Stereolithography

Stereolithography (SL) is an industrial 3D printing process used to create concept models, cosmetic - rapid prototypes, and complex parts with intricate geometries in as fast as 1 day. Stereolithography parts can be produced in a wide selection of materials, extremely high feature resolutions, and quality surface finishes are possible with SL. We also offer a number of secondary services such as painting, post machining and measurement and inspection, to further enhance the finish of your 3D-printed project design. 

Stereolithography design guidelines will help you understand capabilities and limitations.

Why Choose Stereolithography for your 3D Printing Project?

SL is an excellent choice for rapid prototyping and project designs that require the production of very accurate and finely detailed parts. It’s ideal for producing show-and-tell parts to enable validation of concept ideas and ergonomic testing. 

Stereolithography material data sheets can be found in our Material Comparison Guide

 

What is Stereolithography

 

Stereolithography is a 3D Printing process which uses a computer-controlled moving laser beam, pre-programmed using CAM/CAD software. Parts are built by curing paper-thin layers of liquid resin and using a UV laser that draws on the surface of the resin, turning it from a liquid layer into a solid. A process known as photopolymerisation

 

How Does Stereolithography Work?

The SL machine begins the 3D printing process by drawing the layers of the support structures, followed by the part itself, with an ultraviolet laser aimed onto the surface of a liquid thermoset resin. After a layer is imaged on the resin surface, the build platform shifts down and a recoating bar moves across the platform to apply the next layer of resin. The process is repeated layer by layer until the build is complete.

Newly built parts are taken out of machine and into a lab where solvents are used to remove any additional resins. When the parts are completely clean, the support structures are manually removed. From there, parts undergo a UV-curing cycle to fully solidify the outer surface of the part. The final step in the SL process is the application of any custom or customer-specified finishing. Parts built in SL should be used with minimal UV and humidity exposure so they don’t degrade.


3DP icon logo
  • 1 to 50+ parts
  • Shipped in 1 to 7 working days
Common Applications
  • cosmetic prototypes
  • form and fit testing
  • high accuracy and surface quality
 

 

Watch: Multi Jet Fusion: What is This Used For?

For fast, quality results, Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) is unparalleled as a 3D printing process. It’s able to produce functional nylon prototypes and end-use production parts in a single day, featuring quality surface finishes and fine feature resolution. It also offers more consistent mechanical properties than similar processes like selective laser sintering.

Using an inkjet array to repeatedly apply fusing agents across a bed of nylon powder, followed by fusion into a solid layer via heating elements, MJF is able to offer complex and detailed features. Protolabs offers a commercial-grade unfilled Nylon 12 material to create durable parts. Multi Jet Fusion offers a fast and advanced way to create parts on demand. Discover more with this short video.


 

 

Watch: Differences in Major Material Types

Creating parts using 3D printing is easier than ever before, and prototyping and making design changes is fast, affordable and intuitive. The process offers a range of material types, from resin to plastic parts that are coated in metal, combining strength with lightness and flexibility.

Our ability to use Direct Metal Laser Sintering allows us to offer high-strength and temperature-resistant metallic parts quickly and cheaply, with the precision and quality you’ve come to expect from Protolabs.

Discover more about the materials we offer with this short video.


Design Guidelines: Stereolithography   

SIZE

Normal Resolution: 736mm x 635mm x 533mm
High Resolution: 247mm x 245mm x 250mm
Micro Resolution: 127mm x 127mm x 63mm

LAYER THICKNESS

Normal Resolution: 0.1mm
High Resolution: 0.05mm
Micro Resolution: 0.025mm

MINIMUM FEATURE SIZE

Normal Resolution0.25mm for the XY draw plane (0.406mm for the Z build direction)
High Resolution0.13mm for the XY draw plane (0.406mm for the Z build direction)
Micro Resolution0.07mm for the XY draw plane (0.2mm for the Z build direction)

 

For parts that are built in High Resolution (HR): The tolerances for well-designed parts are in the X / Y direction ± 0.05mm plus an additional ± 0.001mm / mm; In Z direction ± 0.13mm plus additional ± 0.001mm / mm.

