As we all know by now, 3D printing has been expanding at an exponential rate. New platforms, technologies, and materials are constantly being developed to boost the prototyping and manufacturing process at all levels. One of the emerging technologies right now is printing 3D transparent materials.
Transparent materials are highly valuable because it has a wide range of applications especially in prototyping products. For example, prototyping products that need form and fit testing of see through parts -- glass consumer products like eyewear, lighting cases and covers, medical and scientific devices, and also structures that need visualization of liquid flow through the structure.
How do you start with 3D printing a transparent material?
There is a range of choices in materials and printing platforms to start with. There are four transparent printing technologies that are available in the market now.
Stereolithography or SLA
Stereolithography or SLA uses a laser which cures the Photopolymer resin, the transparent material which is used for this printing. This material reacts to the laser and is cured and solidified. Layer by layer, this material is solidified to create the 3D printed product. The end product will display some layers which might need additional post-processing such as polishing, smoothing and sanding. This technology's advantage is its ability print high-quality models at a relatively high speed compared to the other ones. But, it also has its downfalls as its one of the more costly platforms to run.
Multi-Jet Modeling or MJM
Multi-Jet Modeling or MJM is a technology which uses an industrial print head to jet the transparent material layer by layer. The transparent material it uses is an acrylic photopolymer along with a support material which is usually a wax. It is very similar to SLA printing as it builds up the 3D print layer by layer. After printing, the support material is melted away, and post polishing is often needed to attain the desired level of transparency. This kind of printing achieves very good accuracy and finishes, but the printing is rather slow compared to others. Also, since it just uses wax-like materials, the products are fragile and limited.
Polyjet is a technology which uses a UV-light to cure a transparent photopolymer. The model is built on a support structure and is printed layer by layer by two jetting heads. Afterwards, the printed material is rinsed away and polished further to become more transparent. With the use of the two jetting heads, one of the advantages of this kind of printing is producing multi-material and/or multi-color parts. This printing also achieves good accuracy and finishes. However, due to working with UV-active polymers, end products only have limited mechanical properties and are not that durable over time.
Printoptical technology uses a UV-curable acrylic ink to print transparent products by flowing and merging droplets before curing them. It is an additive manufacturing process to 3D print without visible layering. The result of this is a transparent printed product that does not need post-process polishing or smoothing. Obviously, the no need of post processing is one of the biggest advantages of this platform, but it also delivers high-quality prints at a relatively high speed. However, since this is a relatively new kind of technology, it is one of the more expensive types of printing.
Each of these printing technologies has its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of producing 3D prints. Each also produces a different kind of transparency grade. Whether you're printing for a working prototype, a visual model, an art piece, or just simply for fun, the right kind of transparent 3D printing is out there for you. Ultimately, your choice of which technology and transparency grade to use will depend on the end use / function of your 3D printed product.
We can help you find out the right 3D printing solution that will fit your need. If you are interested in seeing how B.Product can help you with your next project contact us now.