How To Get Started With Resin 3D Printing

Curtis Satterfield, Ph.D.

Curtis Satterfield, Ph.D.

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I often get asked how someone can get started with resin 3D printing. They want to know how to get into the hobby without wasting a lot of time or money. In this guide we will talk about how you can get started 3D printing.

To get started 3D printing you will need several items; a 3D printer, resin, a computer, 3d models to print, a way to wash your prints, a way to cure your prints, personal protective equipment, a willingness to learn, and patience. 

In this article we will examine each of those items in detail and how exactly you can get started with 3D printing. We will talk about the do’s and don’ts for getting started to help save you time and money. My goal is to help you understand what is required for 3D printing, so you know what to expect, and how to succeed and enjoy the hobby. So, let’s get started!

How Do Resin Printers Work?

After loading a file onto the printer and pressing print, the build plate will slowly lower down the Z axis into the resin vat.

Elegoo Mars 3D resin printer with labels showing various parts of the printer

After the build plate is in position the UV light will turn on and shine through the image created on the LCD screen. In the image below I have emptied the vat of resin and started an exposure test on my Mars so you can see the UV light passing through the image on the LCD screen.

UV light exposure on the Elegoo Mars resin printer
The UV light will pass through the unmasked areas on the LCD screen and cure the resin where it is exposed to the light. The first few layers, or bottom layers are overexposed to ensure that the print sticks firmly to the bed. Bottom layer times are typically set to 10-12 times longer than regular layer exposure times. After the layer is complete the light will turn off and the build plate will lift about 5mm and then lower back down.


The build plate rises and lowers back down for two reasons. The first reason is to “peel” the printed layer off the FEP sheet on the bottom of the resin vat. Even though FEP is a not-stick material, the resin still clings to the FEP due to suction and the curing process. Slowly lifting the build plate allows the print to peel off the FEP film without detaching from the build plate. The second reason for lifting and lowering is to allow fresh resin to flow back into the space where the print was peeled off the resin.

This process will continue until all the layers have been exposed and the print is complete.

 
Finished resin 3D print hanging from build plate

What Printer Should I get?

An important thing to know is that you will need a lot more than just a resin printer and resin. Resin printing requires working with toxic chemicals and you’ll need good personal protective equipment (PPE). You will also need a way to wash and cure your prints after they come off the printer. Resin printing is more expensive than FDM printing but offers extremely high detailed prints that cannot be achieved with FDM printing.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way let’s talk about printers. There are several great entry level budget resin printers available today. Most of the budget printers are similar in specifications and features and can be purchased for under $300. I recommend the Elegoo Mars Pro 2 (Amazon Link) as a great first resin printer.

What Else Do I Need to Buy?

This is the elephant in the room when it comes to resin printing. People that are new to the hobby see the detailed prints that are possible with resin and become hooked. Then they see that a new resin printer can be purchased for less than $300 and before they know it, they’ve clicked buy. What many people don’t realize is the number of consumables you need. Unlike and FDM printed parts, resin prints are not finished as soon as the printer stops. The prints need to be washed and cured for the model to be ready for use and for that you need more consumables.

Here is a list of the consumables with links to the items you will need for your resin printer:

That’s a lot of extra supplies just to print a resin model. A washing and curing machine will run half as much as you paid for your printer. And you will go through gallons of cleaning solution and hundreds of nitrile gloves! If you’d like to learn more about these items and why you need them head over to my article “What You Need for Resin 3D Printing.” All the necessary consumables for resin printing can double or triple your cost per model!

I cannot stress the next point enough. Resin is toxic, get proper personal protective equipment! The masks that come with some resin kits are not rated to filter volatile organic compounds. Do your body a favor and go buy a proper respirator!

Anyubic wash and cure machine for resin 3D printing

Source: Anycubic.com

I also highly recommend saving up and getting a wash and cure machine like the ANYCUBIC Wash and Cure. It really does simplify the post-processing of resin prints. However, you don’t need one and can make do with a simple DIY set-up. You can read more about the ANYCUBIC Wash and Cure on my recommended resin accessories page.

What Kind of Resin Should I use?

