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Two Completely Different Experiences with 3D Printing

Having taken delivery of two different makes and types of 3D printers, there’s a lot to unpack on this endeavor. While this has been a curiosity for some time, the inspiration to commit to this technology took divergent paths with different results. During the first 2023 Prime Day, the Elegoo Saturn 2 8K was on discount at a fairly attractive price point. Initial research into this printer also resulted in the procurement of the Mercury X bundle for washing and curing the outputs from the Saturn 2. While the assembly involved was minimal and essentially “plug and play”, the printing process has been fraught with repeated failures as part of the learning process.

Bed leveling on the Saturn 2 is a manual process which involves the brief process covered in the following video:

While this is fairly simple to achieve, there’s a bit more to the story and the process. Delving down the research rabbit hole resulted in the discovery of supplemental details and recommendations on Reddit to ensure a successful outcome. Use of the included leveling card may result in an improper bed leveling process. After completing the adjusted leveling effort, the included test print of an intricate rook completed. However, gorilla-level force was required to remove the print from the bed. Further investigation into this experience brought forth information on adjusting the default exposure settings for the base layer(s) to prevent excessive bed adhesion. Tuning this downward toward recommended limits which were fifty to seventy percent less than the default setting did nothing to solve the issue. Bed adhesion is a good thing since resin printers print in the reverse order of what occurs with traditional, filament-consuming 3D printers. All suggestions for easing the removal process did not pan out as advertised. A clean model removal simply wasn’t in the cards when printing the model directly to the bed.

Accepting the fact that a raft and supports may be required did result in a usable print which required further post-processing time for washing, trimming the supports, drying, and curing. There was a post-curing effort involving some low-tech sanding to remove the support-induced imperfections from some of the printed surfaces. While resin printing may be more energy efficient from the print operations aspect, the overall experience is less user-friendly than newer, filament-using 3D printers. The necessary, disposable safety elements add to the overall bill of materials for producing outputs. As the bed submerges in the resin tank, reclaiming every last drop to stretch the $30 USD per 1000mL bottle of 8K water washable resin will involve removing the bed and holding it perpendicularly to the resin vat. Otherwise, there’s a cleanup process involved before moving the detached bed to a workspace for carefully removing the printed items.

Washing the printed model after removal from the bed is a mandatory second step. The type of resin used will dictate whether it can be cleaned with water or requires isopropyl alcohol (IPA) to remove excess resin from the print. Regardless of rinse material, there will be an eventual maintenance activity for the contents of the rinse tank. One cannot simply toss the cloudy liquid contents of the rinse basket into the yard or pour it down the drain. Tips exist for making the utilized liquids reusable after appropriate actions are taken and will need to be factored into the overall experience. Once the model is washed and has had sufficient time to dry, the curing effort is the final step in this process and requires minimal effort with the previously-noted Mercury X bundle.

After two weeks of refining the process to obtain usable prints, repeated suggestions for entry-level 3D printing pointed us toward the Creality Ender 3 v3 SE. Yes, that is a mouthful of a product model. While there was more assembly required for the Ender 3 v3 SE than what was involved for the Saturn 2, the experience was night-and-day. The default inclusion of a magnetic flexible plate on the Ender 3 v3 SE was a proverbial gamechanger for removing models from the bed. A CR2032 battery box which took ~3 hours to print on the Saturn 2 (and kept breaking when attempting removal without brute force) completed in slightly under an hour on the Ender 3. Removal of the print was much easier with absolutely no damage to the output. Can a magnetic flexible plate be added to the Saturn 2? Yes. Are we going to spend the money to do so? Time will tell.

Having experienced the filament-based workflow and the resin-based workflow directly, the filament option has required less overall time from the print, preparation, and maintenance perspective. With the surplus quantities of nitrile gloves, IPA, and print removal tools that have been amassed over the past few weeks, we haven’t given up on the Saturn 2 for applicable jobs. Based on the outputs achieved in hours after assembling the Creality printer, it will take over the majority of 3D printing duties for the foreseeable future.

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