3D printer: high-resolution resin printer from 180 €

3D printers with SLA technology captivate with their magnificent print resolution and massively fallen prices. We show which printers are worth buying.

For tabletop figures or other small and highly detailed printed products, 3D printers that work with viscous resin are much more suitable than the widespread and even cheaper devices with filament melting technology (FDM). The reason is the very high print resolution; but you have to deal with smelly chemicals. If you are not afraid to work with liquid resin and isopropanol, you can get printers suitable for beginners from 180 euros.

SLA stands for Stereolithography, Such printers work according to a simple principle: A UV light source exposes liquid resin through a high-resolution display and cures it in layers at the desired locations. At 0.01 to 0.2 mm, the individual layers are so thin that they are barely visible to the eye. For comparison: cheap FDM printer build models from layers between 0.1 and 0.4 millimeters from molten plastic.

The catch with the SLA technology: The installation space is comparatively small, so you cannot print large models. In addition, handling resin and cleaner is annoying and the printing material is more expensive than the filament rolls for FDM printers.

The following articles have been published on the subject of 3D printers:

Our list of SLA printers contains only two well-known branded products. The reason for this is the extreme price difference and the, at least on paper, very similar equipment. Printers from Xyzprinting or Formlabs are more than 1000 euros more expensive than the cheap China models. As our test of the SLA printer Elegoo Mars shows (test report), cheap doesn’t have to mean bad. We were pleasantly surprised by the 250 euro model, and the annoying handling of the resin is not yet completely relieved of the devices in the 1000 euro class.

The manufacturers have now reacted and there are now semi-automatic washing stations for cleaning. The 210 euro model Wash & Cure by Anycubic makes a thoughtful impression.

The affordable SLA printers for private users all come from predominantly Chinese manufacturers such as Anycubic, Anet, Wanhao, Longer or Sparkmaker. Those who have already dealt with FDM printing know at least a few names. As is so often the case with China goods, some of the devices are also available under other product names. The Sparkmaker, for example, also appears in the price comparison under the name Fesjoy.

The following overview shows a large part of the SLA printers currently available in Germany in the entry-level and mid-range segment.

The maximum size of the printed products with SLA printers is significantly smaller than with filament printers. For the affordable model, the Anycubic Photon Zero, the maximum size is just 95 × 54 × 150 mm. With 190 × 120 × 180 mm, the Wanhao Duplicator D8 has more space, but it also costs significantly more.

This cannot keep up with the average space available for FDM printers (approx. 200 × 200 × 200 mm). But is bigger automatically better? Ultimately, it only depends on what is to be printed. There is a small installation space for model making accessories or tabletop figures, but if you want to print a pretty vase for the living room table or cutlery trays for drawers, you will not be able to cope with it.

The layer thickness (z-axis) and the resolution of the display panel installed above the UV light source are decisive for the print quality. The layer thickness determines how long the printing process takes and how delicate the result looks along the z-axis. Printed products with very small layers look better, but take more time. Prints with thick layers are finished faster, but the gradations are then clearly visible. In practice, SLA technology is also about a good compromise between print quality and time. From our own experience, a layer thickness of 0.05 mm is recommended. Our tests with the Elegoo Mars look great; the time expenditure is manageable. It takes just over four hours to print the chess pieces enclosed on a USB stick (1000 layers with a layer thickness of 0.05 mm).

The 5 cm high chess pieces consist of 1000 layers and last just over four hours.

If you want to be particularly flexible with the layer thickness, you should take a closer look at the devices from Anycubic, Elegoo or Sparkmaker. The finest setting allows the printing of layers with a thickness of just 0.01 mm, but also layers with up to 0.2 mm.

