Stereolithography (SLA) is a pioneering 3D printing technique that operates by curing a photosensitive resin layer by layer, guided by ultraviolet (UV) lasers. This process creates extremely detailed and high-precision parts with excellent material properties.
The many advantages of SLA 3D printing make it a popular choice for producing complex or intricate parts, custom parts and prototypes for fit and form testing. Its applications span industries including manufacturing, healthcare, automotive, aerospace and more.
Below, we explore the advantages and disadvantages of stereolithography, helping you decide whether SLA 3D printing is the right choice for your project.
What Are the Advantages of Stereolithography?
Stereolithography was the first 3D printing method ever developed, and to this day it remains one of the most popular methods of additive manufacturing. It offers a host of benefits that make it suitable for a wide range of applications, including rapid prototyping and low-volume production. Let’s examine some of the key reasons to choose an SLA 3D printing service.
High Accuracy and Precision
When accuracy and consistency are paramount concerns, SLA 3D printing shines. The technology employs computer-controlled UV lasers that selectively cure resin with a high degree of precision. This allows for the production of parts with very fine details and tight tolerances.
Due to this, SLA is particularly suitable for printing complex geometries, intricate models, and functional components that demand superior dimensional accuracy. It also boasts excellent repeatability, ensuring consistent results.
Superior Surface Finish
One of the most distinct advantages of stereolithography is the superior surface finish of the final product. Since SLA prints in fine resolution, layer lines are minimal, often invisible to the naked eye. This results in SLA 3D printed parts having a naturally smooth finish with little to no ‘stair-stepping’ – ideal for small parts and aesthetic models.
At LPE, we offer both standard and high-resolution stereolithography 3D printing. With a layer thickness of just 0.05mm, our high-resolution option is ideal for those who require an ultra-smooth SLA 3D print.
This makes SLA an excellent option for rapid prototyping, allowing for faster design iterations and significantly reducing the product development timeline. At LPE, we pride ourselves on our speedy SLA 3D printing service, with lead times of just 3-5 days.
Unlike traditional manufacturing methods that require expensive tooling or moulds, SLA prints custom designs using only a digital file. This can lead to significant cost savings, particularly for one-off prototypes or low-volume production runs.
Moreover, as a form of additive manufacturing, SLA 3D printing builds parts layer-by-layer using only the materials required. This further helps to cut down on production costs, as well as reducing waste and minimising excess inventory.
Excellent Material Properties
SLA 3D printing is not confined to a single type of material. There is an enormous range of SLA resins to choose from, each offering distinct mechanical, physical and thermal properties. This versatility allows SLA to accommodate a broad spectrum of applications, from transparent parts for optical applications to strong and durable components for functional testing.
For example, Watershed is a transparent, biocompatible and water-resistant SLA material, perfect for medical models and water flow analysis. Taurus, on the other hand, offers incredible strength and durability for demanding applications such as load-bearing components.
Choice of Post-Processing Options
SLA parts lend themselves well to a variety of post-processing methods, allowing you to customise the finished part according to your individual requirements. For example:
- Painting and specialist finishes e.g. chrome
- Water sealing
- Application of custom decals such as logos
- Manual assembly of smaller components
Choosing a provider that offers both SLA 3D printing and in-house post-processing, such as LPE, can help you to cut production costs and streamline your supply chain.
Are There Any Downsides to SLA 3D Printing?
When it comes to stereolithography advantages and disadvantages, the pros significantly outweigh the cons for most applications. However, if you’re considering SLA 3D printing, it’s important to be aware that SLA only works with photopolymer resins, which may not be suitable for all projects.
For example, because they are sensitive to UV light, SLA 3D printed parts may not hold up well in certain outdoor applications. Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) may be a good alternative if this is a particularly important requirement.
Choosing the right 3D printing method depends on various factors, such as your budget, the complexity of the design, the required properties, and the intended use. For expert advice on which 3D printing technology would best suit your next project, contact LPE today.
Why Choose LPE for SLA 3D Printing?
At LPE, we are dedicated to offering fast, reliable prototyping and rapid manufacturing solutions across a wide range of industry sectors. We have over 30 years’ experience in a range of technologies, including stereolithography, selective laser sintering (SLS), digital light processing (DLP) and more.
We value our customer relationships and are committed to providing a personal, tailored and professional service. Our processes are ISO9001 and ISO13485 quality assured, guaranteeing consistency and excellence for every customer.