How Small Can A 3D Printer Print? What You Need To Know!


3D printing allows you to produce prototypes in a short space of time at a cheap cost. That is one of the key strengths 3D printing has over traditional manufacturing.

Depending on what you are printing, the level of detail might be very important. Whether it is a scale model, prototype, or prop for a high school play, you might need to print at a high resolution. But how do you produce highly detailed prints and just how detailed can they get?

In this article, we examine just how many microns thin you can print to get that detailed print. Can you or should you print as thin as 0.5 millimeters for example? What happens if you do? 

What Is The Smallest Diameter A 3D Printer Can Print?

Minimum diameters in 3D printers differ based on the technology. Resin printers have the smallest diameter, printing as low as 25 microns (0.25 millimeters). In comparison, the average FDM printer comes with a 400-micron (0.4 millimeter) diameter nozzle.

Minimum Diameter In SLA Printing

Size in SLA printing is a factor of the laser spot size. The smaller it is, the more detail can be added to a print. Laser spot sizes in SLA printers range from 25 to 300 microns (0.3 millimeters).

Stereolithography (SLA) is a resin printing method that uses a laser to harden liquid resin into a 3D print. The laser follows the path set out in the slicer, “curing” the resin as it goes to create an object. While the small laser spot size allows for greater detail than FDM printing it does, however, increase the build time. Source

Minimum Diameter in DLP Printing

DLP printing size depends on the projector’s resolution. The higher the resolution of the projector the smaller the area light can be focused in. This yields a part with more definition. DLP printers can focus at a range between 25 to 300 microns. 

Digital Light Processing (DLP) cures liquid resin by way of a projector. Light is projected onto the resin to harden it in a process that is a little faster than the laser used in SLA printers.

Minimum Diameter in FDM Printing

Minimum diameter in an FDM printer is determined by the nozzle size. Nozzles range in diameter from 0.1 to 1 millimeter. Most printers come with a 0.4-millimeter nozzle. 

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) melts filament to produce a 3D print. The filament is melted and extruded at a high temperature before it cools and solidifies in the desired shape. The larger diameter of FDM printing means there is less detail achieved except for switching to a smaller nozzle. 

Why Is Diameter Important?

Diameter can be used to manipulate two settings (layer height and shell thickness) which determine not just the detail in a print but also the strength of the print. 

Layer Height

Layer height is the thickness or height of each layer in a 3D print. Increasing or decreasing the layer height adds or subtracts detail in a print. The smaller your layer heights the more detailed the print will be. As resin printers have smaller diameters, they can produce smaller layer heights.

Layer height can also influence the strength of a print. Typically, the smaller the layer heights, the stronger the print will be. 

Shell Thickness

Shell thickness is the thickness of the outer layers of a 3D print. The thicker your outer shells the better they are at resisting shocks or impact. A thicker outer shell improves the strength and durability of a print. 

What Are The Size Limits For 3D Printing?

The minimum diameter of a 3D printer determines the level of detail it can produce. On the other hand, the size of the printer will determine the scale of prints. The larger the printer is, the bigger the prints it can produce.  

The build volume or the size of the prints will depend on the dimensions of the printer. As you go up in printer size, the potential size of your prints increases as well. Here are some print sizes for some of the most popular 3D printers.

PRINTERMAXIMUM BUILD SIZE
Ender 3 Pro220 x 220 x 250mm
Ender 5 Plus350 x 350 x 400mm
Prusa i3 MK3S250 x 210 x 210mm
Print sizes for some of the most popular 3D printers

How Thin Is Too Thin For 3D Printing?

Thinner or smaller layer heights make a print dense and increase its strength. Shell thickness works the other way. Decreasing the outer shell thickness will make a part more fragile, not stronger. Printing below a 1-millimeter thickness makes the print less impact and force resistant and easily prone to breakage.

In terms of shell thickness, the thinner you go the weaker your structure gets. A pencil will have better strength than a matchstick simply because one is thicker than the other. The same applies to a 3D print. Source

What Is The 5 mm Rule In 3D Printing?

Support structures hold up the successive layers of a 3D print as plastic is extruded. Without some form of support, it’s almost impossible to print certain designs especially if the design has overhangs or a bridge. If an overhang tilts at more than 45 degrees it requires support. If a bridge is more than 5 mm in length, then it requires a support to hold it up.

Supports are an important part of 3D printing. They make complex designs possible. Think of how you would print if you had to print a word with the letter “T” in it. The overhangs in the T would be difficult to pull off without some form of support.

While supports help in printing certain irregular shapes, you don’t always need them hence rules like the 5 mm and 45-degree rules. Supports may be useful but they also use up more material and increase the time taken to print and post-process the print. There’s also a greater risk of damaging the print when you want to remove the supports from your print.

We also recommend that you check out our post ” How To Take Supports Off A 3D Print Effectively?

Can / Should You 3D Print 0.5 mm?

Resin printers can produce prints of up to 0.25 mm (25 microns). Typically, decreasing the thickness of a print should also be accompanied by a decrease in its size. This offsets the material weakness of having thin walls. A larger print with thin walls will be weaker than a smaller print with the same wall thickness. 

Can / Should You 3D Print 1 mm?

Shell thickness sets out how strong a print is. Depending on the size of the print, reducing shell thickness to anything below 1 mm will increase its fragility. It has a higher chance of breaking as the walls are too thin. 

Thicker walls increase strength but this also increases the amount of material used and the time taken to print.

sherifjallad

I am a very well experienced techie civil engineer who's extensively interested in 3D printing technology and even more captivated by the potential of 3D printing livable structures

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