Transparent 3D printing is a process for printing 3D models with varying degrees of transparency. The ultimate result can vary from translucent to fairly transparent. The variety of the end product is due to a number of factors, such as the type of 3D model printed, the model of 3D printer in use, printer settings, filament choice, and post-processing. Another thing to mention here is that due to the variations in printing technology and filaments chosen for printing, it is difficult to achieve full transparency in 3D printing.
With the rapid upgrading and technological advancements in various industries, 3D printing has also evolved in recent years. Creators are getting accustomed to working with 3D printers to create transparent objects for their designs. From optical engineering and medical lens manufacturing to the production of aesthetically pleasing product casings, many industrial applications are seeking transparency in product materials.
STL Models for Transparent 3D Printing
It does not matter if you are using a transparent filament; the results will not be great if the model you are working with is solid or very complex. Even the best transparent filament will not keep the inside of a complex model clean. This is because, with each additional layer of the filament and each additional depth layer, more light is scattered for printing. For example, a window is transparent and clear, but if you stack hundreds of windows on top of each other, you will not see the light coming in from the other side.
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Each layer further diverts the passing light; therefore, transparent layers made by ABS filament or other materials cannot produce a perfectly clear print due to the limitations of the printer. However, it is possible to increase transparency by allowing more light to go through by following a few steps. If you are looking to create a highly translucent pattern, you should try printing very fine walls, preferably one layer thick with little or no fill.
Best Technique for Transparent 3D Printing?
The choice of the 3D printing technique depends on the nature of a project. Whether you are creating a prototype or looking to make something fully functional, you should select the technology that best suits your project. Each of the proposed technologies has different advantages as well as downsides. Let us take a look at some of the 3D printing technologies and how they can be used for transparent 3D printing.
FDM 3D Printing
FDM printing technology is among the most popular printing techniques in the 3D printing sector. It uses thin layers to create a 3D printed model. The filament is extruded through a nozzle and laid down in layers to give the model a physical shape. Due to certain technicalities of FDM printing, small gaps can occur between layers, reducing the amount of light that strikes the surface of the printed model. If you use a 3D FDM printer, you can easily see the lines of the layers, which contributes to light scattering. It is this refraction that disturbs transparency, and lessening refraction during the design and manufacturing process can greatly improve results.
Determining the optimal settings for transparent 3D printing on FDM printers can also be a tricky process. Multiple tests are required to establish the perfect parameters for the selected device and material. These settings include extrusion temperature and material flow setting, print platform temperature, print speed, layer height, and extruder diameter.
SLA 3D Printing
SLA technology uses a photochemical process to create pieces using polymeric photosensitive resins. The main upside of SLA 3D printing is that it has a very thin printing layer that provides exceptional transparent 3D printing results. The SLA offers reasonable results when it comes to optical transparency. SLA 3D printing process is ideal for visual applications that require smooth surfaces and great detail. However, it should be noted that SLA printing has some support structures that must be removed during post-production, which can have an impact on the final look of the printed item.
Filament for Transparent 3D Printing
Once you have chosen the printing technology, you will have to pick the filament next. Filaments vary depending on the printing technique. The choice of the material should be based on the purpose and its use of printing the 3D model. For example, the prototypes may not be 100 percent translucent but must endure comprehensive testing. Similarly, the decorative models may not be that sturdy but should be aesthetically pleasing.
Post-Processing Transparent 3D Printing
There are numerous post-print treatments that can further enhance the transparency of a printed model. Some examples are grinding, sanding, resin dipping, spraying, epoxy coating, acetone vapor smoothing, and polishing multi-nozzle printing. While polishing a printed model, it is suggested that the particle size of the abrasive paper used to be increased gradually, and both the printed SLA and the 3D FDM can be polished. Notwithstanding the intensity of the work, this method improves the optical clarity of the printed models.
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Spray or epoxy coating is also helpful for 3D SLA and FDM printed items. This post-processing technique is a popular method but requires a recurring application of the product. Resin impregnation is also an after-treatment method applied to 3D SLA printed objects. It consists of dipping the printed 3D model into the resin and allowing it to dry. However, it can only be applied to flat items like lenses. After post-processing, the surface of the model becomes transparent and smooth.
Future of Transparent 3D Printing
As noted in this article, transparent 3D printing and designs have many applications. There are countless ways to print 3D models with different levels of transparency. With the correct materials, great printing configurations for your requirements, and some of the best finishing techniques, you can create pieces with exceptional visual transparency.
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