Adventures in 3D Printing

My daughter, who is down at Otakon as we speak, asked me if our ancient 3D printer could print her out some items for one of her cosplays. Unfortunately, I had attempted to repair it last year when the filament feeder got jammed, was unable to re-align the gears properly, and now the feeder refuses to even let the filament through. I was never very good with this printer anyway.

Instead, I mentioned the situation to my friend, who offered his unused resin printer. I had been considering a resin printer during the annual Capitalist Orgy Day (you might know it as Amazon’s “Prime Day”) but was concerned about all of the caveats surrounding the resin printing ecosystem: resin is toxic and needs a ventilated area (and there are some horrific stories in this corner, believe me); cleanup is a bitch; printers don’t print out of the box; etc. I had ultimately decided against making the purchase, but for the amazing low price of “free as in beer” (plus $10 for 500ml of resin, and $18 for a pack of strainers to get unused resin back into the bottle), I figured it was a completely low-cost intro to the world of resin printing.

As I had posted in my previous…post…my very first attempt was a complete disaster, with the “simple” XYZ calibration cube sticking to the FEP (fully fluorinated polymer, which is a substance known for its anti-stick properties). Unlike a filament printer, resin printers start by creating a base layer attached to a metal plate dipped in the well of liquid resin. In order to add a layer to the model, a UV light flashes the layer shape, hardening that layer onto the previous layer. The metal plate continuously lifts the model out of the resin well, effectively building the model upside-down. As you can imagine this can cause all kinds of issues, from a build not adhering to the metal plate, to parts of the model succumbing to gravity (if not supported properly), to the model not separating properly from the FEP like with my first attempt.

Undaunted, because I really wanted this to work, I went back to the well and started by adjusting my slicer settings. A slicer is the computer application which takes an .OBJ or .STL model and “slices” it into layers that the printer needs. From my understanding, Chitubox is the most popular slicer for resin 3D these days. The printer I have, the Anycubic Photon S, comes with its own slicer. I chose to go completely off-road and used Lychee slicer, an up-and-coming app which really worked out for me. It has a really good auto-magical setup wizard which will rotate a model and add supports where it feels they are needed, and so far, I haven’t had to tweak or add any additional supports after letting the AI lose on a project. After adjusting my settings in Lychee, I skipped the XYZ cube and channeled The Force with this “Baby Yoda” figure.

I was pretty thrilled that the print came out as good as it did, although it’s nowhere near as good as it could be. The picture above was taken after the model had been “washed” (run though 99% isopropyl alcohol) and “cured” (blasted with a final round of UV to harden the shell). As you might be able to see, some of the support points were not cleaned off effectively (by me), but overall, I was impressed enough to show Lil Grogou to my wife, who immediately demanded a “Baby Groot”…her favorite character.

Again, another decent print for a second attempt with very little futzing with the software or hardware. The face is super smooth and most of the rest of the model is as advertised on the box. However, I once again had issues with the remains of the supports, including two which crossed the chest of poor Groot and became inexorably part of his anatomy.

I washed the model and then tried sanding away these imperfections before washing it a third time, but it didn’t really help much.

My next goal, then, is to figure out the best way to get rid of these supports, as its impossible to print without them, but seemingly impossible (for me) to remove them and leave a decent looking model.

I have one more project on deck to print, probably tomorrow (or today if you are reading this in the morning).

That is the Anvil Carrack, my personal flagship in Star Citizen. I had to shrink it down to get it on the small build plate of the Photon S and opted to print a model that’s all one piece for ease. I also have a model of the Anvil Hornet, but the Hornet comes in several different varieties, and this project file has parts to build all of them; I’m just not sure which parts to print in order to build which variant, so I’ll save that for another day.

The thing is that if the Carrack comes out as well (or hopefully better) than the Grogou and Groot prints did, then I’m going to advocate for a better, larger printer. It might not happen until Christmas, but as resin printers seem to produce smaller output than filament — with less hassle, in my opinion — “larger” still means fairly small when we’re talking within a “reasonable” price window. I would be able to make a Very Good Case for going for the premium models, though, if I can prove that it’s not going to end up collecting dust like the filament printer is currently doing, and I think a third successful print will do just that. I don’t really have a need to print things, but nature abhors a vacuum, especially when it could be filled with all kinds of cool 3D printed miniatures. I’m already stockpiling “free as in beer” TTRPG terrain and such in the even that I might need them (I spoke to my nephew this weekend, and we’re both interested in having an in-person TTRPG game at some point).

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