough to let you pour out what’s left. Using a container that you don’t mind throwing away if you need to, pour out the bottle into it and set out in the sun to cure and off-gas until it’s solid, or you can cure it using your cure station. Make sure this is the same procedure you follow with all uncured resin, like paper towels used for cleanup or gloves used while handling resin. Resin is not safe to be disposed of in regular trash unless it has cured solid.
- Having a dedicated chemical waste container may make cleanup easier, but you will need to follow local environmental regulations for proper disposal.
Follow any recommendations for the 3D printer manufacturer, but in general these machines are pretty easy to take care of. Every once in a while make sure all the sliding surfaces like the linear rods or rails are well lubricated and moving smoothly without binding. The most regular consumables of a resin printer will be the vat film or the LCD. All resin printer use a film within the vat to print and over time with normal use it will wear down and grip the parts that are printing too much, causing them to stick to the vat instead of to the buildplate, causing a print failure. Each printer has a specific life span for their films, so check the manual to check the length yours has. For resin printers that utilize an LCD to block UV light, the LCD with get dead pixels rather quickly from the heat of the UV and repetitive use, causing small holes or towers depending on which state the pixel died in. Again, the lifespan of an LCD should be specified within the manual.
Something that's not often talked about is proper procedure when handling resins. You need to wear nitrile gloves and be conscious of the fumes the resins are giving off, but you also need to be careful to not get any on your skin. If you do, you don't need to panic, just wash off the area with soap and water as soon as possible; put everything down and go wash off. It is possible to develop an allergy over time with these resins, triggering a severe allergic reaction. Treat these 3D printing resins the same way you would treat any other chemical.
We have many videos and articles detailing how to troubleshoot any issues you may have when 3D printing, which you can find linked down below. For those hard to solve problems, that don’t seem quite as general, you can always contact our support team through phone or email.
Resin 3D printers offer another step up of resolution and complexity to your 3D models and brings high-detail manufacturing to a more attainable level. Do you have some setup details that I didn’t mention that you feel is important for others to know about? I’m always open to learning more and spreading the knowledge with other viewers, so be sure to leave a comment down below.