What Is A High Resolution 3D Printer?

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What is a high resolution 3D Printer?

There are various types of manufacturing techniques that are different from 3D printing. Even within 3D printing, there are different technologies used to achieve different types of print such as high-resolution parts. What are high-resolution parts and what is a high-resolution 3D printer? The simplest definition would be an additive manufactured parts with a low feature size on the XY plane and the Z-axis, and a machine that can additive manufacture parts with low minimum feature sizes on the XY plane and the Z-axis. “Low” and “high” are relative terms, however, and neither indicates a specific measurement or even a range of values. Minimum feature sizes aren’t the same as minimum part sizes either, and size – like accuracy and precision – is different than resolution. If you require a high-resolution 3D printer then, below are some definitions you should know as well as a few examples of equipment.

Resolution vs. Accuracy vs. Precision

To understand resolution, it helps to start with what it’s not. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, resolution is not the same as either accuracy or precision. Let’s use a game of darts to illustrate this point. Accuracy is the closeness of a measurement to the true value (i.e., the bullseye in the target). If a dart hits the center of the bullseye, then the shot was accurate. Precision, on the other hand, is about reproducibility (i.e., hitting the same spot on the target every time). That’s not the same thing. 

graphic comparison of accuracy and precision

A group of darts may all land in the same place, but the player won’t win the game if that place is an outer ring on the target. As the diagram above shows, there are four possible scenarios with accuracy and precision. Hitting the target’s bullseye is always the goal, but only high accuracy and high precision are a winning combination. Moreover, neither accuracy nor precision is the same as resolution, which would be the smallest amount of distance that a player can detect between darts that have landed. 

Resolution vs. Size: Macroscale, Microscale, and Nanoscale

BMF 20 µm sample SEM picture
BMF 100 µm sample SEM picture

Resolution is also different than object size or build volume. Here, it’s important to consider scale. Macroscale 3D printers produce geometries that are measured in millimeters (mm) and above, including centimeters (cm). Some macroscale 3D printers are able to produce features that are “small” relative to a part’s size, but “small” at the macroscale level has a different order of magnitude than at the microscale or the nanoscale. Both microscale and nanoscale 3D printers can produce small parts, but microscale geometry is measured in micrometers (µm) while nanometer geometry is measured in nanometers (nm). These units of measure are very different since a micrometer is a thousand times larger than a nanometer. 

3D printed sample against can tab size comparison

With a high-resolution 3D printer, the ability to achieve relatively small, or low, minimum feature sizes are critical. Yet, there are also differences between 3D printing technologies to consider. With fused deposition modeling (FDM), resolution is a function of the smallest movement that the extruder can make within a single layer. Stereolithography (SLA), it’s a function of the spot size of the beam of ultraviolet (UV) light. Projection stereolithography (PµSL), a form of SLA printing, uses a flash of UV light to cause the rapid photopolymerization of an entire layer of liquid resin instead. It also provides high resolution.

With the understanding of what high resolution printers are now, if you are keen to find out more you can connect with us to learn more!

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