SLA materials

All paths to 3D printing can eventually be traced back to stereolithography (SLA). Today, those paths take us on quite a journey too, winding around approximately ten different basic methods, with endless, fascinating detours revealing futuristic technology still in development, an ever-growing list of materials ranging from resins to plastic polymers to metal powders—and just about everything in between that one could imagine for innovating with additive manufacturing.

Industrial 3D Printing Continues to Gain Traction

Brought to light by Chuck Hull in 1983, SLA 3D printing came about in response to the inventor’s need for more rapid prototyping of plastic parts. The long-ago desire to create higher quality products faster and with a more streamlined workflow still resonates with designers, engineers, and industrial companies, reflected in action as SLA 3D printing hardware and software continue to be refined, with a focus on the potential for mass customization.

Groundbreaking concepts like Shapeways on-demand 3D printing are taking hold too, fulfilling the manufacturing of customized products as needed in limited quantities, and carrying the process all the way to the end, even to include shipping in custom packaging. Businesses of all sizes are able to cut back on inventory, reducing the need for warehouses altogether, and enjoying small runs of high-quality products.

Since the 1980s, 3D printing has progressed into a billion-dollar industry that just continues to grow. As patents began to expire around 2014 3D printing continued to solidify its presence on nearly every level just as predicted, from the DIY market to the highest industries relying on additive manufacturing not only for test parts but also for high-performance, functional parts in applications like medicine, aerospace, automotive, and much more.

Why Stereolithography Is Still Such a Good Fit in Additive Manufacturing

Surprisingly, the original additive manufacturing methods have been hard to beat over the last few decades, and serious users continue to return to technology like SLA 3D printing, as well as selective laser sintering (SLS). For designers and engineers who understand how to lean into the many benefits of SLA, the results can be impressive for manufacturing precise, high-quality industrial parts that require smooth surface finishes and more intricate detail than others; in fact, that is one reason industrial users may use SLA as a go-to technology over SLS—when seeking intense detail and dimensional accuracy. SLA 3D printing can also be used as an accompaniment to more conventional manufacturing practices like injection molding, 3D printing the molds for making a versatile range of industrial parts.

Settled into the vat polymerization category—along with direct light processing (DLP)—SLA relies on lasers and resin to build 3D printed structures. A powerful laser solidifies, or cures, each thin layer of liquid resin deposited onto the build platform at the top of the resin tank. As the platform moves up and out of the resin tank, the part is 3D printed in a repetitive process building the part layer by layer. A high-powered laser beam traces or draws the design of the part in each layer, which then solidifies, or cures, due to the heat of the laser.

The average layer height in SLA 3D printing is about 100 microns, with a minimum of 25 microns. The potential for accuracy and precision are hard to top—especially when enhanced by advanced materials from Shapeways. Strong adhesion is another huge benefit stemming from SLA, creating an excellent foundation from the start in each print, and eliminating worries over structural integrity later.

SLA 3D printing is also appealing to Shapeways customers because it is so scalable, offering the ability to manufacture small, intricate, but accurate parts—as well as larger structures with much greater build volumes.

Advanced Applications Require Advanced Materials & Technology

As trends continue toward highly industrial, critical applications, Shapeways customers still turn to advanced materials made for SLA 3D printing.

SLA Plastic Accura® 60: Available in semi-clear, this rigid acrylate-based plastic material lends the transparency many designers seek for a wide range of parts to be used in important applications like medicine, as well electronics like lighting.

Relying on Accura 60 for high-performance products, medical professionals can order 3D printed medical instruments like forceps, clamps, or specialized handles on-demand. Even more popular are models 3D printed with SLA for pre-visualization of surgeries. In 3D printing medical models that are specific to the patient, surgeons can focus on diagnosis, treatment, and begin preparing for rare or altogether new procedures. Models and guides can also be used in the operating room, reducing time in surgeries, recovery time, and aiding in a better experience for the patient, ultimately, in terms of their treatment and comfort.

Other Shapeways customers use Accura 60 for a variety of impressive lighting components, designing 3D models for tough, functional parts that may be used indoors or outdoors, and in commercial or residential environments. Because it is possible to print with such thin layers of resin, Accura 60 offers the complete transparency often necessary for use with more utilitarian devices like casings or vents. SLA 3D printing also allows for intricate details like grooves, small holes to facilitate hanging or attaching, openings to expose keypads or screens, and countless other uses.

SLA Accura® Xtreme™ presents advantages that are required for serious industrial mechanical parts like snap-fit assemblies, enclosures whether engineers are designing parts for consumer products or electronics, as well as other more specialized applications like master patterns for vacuum casting, a process that uses a vacuum to draw liquid material into a mold where the desired structure is then formed.

