3D Printing Materials 101
Christina Perla is the Co-Founder and CEO of Makelab, a 3D printing service in NYC that prints parts, and prototypes for designers & engineers who are building physical products. Recently she shared her expertise at NYU with an exclusive group of attendees. Now, we brought her lecture to you.
Christina’s background is in industrial design, and before 3D printing existed, she and other designers used blue foam insulation from Home Depot to prototype new products. It was messy and toxic, but it was the best option at the time. It was so common that there is even an Instagram account called @blueformdust.
When Christina and Manny started Makelab, they were printing just a handful of materials, but it was already overwhelming. The pace of innovation in the industry is insane. There's always a new material or technique being developed. The latest thing Christina heard of was a 3D-printed basketball that was completely hollow and bounced the same as traditionally manufactured basketballs. It's revolutionary.
Despite the constant innovation, many people are still adopting 3D printing into their workflows. It's fast, cost-effective in some use cases, and allows designers to prototype quickly and efficiently. There are a lot of materials available, which is great, but designers may not always know what they need until they see it.
3D printing is a revolutionary industry that's changing the way designers and engineers work together to develop new products. Let’s get into the following materials: PLA, Standard Resin, Grey Pro Resin, Durable Resin, and Flexible Resin.
PLA is one of the most commonly used materials in 3D printing. It is an affordable and fast option that can be used for a wide range of applications, particularly for early-stage prototyping. The material may not offer the highest quality, but it gets the job done efficiently and has its use cases for display models and early-stage prototyping.
When it comes to designing a part like a water bottle or any other model with a basic shape, PLA is an excellent option for prototyping. It is also suitable for loosely fitting parts. Nevertheless, it is crucial to keep in mind that PLA prototypes do not have the same tolerances as injection-molded plastic pieces.
One of the benefits of PLA is that it is easy to work with. You can paint, sand, and coat it to give it the appearance of other materials. However, the way it is printed (print orientation) can impact the accuracy and dimensions of the finished product.
FDM, also known as Fused Deposition Modeling, works by melting the material and re-extruding it to follow a specific path, similar to a hot glue gun. Yet, it is not possible to print in the air, which means supports are needed for certain geometries, also known as overhangs. It's also vital to note that anything the supports touch will have scarring, affecting the overall accuracy, dimensions, and visual look of the product.
When it comes to the design of PLA prototypes, the best advice is to keep things simple. Intricate designs may not translate accurately, but basic geometries, big blocky parts, and thick walls work well. As the size of the product increases, so does the volume of material used, making PLA an economical option.
PLA is an excellent material for proof-of-concept models and early-stage prototypes. Customers often use it before moving on to more expensive materials as they finalize their designs. Graduating from PLA saves money since mistakes can be costly, especially when using more expensive materials.
In conclusion, PLA is affordable, easy to work with, and can be used for a wide range of applications. However, it may not have the same tolerances as injection-molded plastic pieces and intricate designs may not translate accurately. Overall, PLA is a reliable and cost-effective option for anyone looking to 3D print basic shapes and parts.
Unlike traditional 3D printing materials like PLA, which are made from thermoplastics, Standard Resin is made from a completely different technology. This allows the material to achieve a much higher level of surface quality and detail, making it ideal for a wide range of applications. The main barrier is really cost. Print time can also be a barrier here.
One of the interesting uses of Standard Resin that we’ve seen at Makelab is for making mold positives. We’ve seen this be particularly useful for ceramicists, who often create handles and other objects that need to be slip-cast. To do this, the handle is placed into a box and plaster is poured around it to create a mold. The slip is then added and the mold is cast to make multiple copies.
Besides mold positives, Standard Resin is also a great choice for certain engineering applications that require a high level of surface quality and precise tolerances. For example, in aerodynamics, the surface of a component is critical to its performance, and resins excel in this regard, offering the level of detail and accuracy required for demanding engineering applications.
Another advantage of Standard Resin is its ability to achieve high levels of detail in small parts. This is due to the layer height of each step in the printing process, which can be 100, 50, or even 25 microns. Even so, Standard Resin isn't suitable for every use case, since it lacks the heat and chemical resistance of traditional plastics. Additionally, Standard Resin can be brittle, which makes it susceptible to cracking and shattering if dropped. Despite these limitations, resin remains a valuable tool in the 3D printing toolkit, particularly for prototyping and aesthetic applications.