For parts that are built in Normal Resolution (NR): The tolerances for well-designed parts are in the X / Y direction ± 0.1mm plus an additional ± 0.001mm / mm; In Z direction ± 0.13mm plus additional ± 0.001mm / mm.

For parts that are built in Micro Resolution (MR): The tolerances for well-designed parts in the X / Y direction ± 0.05mm plus an additional ± 0.001mm / mm; In Z-direction ± 0.13mm plus additional ± 0.001mm / mm.

Typically, tolerances are expected and achieved on well-designed parts.

Surface Finishes

UNFINISHED Dots, or standing"nibs," remain evident on the bottom of the part from the support structure remnants.
NATURAL
Supported surfaces are sanded down to eliminate the support nibs.
STANDARD
Supported surfaces are sanded, and the entire part is finely blasted for a consistent look. Note that the layers are still present.

Our stereolithography machines consists of Vipers, ProJets, and iPros. In high-resolution mode, Vipers and ProJets can make parts with extremely tiny features and crisp details, while in normal-resolution mode, they can build cost-effective parts very quickly.

iPros have extremely large build volumes at 736mm by 635mm by 533mm, yet are still able to image highly detailed parts easily.


Micro resolution 3D Printing

Now for the first time if you need micro resolution parts with details as fine as 0.07mm you can prototype your designs using Stereolithography 3D printing. With our new proprietary MicroFine Green™ material and our optimised and unique equipment this is now readily available, often in just a day
FIND OUT MORE

Benefits of Stereolithography

 

  • Competitively priced
  • Excellent surface finish
  • Easily duplicates complex geometries
  • One of the best surface finishes for an additive process

 


What is Stereolithography Used for?

Stereolithography is good for producing accurate prototypes and models.

Stereolithography is well used for creating accurate 3D models of anatomical regions of a patient, used to aid in diagnosis and for pre-planning and implant design and manufacture. It is also good for use in concept models and scale models.

Stereolithography is used for prototyping in order to assess design and for part validation. This is due to accuracy and its ability to produce irregular shapes.

To see an example of a part worked on by Protolabs that used our Stereolithography service, please click here.


What are the material options for Stereolithography?

Unlike older generations of SL, today’s machines offer a range of thermoplastic-like materials to choose from, with several variants to mimic polypropylene, ABS, and glass-filled polycarbonate available. Protolabs offers many variations of these materials:

View the Stereolithography Materials selector

  • Polypropylene: A flexible, durable resin that mimics a stiff polypropylene. It can withstand harsh mechanical treatment and is great for fine details—sharp corners, thin walls, small holes, etc.
  • Polypropylene/ABS blend: Strong, white plastic similar to a CNC machined polypropylene/ABS blend. It works well for snap fits, assemblies, and demanding applications.
  • ABS: Variations of ABS mimics include a clear, low-viscosity resin that can be finished clear; an opaque black plastic that blocks nearly all visible light, even in thin sections; a clear, colourless, water-resistant plastic good for lenses and flow-visualisation models; and a micro-resolution resin that enables production of parts with extremely fine features and tight tolerances.
  • Polycarbonate: A ceramic-filled PC material that provides strength, stiffness, and temperature resistance, but can be brittle.

 

For a more detailed look at 3D printing and Stereolithography, read our white paper on choosing the right 3D printing materials.

Please refer to our materials comparison guide for further detail to support your material selection. Additionally, applications engineers at Protolabs can help guide you during material and manufacturing process selection if help is needed.

For technical support, call Protolabs on +44 (0)1952 683047 or email: [email protected] to discuss the options available for your design.


Resources

a metal 3D printing technician removes support structures from a DMLS part

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