Enhanced strength and durability along with water and heat resistance make Accura Xtreme even more appealing to industrial users, along with excellent surface texture that compares to parts made with conventional techniques. This rigid acrylate-based plastic is available in ultra-tough grey plastic, which is better for fine details, and suitable for 3D printing a wide variety of versatile parts, to include frames for eyeglasses, as well as both the front and back components of casings that must connect with tiny, intricate snaps, and parts that must twist and fasten together with precisely manufactured grooves. Cylindrical parts can also be 3D printed with a variety of detail, no matter what size.

Accura Xtreme White

SLA Accura® Xtreme™ 200 – This material is the toughest that Shapeways offers for industrial applications in SLA 3D printing. Available in ultra-tough white acrylate-based plastic—best for smooth appearances—this resin offers all of the best features, from durability to great dimensional accuracy and surface finish. Accura Xtreme 200 stands apart, however, due to its extreme strength. Taking industrial additive manufacturing to the next level, Accura Xtreme 200 is used for functional parts in automotive applications, able to withstand stress and strain, as well as exposure to the elements or other harsh environments.

Accura Xtreme 200 is also used for other mechanical parts requiring intensive durability, to include drill-tap applications, assemblies with self-tapping screws, enclosures for electronics, and also as SLA 3D printed master patterns for urethane casting, where silicone molds are filled with polyurethane to achieve a desired structure. Parts are not only strong, but they are also extremely accurate, making it easy to 3D print detailed areas for parts that snap or attach to other parts, areas for ventilation, and a variety of areas on parts that may be raised or indented, or require ornate features for functionality.

This material is also used to replace items which may have previously been manufactured through conventional techniques with CNC-machined polypropylene or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), a commonly used thermoplastic polymer.

Support Structures & Post-Processing Procedures for SLA 3D Printing

SLA 3D printing does not end with the 3D printer. Support structures are always required for SLA 3D printing, but with proper design and part orientation, they can be reduced as much as possible. These types of structures are much thinner in SLA 3D printing, and although dealing with them in post-processing can be a slight hassle, their presence allows for greater latitude in creating complex geometries and expanding innovation.

Supports aid in stabilizing complex geometries during printing, along with protecting models that may include overhangs extending outward from the design. Supports keep models 3D printed with SLA in place on the print bed, offset high temperatures in some cases, prevent warping, curling, and sagging, and overall, reduce the potential for misshapen or collapsed prints.

Ultimately, post processing presents the opportunity to finish parts with impressive quality. Before removing supports, each SLA part is washed clean of extra material, typically employing a bath of one or more solvents to remove unwanted resin. Parts must dry completely, and then can be post-cured with UV light and higher temperatures to ensure the highest quality in finish and mechanical properties too. Supports are removed with caution, however, models may still bear marks left over from removal. They can be easily sanded away at the end of the post-processing phase though.

Explore Expanded Options With Shapeways

For products like Accura Xtreme, it is possible to achieve enhanced optical clarity, but that option is not included for standard orders. Contact the Shapeways Sales Team to discuss additional post-processing options. Start by scheduling a one-on-one consultation with a 3D printing expert and let the Shapeways team provide the best solutions to fit your manufacturing needs!

Get Help from the User Application Team

The Shapeways User Application Team is available for extended help in 3D printing. In some cases, customers may be curious about pushing the limits of technology and materials to produce a unique part or for example, a high-end piece of designer jewelry. While 3D design and 3D printing are methods born from a refusal to accept limits in innovation, the reality is that parts simply are not printable if the proper materials are not researched ahead of time, and used with a suitable technology.

The UA team can be very helpful in exploring the compatibility of materials, as well as modifying print orientations to help improve the quality—and printability—of a model. Expert file fixers can offer advice on how to fix problematic files as well as sometimes working their magic on models that initially were not printable at all. Shapeways file fixers are also adept at helping customers tackle other unique issues that may stand in the way of successful 3D printing.

Upload Your 3D Model Now

Following through on your latest innovations all begins with that first upload! Create an account with Shapeways and upload a 3D model. The automated system performs a printability analysis, and also sends an instant quote.

About Shapeways

Enjoy the benefits of SLA 3D printing technology and materials from Shapeways for 3D printing your creations with accuracy, complex detail, and no minimum or limits in terms of mass customization or single part orders. Shapeways has worked with over 1 million customers in 160 countries to 3D print over 20 million parts! Read about case studies, find out more about Shapeways solutions, and get instant quotes here.