So, if you need to create a high-quality mold positive, or if your project demands a level of surface quality and precision that other materials can't match, Standard Resin is your go-to material.
GREY PRO RESIN
Resin 3D printing, also known as SLA (stereolithography), has revolutionized the world of prototyping and small-scale manufacturing. And within the resin printing realm, one material that has gained a lot of popularity is Grey Pro. It is a resin material that is specifically designed for printing small, intricate parts with fine details.
What makes Grey Pro stand out from other resins is its flexibility. While most resins can be brittle and prone to breakage, Grey Pro has just the right amount of flex to make it more durable, making it ideal for printing small parts that need to withstand bending or slight impacts without breaking.
But Gray Pro's flexibility is not the only advantage it has over other resins. It also provides a better surface finish, which means that the printed parts have a smoother and more refined surface. This is particularly important for small parts that require high levels of detail and accuracy.
At Makelab, we’ve seen Jewelry companies have found Grey Pro to be a particularly useful material for prototyping intricate parts, such as gold chains and small rings.
However, it is important to note that while Grey Pro is a great material for engineering use cases and multi-part assemblies that require movement, it may not be the best choice for aesthetic parts. If you need to simulate pliability in a model, Grey Pro can work, but for painting or molding, it may not be the most cost-effective material.
When using Grey Pro for prototyping, it is still necessary to be mindful of supports. While the support nibs are easier to manage than those of other resins, they can still leave a little bit of scarring. Therefore, it is fundamental to orient the part properly and to provide instructions to the printer to ensure the surface is clean and accurate.
Overall, Grey Pro is a versatile and reliable resin material that can provide excellent results for small-scale printing needs. Its flexibility, durability, and surface finish making it a popular choice for jewelry makers and engineering companies alike.
One of the materials that have caught our attention quickly at Makelab is Durable Resin. It is a low-drama material that can simulate polypropylene. What is impressive about this material is its strength and flexibility. Unlike Grey Pro, it has more flex, and it can withstand a lot of pressure without breaking. If you print out a bottle prototype, you can squeeze it, and it will bounce back.
The smooth surface of this material makes it perfect for ball joints, snap-fit joints, or interlocking pieces that need to function for a long time. Its strength lies in longevity, making it useful for student projects or final projects where you need pliability and a smooth surface finish.
The accuracy of Durable Resin is top-notch, making it a favorite among printers. It is semi-translucent and very thin when in its liquid form, making it easier to print than, for example, black resin (which is difficult to print because it's so dark). The viscosity of this material is a big factor in the success or failure of resin printing.
We printed several sample parts using Durable Resin, and the results were impressive. Small parts are perfect for this material, making it an ideal choice when you need precision and pliability. The surface texture also comes out very well in this material.
Of course, no material serves all purposes and there are some limitations to using Durable Resin. We do not recommend using it for aesthetic purposes, anything super flat that can be laser-cut, or anything that connects with another piece and bears weight. In these cases, the cost and risk outweigh the benefits.
Overall, Durable Resin is an excellent choice when you need a material that can simulate polypropylene, withstand pressure, and last for a long time. Its accuracy, pliability, and smooth surface finish make it a favorite among printers.
3D printing with elastomers has become increasingly popular in the additive manufacturing world due to its ability to produce intricate details and soft-touch parts. We offer two types of elastomer materials in-house: Flexible Resin and Elastic Resin. While Flexible Resin has improved over the years, it still has some limitations that must be taken into account when using it for printing.
One of the main challenges with printing with Flexible Resin is that the material is difficult to support during the printing process. Depending on the shape and orientation of the piece being printed, support structures may be required, which can affect the tolerance and make it difficult to fit the part over other objects. These supports are also more difficult to remove, given the flexible surface. Additionally, the material can wear and tear over time due to continuous exposure to UV light, making it less durable than other printing materials.
Despite these limitations, 3D printing in Flexible Resin can still be a valuable tool for creating small, detailed parts with a soft touch. However, the material is not ideal for extra large parts or for anything that requires stiffness or strength.
As the material continues to improve, it's likely that we'll see more and more applications for Flexible Resin in the additive manufacturing world.
Interested in learning more about 3D printing materials? Visit our materials guide. And if you’re a Startup or a Student, we have special programs with discounts for you. Discover Makelab for Startups and Makelab for Students.