sla 3d printer

SLA 3D printing is becoming popular among hobbyists and additive manufacturers all over the world. It allows people to produce high-quality, accurate prototypes with sharp details and smooth finishes in different materials.

In this guide, you will learn what SLA 3D printing is, how the technology works, and why it is becoming so popular.

What Is an SLA Printer?

An SLA printer is a 3D printer that uses stereolithography to create prototypes and models. It is one of the most popular techniques because it is easy to use. It has a high-powered laser that hardens liquid resin to create the shape that is desired. In other words, it converts a liquid with photosensitive properties into solid plastics one layer at a time using photopolymerization and a low-power laser.

An SLA 3D printer is popular and cost-effective, and they allow for quick production of a model. They usually have smaller construction plates than other types of 3D printers, but they can create detailed and complex designs. They create layers of resin that are chemically bonded, have high strength, and are smooth. Stereolithography is one of the three primary technologies in 3D printing, and it was created first back in 1986.

Most SLA printers have the following parts:

  • Tank for liquid photopolymer (normally liquid resin)
  • Perforated platform immersed in tank
  • High-powered UV laser
  • Computer interface to manage platform and laser

What Is SLA?

SLA stands for stereolithography, and it is a form of VAT Polymerization printing. Basically, the technology uses a laser to solidify resin into a model using a layer by layer approach. The materials used to create the models are photosensitive thermoset polymers, and they come in a liquid form.

SLA technology was the first 3D printing technology invented, and it has improved over time to produce parts and models that are extremely accurate replicas with a smooth surface. It is more cost-effective than other types of 3D technology, and it is design-driven.

How Does SLA 3D Printing Work?

The first step to SLA 3D printing is to design the model using CAD software. Once the model is designed, the files must be converted into STL files (standard tessellation language). This file format is designed to work with stereolithographic software that was designed for 3D printing systems. The STL files are able to accurately describe the surface geometric shape of the 3D object for the printer.

Next, the laser draws the first layer of the print into the photosensitive resin. The resin solidifies wherever the laser hits it, so the laser has to be extremely accurate. As each layer is complete, the platform is raised so that additional resin can flow below the part that is complete. Once the model is complete, any remaining resin can be used for another project.

The platform will rise out of the tank and drain any excess resin. Then it moves into a UV oven for post-print curing. This ensures that the model is stable and has the highest strength possible.

Why Choose SLA 3D Printing?

People choose SLA 3D printing for a number of reasons. First of all, it offers a fast turnaround time when developing prototypes and models. Some printers allow models to be produced in a few hours, which reduces lead times and delays.

Another benefit is that the parts are isotropic. The resin layers form covalent bonds, and each layer remains in a semi-reacted green state as it is formed. This allows the resin to form bonds across layers, which adds to its strength.

These models are also watertight because the printed object is continuous, so air and fluid flow can be controlled. In addition, people choose SLA printing for its accuracy and precision. The smooth finish means that they don’t need to be sanded, reducing post-processing time.

Are SLA Prints Strong?

SLA prints are best suited when you need highly detailed and accurate parts with a smooth surface finish. There is a greater variety of resins available today, but most people do not use SLA printing for outdoor or functional parts that are tough. Most standard resins are more brittle than other 3D printing materials, although there are a few that can be very strong.

However, there are castable resins that are used in dentistry that are stronger, as well as high-temperature resins that can produce rubber-like parts. People use the tensile strength to determine if the resin is suitable for the desired product.

What Material Is Used for SLA Printing?

SLA 3D printing uses resins, including the following types:

  • Standard resin
  • Clear resin
  • Castable resin
  • Tough resin
  • High-temperature resin
  • Dental resin
  • Rubber-like resin

SLA 3D Printer Pros and Cons

  • Incredibly precise and accurate
  • Creates high-quality prototypes and models
  • Detailed features and complex geometrical shapes
  • Smooth surfaces
  • Affordable 
  • Easy to operate
  • Material versatility
  • Quick design changes
  • Not always suited to functional parts
  • Mechanical properties will degrade with exposure to sunlight
  • Overhangs require support while printing
  • Limited color choices (often black, white, grey, and clear)

Final Thoughts

SLA 3D printing is a popular and affordable way to create prototypes, models, art, and more. It is best suited for designs that require accuracy and precision with a smooth finish.

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