If you want to print larger, stronger items that will end up being put through their paces in a tough application, then you will probably wish to use an FDM printer.
Despite living in an age of touchscreens and connected devices, there are still plenty of fans of tabletop miniature games such as Warhammer 40K, Star Wars: Armada and Battletech.
Or maybe you don’t fancy printing miniatures for tabletop games, and just enjoy making and painting miniatures.
Either way, modern consumer-grade SLA / DLP printers offer the level of printing resolution that you need for your miniature creations.
In this article, we will be taking a look at 5 great SLA printers that you can consider if you wish to begin printing your own miniature figures.
Benefits of Choosing Resin Printer for Miniatures
First up, let’s differentiate between the technologies used in resin printing.
The main types of resin printers are SLA (Stereolithography), which uses a laser to scan the shape on the layer, LCD, which uses a screen to beam the shape in one go, and DLP, which uses a chip-based projector.
DLP printers are a tad pricey, and may be surplus to requirements for most miniature makers. So for the benefit of this article, we will be looking at SLA and LCD printers.
There are a number of benefits of using a resin printer for printing miniature figures, and most of them are related to the final quality of the print.
So if you choose to purchase a resin printer for this reason, you can look forward to the following benefits.
- High Resolution: SLA printers can produce highly detailed miniatures with fine features. This is due to both the small pixel size (which affects the XY resolution) and the low step size controlling the Z-axis. Typically, resin printers can print with a layer height over 10x smaller than that of an FDM printer, meaning your prints are free of noticeable stepping effects.
- Consistent Quality: Resin printing provides a consistent level of detail and finish quality. This is due to using a light source to cure resin layer by layer. This process is highly precise, which means that each layer is cured with the same level of detail and accuracy. This results in miniatures with consistent and accurate details, unlike other 3D printing methods, where inconsistencies can arise due to variations in extruder nozzle size or printing speed.
- Quick Printing: Resin printing can be faster than other 3D printing methods, especially for smaller miniatures. Resin printing can be quick because it cures each layer of resin almost simultaneously, rather than building layer by layer as with FDM printing. This means that the printer can move on to the next layer as soon as the current one is cured, resulting in a faster printing process. Additionally, the laser used in SLA printing is able to cure the resin much faster than a nozzle can deposit material, further speeding up the printing process.
- Smooth Surface Finish: Resin prints often have a smooth surface finish right off the printer, eliminating the need for post-processing. This is due to a combination of the curing process, as well as the resolution. As the light source cures each layer of resin, it smoothens out the surface, resulting in a smooth finish that often requires minimal post-processing. The surface finish is also consistent throughout the entire print, which can help to produce miniatures with fine details and a uniform appearance. Additionally, the precision of the laser in SLA printing minimizes layer lines and other imperfections, further contributing to the smooth surface finish.
- Wide Range of Materials: Resin printing can use a variety of resin materials with different properties (e.g. flexibility, translucency).
What to Consider
There are several factors that you should consider when making your resin printer purchase.
Here are some things that you may want to think about when making your final decision.
In 3D printing, XY accuracy refers to the precision of the position of a point on the build platform in the X and Y plane.
The pixel size refers to the size of the smallest unit of the image being projected onto the resin. The smaller the pixel size, the higher the detail that can be captured in the build.
In general, the XY accuracy and pixel size trade-off must be carefully considered when selecting resin 3D printing technology, as the required precision, build time, and cost will vary depending on the application.
On LCD systems, the screen resolution can affect the level of details, so if this is important, you may opt for a higher resolution screen such as an 8K LCD rather than a 4K one.
The layer height for a typical FDM printer is in the region of 0.24 mm, although you can get them lower (as long as you don’t mind waiting for the resulting longer print time).
There is a tradeoff here between print speed and surface finish. A larger layer height may be quicker to print, but will manifest as a stepping effect on the print, especially on curved surfaces.
The same is true for resin printers, except the layer height on a resin printer is much smaller (10x smaller in fact), and the stepping effect is reduced a lot.
Build Volume Size
If you’re only printing single miniatures, then this probably isn’t going to be a concern to you, as pretty much every single resin printer on the market is suitable for printing items the size of a single miniature.
But if you prefer to print a whole batch of them, you may with to choose a printer with a bigger printing area, or a bigger volume.
The speed in the XY plane is ridiculously fast on resin printers, so the speed bottle neck is actually the z-axis speed, or the time it takes to move from one layer to the next.
A higher z-axis speed means faster prints, and this information is normally presented in mm/hour. Higher is better, and it can offset the effects of a smaller laser size somewhat on SLA systems.
Everybody loves a good bargain, and luckily there are many resin printers available for very little money.
But you get what you pay for, and when purchasing a cheaper resin printer you will make some compromises on quality when compared to more expensive resin printers with higher resolution.
Best resin printers for miniatures
Here are some of the best printers that you can buy for printing miniatures. Note, we haven’t included any DLP machines, because while they may be technically superior overall, nobody wants to spend twenty thousand dollars just to print a figurine.