The resolution of the exposure monitor is responsible for the attention to detail on the x and y axes. The higher the resolution, the finer the details. During the Anycubic Photon Zero and the Longer3D Orange 10 only have a resolution of 854 × 480 pixels, for example the Sparkmaker FHD has a panel with 1920 × 1080 pixels. The better printers from Anycubic, Anet, Elegoo or Wanhao use screens with a resolution of 2560 × 1440 pixels. While this information is easy to find with the Chinese manufacturers, the brand manufacturers are silent about it. Our inquiries have so far remained unanswered; the hotline could not help either. As soon as we have the information, we add it.

Even with the smallest details, SLA printers have no problems.

The maximum printing speed of most SLA printers is between 20 and 30 mm / h in height. If you are in a particular hurry, the Nova3d Elfin (test report) is a good choice. According to the manufacturer, it is up to 40 mm / h twice as fast as the printers from Anycubic or Anet. The reason for the higher speed is a stronger UV lamp, which cures the resin faster.

However, these times are only a rough guide. Our article Resin comparison shows how much the required exposure time and thus the printing time depend on the resin: Five resins for SLA printers in the test.

The following time-lapse video shows what a print process looks like with a resin printer.

The Elegoo Mars works like most cheap SLA printers with a wavelength of 405 nm and therefore works with any resin that cures at this wavelength. This includes, for example, Anycubic’s. The prices for the consumables start at 25 euros for 500 ml. Brand manufacturers such as Xyzprinting charge more than twice as much. The manufacturer even prevents the use of third-party resin by querying NFC tags. But if you keep your eyes open, you will regularly get good bargains. That’s how it is, for example Standard resin from Elegoo regularly available from Amazon for 19 euros per liter. The normal price is around 35 to 40 euros.

To illustrate: With the SLA printing process are for the well-known ship model Benchy almost 16 ml of resin required. Accordingly, with the resin from Elegoo, the boat costs around 80 cents. With the resin from Xyzprinting, the model costs over 1.60 euros. For comparison: FDM printing with filament weighs just under 15 g, which results in material costs of just 15 to 30 cents.

The left ship comes from an FDM printer. The right from the Elegoo Mars SLA printer.

The material properties of the resins are also very different. Experience has shown that the Anycubic resin smells much more intensely than that of Elegoo and is also more brittle. More on this in our resin comparison: Five resins for SLA printers tested.

Overall, the design and features of the SLA printers are relatively similar. The most obvious differentiator is the cover of the resin tank. For example, while the devices from Anet and Elegoo work with a removable plastic hood, the cover on the Anycubic Photon is firmly connected to the housing. The lid is opened to open and is not in the way. Even if it looks fancier, the removal of the resin tank and the printing platform is more difficult than with the top version due to the limited space.

Whether attachment or hinged lid is a matter of taste. Both variants have advantages and disadvantages.

In the case of inexpensive models, the 3D models are transferred to the printer via USB stick. The more expensive devices also have a WLAN module installed and can thus be operated directly from the computer. With Nobel 1.0 Advanced, the user does not have to worry about refilling the resin – the printer does it automatically.

The first experiences with the Anycubic Photon and the Elegoo Mars surprised us with the processing. These very affordable models are also of very high quality: instead of cheap plastic, neatly processed metal is used. Only the relatively loud fans, which lead the waste heat from the UV light source outside, disturb the otherwise positive overall impression.

The cost of entry into the world of SLA 3D printers is between 180 and 350 euros. The models available for this budget are well developed and deliver impressive results. If you have any questions, you will usually find a suitable answer quickly in the ever-growing community.

If you print frequently and like to experiment, you should choose a model with inexpensive resin. Resin that cures at a wavelength of 405 nm is cheaper and available from various manufacturers. More on this in the resin comparison test. If printed products are to be less brittle, we recommend our article Flex-Resin: More elasticity for SLA printers.

The ideal size of the installation space depends on the individual needs and the available budget. In our view, a small installation space is also sufficient for getting started with SLA printers. Since the devices presented here are all fully assembled, commissioning is also unproblematic for the China models – but that does not mean that every print works right away. Reading and experimenting are also part of this printing technique for beginners.