You may wonder why some 3D models look smoother than others, even when they’re done using the same 3D printer. This difference is because the resolution affects 3D printers much like it does a TV, and it is measured in microns. So, you may want to use a smaller scale, such as 50 microns vs. 100 microns for a 3D printer. By decreasing the microns, you are reducing the size of each layer of your print. The best printers can handle 50 microns, while others may have 100 as their minimum.
The difference between 50 microns and 100 microns may seem insignificant, but this difference can greatly affect the print quality of the 3D model. However, when you print with a smaller resolution, the complete process will take more print time because there have to be more layers to create the same model height. Some 3D printers do not offer smaller diameters. For example, according to MakerBot, their standard nozzle size is 400 microns or 0.4 mm on their filament printers. Resin printers can achieve smaller layers, resulting in improved detailing. Check out our article on ABS vs. PLA for a 3D printer for more information on filament printers.
Low layer height or thickness can improve dimensional accuracy and attention to detail.
A micron refers to a measurement equal to one-millionth of a meter, which is 1/1000 of a millimeter. Microns are used in various industries, including the 3D printing industry. Manufacturers use microns to describe the layer height of a 3D print. In some instances, layer height is referred to as the “Z-axis” resolution. However, you may also hear this feature described as resolution. Unlike resolution in a TV or image, lower resolution in 3D printing results in greater detail, accuracy, and smooth finishes. The XY resolution refers to flat resolutions like those printed on paper.
A stereolithography apparatus (SLA) machine creates detailed prints of liquid resin exposed to UV laser for curing. One of the other options for 3D printing is fused deposition modeling (FDM) that uses filaments to create prints. FDM models typically print faster than SLA ones, but they cannot achieve the same level of detail or accuracy. SLA approaches design with a more detailed approach, and each point on a layer gets cured individually. With that level of precision, it’s no wonder that these printers take longer. In addition, these prints are often more fragile than FDM objects. Check out this review for a more detailed comparison of SLA vs. FDM 3D Printers.
When the layers are thinner, they can more accurately represent curved edges, but the result could contain more artifacts and errors. This idea is similar to taking a picture when you take longer and open yourself up to blurriness. As you increase the layers, you allow for more errors to occur because it takes more layers to create your model. In addition, more layers mean that if anything gets in the printing space, it has more chances to end up inside the model.
If your object has diagonals or curved surfaces, you may want to choose high resolution. The shape of these surfaces is improved using lower thickness. If the layer sizes are shorter, the model will have a more curved edge or steep diagonal. With a lower resolution, you will see each step where the layer ends. The use of smaller layers will also result in smoother materials in the end.
FDM printers have more difficulty when it comes to resolution and accuracy, but they do take less time to print.
How can you test the 3D printer resolution?
To test the resolution of a 3D printer, you can print a model with a rectangular block with lines of varying widths. You may also want to test layer thickness by adjusting the Z resolution. You will want to look for accuracy in your design.
Why does lower layer height not always mean the best 3D printed result?
Although they have higher accuracy, lower thickness results in more opportunities for errors and artifacts to appear. Additionally, it takes longer to print the model with a low layer height.
What is the smallest a 3D printer can print?
Some resin printers can print at layer heights of 25 microns. However, the materials and machine both affect the minimum layer height for a build.
STAT: As the print’s line width decreases from 200 to 150 microns, the ideal values are within the 95% confidence interval of the measured value. (source)