Elegoo Mars 3
First up is the Elegoo Mars 3 LCD printer, with a 4K screen and very attractive price. This printer is incredibly popular and offers a lot of value for the little money you pay for it. Whereas the previous Mars printers were only 2K, this one ups the game with 4098*2560 pixel screen offering 4K resolution and a pixel size of just 35 microns.
- 89.6 mm x 143.43 mm x 175 mm buildarea
- 10 – 20 microns layer height
- 60mm/hr print speed
- Small Footprint
- Sandblasted Build Plate
- 1 year Chitubox Pro Slicer subscription
Pros and Cons
- Minimal assembly required
- None to mention at this price. A good printer
Elegoo Saturn 2
Also, from Elegoo, the Saturn 2 is our first 8K printer on the list, offering significantly higher resolution than the Mars 3. It also has a bigger build area.
Naturally, for these upgrades, you have to pay a little more cash.
The 8K (7680 x 4320 pixels) screen allows for miniscule detail to be perfectly printed, which results in an XY accuracy of just 28.5 microns.
You will not find that on your average FDM printer.
- 192 x 120 x 200 mm build area
- 10-20 micron layer height
- 70 mm/h print speed
- 8K resolution
- 10″ 8K Monochrome LCD
- Fresnel Collimating Light Source
- Activated carbon filter
Pros and Cons
- 8K printer for little money
- Good build size
- Resin profiles are lacking
- Touchscreen is a little small for some
- USB is on the side rather than the front
Phrozen 3D Sonic Mini 4K
The Phrozen 3D Sonic Mini is widely regarded as one of the best 4K LCD printers that you can get in this price range, largely due to its tiny pixel size that allows the printing of super-fine details.
Being “Mini”, it has a small bed, but also a small footprint, so it will not take up too much of your deskspace.
The resolution offers 722 PPI pixel density, which according to Phrozen is the highest PPI ever.
This all adds up to great prints, and tells us why this printer is a favorite among makers.
- 134 x 75 x 130 mm build volume
- 10 – 30 micron layer height
- 80 mm/hour print speed
- 4K resolution
- 35 micron precision
- Easy handling
Pros and Cons
- 1-2 seconds of exposure time per layer
- Easy assembly
- Offline printing
- User-friendly interface
- 134 x 75 x 130 mm installation space
- At this price, start to consider 8K printers
Anycubic Photon Mono 4K
The Photon Mono 4K from Anycubic offers 3,840 x 2,400 pixel (4K) resolution printing at a very nice price.
And while it may have a small build volume (relatively speaking), it should be fine for miniature fans.
It has a great resolution, reasonable printing speed, and it has 7% light transmittance, which is 250% higher than any other Anycubic Photon in the range.
- 132 x 80 x 165 mm build volume
- 50 micron layer height
- 50mm/hour print speed
Pros and Cons
- Great price
- 7% light transmittance
- Small build volume
- Big layer height
Prusa SL1S Speed
Prusa doesn’t just do reliable FDM printers, they have also moved into the rein printing game, and their Prusa SL1S Speed claims to be the fastest desktop SLA resin printer out there.
And being the fastest means that it doesn’t come cheap, as the SL1S Speed printer is the most expensive on the list.
With this machine, you will be churning out legions of orcs or Space Marines all day long.
- 127 x 80 x 150mm build volume
- 10-100 micron layer height
- 80mm/hour print speed
- 2560×1620p (2K) resolution
Pros and Cons
- The SL1S features a 25% bigger print area compared to the SL1
- Touch Controls and Network Features
- High-Quality Materials and Rigid Body
- Smart resin tank
- Very fast printer
- Low resolution for the price
Consumer grade resin printers are great for printing miniatures for a number of reasons, not least because of the high detailed prints that you can get for such a little price.
In most cases, there is very little setup time either, meaning you can get printing your figures within just a few minutes of unpacking (unlike many FDM printers that require assembly).
Of course, quality, speed, and price are the main tradeoffs, and as with all tradeoffs, you should expect to pick 2!
If you want quality AND speed, expect to spend more. But you can expect to pay less if you are happy to compromise on quality or speed.
But really, there are a lot of videos on YouTube showing people printing miniatures on very cheap printers.
Depending on the level of detail you are happy with, you can get good results when spending around $200 on a machine.
Take into account our considerations when making a purchase, watch a few videos, and get the fastest and highest resolution printer your budget will allow, and you will have many happy hours printing miniatures.
While I personally do not play tabletop games (not for a long time), if I were to buy one of these from the list, I would opt for the Elegoo Saturn 2, because it offers the right balance of price and quality for smaller items.
And if I wanted a bigger and faster machine, I would opt for the Prusa, although the detail allowed by the Prusa (and the price) may be off-putting to some miniature makers.
So there you go, a fine selection of miniature-making machines for your perusal. If only somebody would invent a machine that paints them!
But then, that would remove half the fun, right?