I recommend using standard resin when you first start out. It is the least expensive and easiest to use of the resins. Below is a list of different resin types and their uses.

Standard resin is your basic and usually lowest priced resin. It can come in a variety of colors and is opaque in appearance. Standard resin typically has low viscosity allowing the resin to flow freely during the printing process. Standard resins are designed to reduce part shrinkage when cured. Standard resins also tend to be brittle when cured and may not work well for functional parts requiring high strength.

Transparent resin is another form of standard resin. Transparent resins differ from other standard resin as their appearance is transparent instead of opaque. An interesting aspect of transparent resin is that the UV light can past through the current layer into preceding layers of the print. Because the transparent resin does not absorb the UV light as readily, exposure times for transparent resin tend to be longer. Transparent resin shares the same mechanical characteristics of standard resin.

Casting resin is used in various industries like jewelry making and metal casting. This resin is designed to be “burned out” in a process like lost wax casting. Castable resins tend to be made with waxes that melt when exposed to high temperatures. These resins are designed for this specific purpose and do not work well for other uses.

Tough resin is designed to have higher strength than standard resin. Tough resin is designed to mimic the mechanical characteristics of ABS plastic. Tough resin is ideal for functional prototypes as it produces strong parts that are less likely to shatter. With tough resin you typically need your parts to have a minimum wall thickness. Trying to print models with thin walls can result in failed prints.

Flexible resin is ideal for medical devices, anatomical models, special effects props, and anything that needs to bend and move. The main difference between flexible resin is how much flex the final part has.

For most home uses standard, transparent, and tough resin will be the most common. Many people also find success mixing their 3D resins to improve the final qualities of the print. For example, you could mix a little flexible resin with standard resin to reduce the amount of brittleness in the final print. If you are interested in mixing 3D resins check out the article I wrote on the topic.

What Do I Need a Computer for?

In order to 3D print there are a couple steps you need to take before actually pressing print. The first step is to find a model that you would like to print. There are many freely available 3D models that you can download from online. Most models will be saved as an STL file. In order to download the models and the software for 3D printing your computer will need high-speed Internet access.

If you want to create your own 3D models using Blender or a CAD program such as AutoDesk Fusion360 you will need a computer to run the software. After you create the model or part in your CAD program you will need to save it as an STL and import it into your slicer.

Regardless of the method used to get your 3D models you will need to import them into your slicer to process. Ultimaker Cura is a popular free slicing program that you can download and install on your computer. You will need to generate a profile for your printer so Cura can generate G-Code that will work on your printer. Luckily, most software slicers come with a large collection of printer profiles that you can import. As you get more experience with your printer you will want to tweak the settings in your slicer to get the best prints.

Once you have sliced the model you will need to transfer the G-Code file from your computer to the printer. The most common method is to copy the G-Code to an SD card and insert it into the printer. The printer will read the G-Code file on the SD card and use the file to print your model. 

After working with the printer for a while you may find areas where the prints need improvement. Most users will want to calibrate their printer to get the best print quality. Calibration will require you to connect your computer to the printer via USB cable so you can send G-Code commands directly to the printer. These commands will be saved to the printer’s firmware affecting how the printer performs certain functions.

You may need to upgrade or re-flash the firmware on your printer for various reasons. In order to flash the firmware on your printer you will need to connect the printer to your computer with a USB cable as you did for calibration. The steps to flashing firmware will vary from printer to printer but you will still need a computer to connect to the printer for this process.

What Kind of Computer Do I Need?

First off you will need a PC or Mac running Windows, Mac OS, or Linux. Chromebooks will not work as you can’t install the software needed to a Chromebook.

As we look at the specifications in the following section there will be two terms I use, minimum specifications, and recommended specifications. While a computer that meets the minimum specifications may run the software it will be slow. You should aim for your computer to meet or exceed the recommended specifications.

In order to check your computer specifications on a Windows PC press the windows key and Pause/Break Key at the same time. This will bring up the system information dialog box. In that Window you will see your Processor type/speed and installed RAM. On a MAC Click the apple menu and select “About this MAC.” Your system information will show in the overview window.

