Photopolymer resin has become one of the most popular materials used in 3D printing technologies like stereolithography (SLA) and digital light processing (DLP). This light-sensitive plastic enables the creation of highly detailed and smooth 3D printed objects. In this article, we will dive into what exactly photopolymer resin is, how it works in 3D printing, and some tips for working with it.
What is Photopolymer?
Photopolymer is a type of polymer that changes its physical properties when exposed to light, especially ultraviolet (UV) light. Photopolymers contain photoinitiators which, when hit by the UV light, initiate polymerization - the linking of monomer molecules into polymer chains. This results in the transition of the photopolymer from a liquid to solid state.
Many photopolymers are designed to undergo this transition only under certain wavelengths of UV light. This allows selective curing and control over which areas remain liquid and which harden. This controllable curing makes photopolymers extremely useful in applications like 3D printing, dental fillings, inks, and coatings.
What is Photopolymer Resin?
Photopolymer resin is a specialized type of polymer resin that contains molecules with photoreactive functional groups. The most common type of photopolymer used in 3D printing is a liquid resin, composed of monomers, oligomers, photo-initiators, and other additives. The formulation of the resin can vary based on specific applications and desired characteristics.
The critical properties of photopolymer resin include:
- Viscosity: Photopolymer resins typically have low viscosity, allowing for easy flow during the printing process.
- Curing Time: The curing time refers to the time required for the resin to solidify after exposure to light. It may take 1.5-3 seconds to cure one layer.
- Layer Thickness: The layer thickness determines the resolution of the printed object, with thinner layers resulting in finer details.
- Tensile Strength and Flexibility: These properties determine the durability and mechanical performance of the printed parts.
- Post-curing: Some resins require additional post-curing using UV light to achieve optimal mechanical properties.
How Photopolymer Resin is Used in 3D Printing
In 3D printing processes like stereolithography (SLA) and digital light processing (DLP), photopolymer resins enable layer-by-layer fabrication of objects with fine details and smooth surfaces. Here is an overview of how these 3D printing technologies utilize photopolymer resin:
Step 1: Digital Model Preparation: The 3D printing process begins with creating a digital 3D model using computer-aided design;(CAD)software.The model is then sliced into thin layers using slicing software, which generates a set of instructions (G-code) for the 3D printer.
Step 2: Printing Setup: The 3D printer is calibrated, and the build platform is prepared. A vat or resin tank is filled with the photopolymer resin, and the build platform is positioned just above the resin surface.
Step 3: Layer-by-Layer Printing: The 3D printer begins the printing process by lowering the build platform slightly into the resin. A light source, usually a UV laser or LED, is then used to selectively expose the resin to light, solidifying it according to the sliced layer pattern.
Step 4: Object Formation: After one layer is cured, the build platform moves up, and a new layer of liquid resin is spread across the cured layer. The process repeats layer by layer until the entire object is printed.
Step 5: Post-processing:the printing is complete, the object is carefully removed from the build platform. Depending on the specific resin used,post-processing may involve additional cleaning and post-curing to improve the mechanical properties of the printed part.
Benefits of Photopolymers for 3D Printing
There are several advantages to using photopolymer resins in SLA and DLP printing:
- Excellent resolution and detail down to 25 microns or even lower. Much higher than typical extrusion printing.
- Very smooth surface finish directly out of the printer. Minimal post-processing needed.
- Variety of resin properties - standard, flexible, heat/UV resistant, dental, etc.
- Fast print times for small objects. Low forces allow rapid lifting of layers.
- No heating required. Liquid resins cure rapidly under UV.
Tips for 3D Printing with Photopolymer Resins
Here are some useful tips when working with photopolymer resins for 3D printing:
- Carefully level the resin vat and make sure the initial layer adheres well to the build plate to avoid print failures.
- Gently mix resins before printing to prevent residue from settling at the bottom of the vat.
- Use the recommended exposure times and UV intensities for each resin. Insufficient curing can lead to print failures.
- Allow for adequate off-gassing of fumes. Resins can release irritating compounds during and after curing.
- Thoroughly clean the printer resin vat, build plate etc. between print jobs to avoid resin contamination.
- Cured photopolymers are brittle. Use annealing processes to relieve internal stresses.
- Properly dispose of waste resin. Cured resin can be hazardous waste in some areas.
Photopolymer resins are a versatile material class that allow 3D printing of highly detailed objects via technologies like SLA and DLP. The resin cures from liquid to solid when exposed to UV light in a precisely controlled layer-by-layer fashion. With an understanding of the photopolymer curing process and proper printing techniques, intricate 3D objects with fine features and smooth finishes can be achieved. Photopolymers continue to expand the capabilities of 3D printing.