Modeling Software

Let’s start with modeling software for those of you who may want to venture down this road. Blender is a good choice of software if you plan to model organic shapes such as sculpts or miniatures.

Blender 3D modelling Software

The following lists the specifications for a computer to run Blender:

Blender Minimum Specifications:

  • 64-bit dual core 2Ghz CPU with SSE2 support
  • 4 GB RAM
  • 1280×768 display
  • Mouse, trackpad or pen + tablet
  • Graphics card with 1 GB RAM, OpenGL 3.3

Blender Recommended Specifications:

  • 64-bit quad core CPU
  • 16 GB RAM
  • Full HD display
  • Three button mouse or pen + tablet
  • Graphics card with 4 GB RAM

Blender Optimal Specifications:

  • 64-bit eight core CPU
  • 32 GB RAM
  • Full HD displays
  • Three button mouse and pen + tablet
  • Graphics card with +12 GB RAM

The good news for Blender is most computers from the past five years will meet or exceed the minimum specifications.

Let’s look at Autodesk Fusion360 a popular CAD program. Fusion360 is the choice if you plan to make functional prints that need precise measurements and tolerances.

3D Object Modeled in AutoDesk Fusion360

Fusion360 Minimum Requirements:

  • 64-bit processor, 4 cores, 1.7 GHz Intel Core i3, AMD Ryzen 3 or greater
  • 4 GB of RAM (integrated graphics recommend 6 GB or more)
  • Graphics card – Supported for DirectX 11 or greater. Dedicated GPU with 1 GB or more of VRAM. Integrated graphics with 6 GB or more of RAM
  • Display Resolution: 1366 x 768 (1920 x 1080 or greater at 100% scale strongly recommended)
  • Internet: 2.5 Mbps or faster download; 500 Kbps or faster upload. You must have an Internet connection to use Fusion360.

Fusion360 Recommended for complex modeling:

  • CPU – 3 GHz or greater, 6 or more cores
  • Memory – 8 GB RAM or greater
  • Graphics – Dedicated GPU with 4GB or more VRAM. DirectX 12 supported.

Fusion360 has some higher system requirements than Blender. I can say from experience I am able to run Fusion360 on a Laptop that is about 7 years old. It doesn’t run as smoothly as it does on my newer PCs, but it can still be done.

Slicing Program Requirements

Let’s talk about requirements for the all-important slicing programs. We will review requirements for ChituBox a common slicer for resin printing.

Chitubox slicing software for 3D resin printing
ChituBox Minimum Requirements
  • Intel® Pentium® 4 CPU
  • 4GB of RAM
  • OpenGL 2.0 capable system
  • 2GB of available hard-disk space

ChituBox Recommended Requirements

  • Intel® Core i7 CPU
  • 8GB or more of RAM

ChituBox can run on older systems, however, when slicing if you have it calculate the volume of the model, it will take a long time even on a fast PC. I want to point that out because it can take a few minutes to slice a complex print. You will need some patience if you are using ChituBox on an older computer.

Hard Drive Space

For hard drives the bigger the better. However, not all hard drives are created equal. A major speed advantage can be gained by installing and using a Solid-State Hard Drive (SSD). Because SSDs have no moving parts they are much faster than their mechanical counterparts. The main drawback to SSDs is that they are more expensive than mechanical drives. If you are looking to buy a new computer, I highly recommend getting a PC with an SSD.

If you already have a PC and need more space to store your STLs  I recommend an SSD USB 3.0 external hard drive like this SanDisk (Amazon link).

If you already have a PC or Mac that is only a few years old, you should have no problem running the software needed for 3D printing. As I stated previously, I can run all the above programs on an old laptop. If you have an older PC chances are you can still run the software needed. All the software discussed in this section is free to download and use so you can test it on your computer. If you are worried about your computer running the software needed download and test it first!

If you are looking to purchase a new laptop I recommend this ASUS ROG Strix G512 (Amazon Link) as it exceeds the necessary requirements. It will also serve you well for several years.

What Software Will I need?

We covered most of the software and specifications in the previous section. At a minimum you will need a PC with Internet access to download STLs and a slicer such as Cura or Chitubox. If you want to create your own models and parts you will need programs like Blender or Fusion360.

Finally, if you want an easy way to store or view your STLs I recommend installing an extension for Windows called Papas-Best STL Thumbnails. This extension will automatically show you a model view of your STL right in Windows Explorer.

Papas Best STL viewer software
Another option for STL viewing is STL Vault. This program is in alpha while I am writing this article and so far, it looks like a great resource for searching and viewing your 3D models. A feature I like about this program is the ability to rotate a model for viewing without the need to open your slicer.
STL Vault STL viewing software

What do I do with all my 3D Files?

How you store your STL files is a matter of preference. I recommend creating a folder on your computer for your 3D models and then creating sub folders inside of the main folder to keep them sorted. As mentioned in the software section I highly recommend two additional programs to help with your STL library. Papas Best STL Viewer and STL Vault. The ability to see your models without the need to open them in a slicer is a huge time saver. Trust me, you will eventually end up with gigabytes of STLs and keeping them organized will be a necessity!

If you are downloading lots of models you will need ample hard drive space in order to store them all. Currently my collection takes up 96GB of storage space and it grows daily. I do go through the collection from time to time and remove models that I no longer need or have interest in printing. In addition to the storage space requirement I recommend backing up your STL files. 

The easiest method for backing up is to get a USB hard drive and copy your collection to the hard drive. I recommend an SSD USB 3.0 external hard drive like this SanDisk (Amazon link). Be sure to update the collection every week or daily if you’re doing a lot of downloading. Do not work directly off this hard drive! Do all your editing and slicing from your computers main drive and backup to the external hard drive!

Another option for backup is using a cloud storage service. I use Dropbox as a cloud storage solution. I pay around $10 a month for 2TB of cloud storage that automatically syncs with my computer. They offer a free basic plan with 2GB, but if you want a free solution, I recommend Google Drive who offers 15GB for free. Microsoft OneDrive is another reliable storage solution. Each provider offers paid subscriptions with more storage space than the basic free plans.

If you have a hard drive failure your STLs will be waiting for you. I would also highly suggest using a cloud storage service for backup of ALL your important files! As an IT instructor and consultant, I can’t begin to explain how costly hard drive failure is when you don’t have proper backups!

Is it Hard to Learn 3D Printing?

You will need to know what types of objects you want to print. This will determine what type of printer and what materials you should use. For example, if you want to 3D print terrain for table-top games, you’ll want a Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printer. These printers use filament and are more cost effective at making larger prints.

If you are more interested in small fine detailed models or parts you will want to get a resin printer. These printers work by exposing a liquid vat of resin to UV light which hardens the resin. These printers have greater detail than FDM printers but cost more to operate.

Once you have an idea of the things you would like to print you can decide on the printer you would like to get. Many people in the hobby end up with both types of printers. People also often end up with many different printers of the same time.

As you wait for the printer to arrive you can begin to research your new printer. Begin by looking up how-to articles and YouTube videos on your exact model of 3D printer. Once the printer arrives you will loosely follow the steps below on your 3D printing journey:

  1. Learn about 3D models. How to make them or how to find and download them.
  2. Learn how to use a slicing program to prepare your model for the printer
  3. Learn how to transfer your model from the slicer to the printer
  4. Learn how to use print on your 3D printer
  5. Learn how to post process your prints
  6. Learn about maintenance on your printer
  7. You will learn about troubleshooting at every step of the process.

I say loosely because each person will learn differently. You may be more interested in learning about the software to design 3D prints. Maybe you enjoy the hands-on work with the printer and dive deep into configuration of your printer. No matter what order you choose you will eventually need to learn all the above items.

So How Do I Get Started?

  1. Research and purchase a good beginner friendly FDM printer.
  2. Purchase a 1-liter bottle of resin or a few 500ml bottles of different types.
  3. Ensure your computer meets the minimum specifications outlined in this guide
  4. Download and install a resin slicer like ChituBox.
  5. Find and download models you want to print.
  6. Setup your 3D printer according to the instructions.
  7. Run a test print on your printer to check the quality.
  8. Post-process your print by washing and curing it.
  9. Enjoy your new hobby!