What Does Resolution Mean in 3D Printing?

3d printing

Resolution is something we deal with all the time without realising it.  The resolution on our smartphone screens, the resolution of the video you watch on social media or even the resolution of the photo you want to print of your kids.  In 3D printing, the resolution is a very important component that needs to be right in order to get the desired result.

The basics of resolution

Improving resolution is something that many companies have worked on in many different areas.  TVs are improving from HD to 4K and even onwards towards things like 8K.  Smartphones have smaller screens but a higher resolution to ensure people get the best quality videos or pictures.  Go back a bit further and you will remember the fight for printer resolution between companies like Canon and HP.

With 3D printing, the resolution basics are a little different because there are three dimensions, not two.  There are the two planar 2D dimensions, X and Y and the third dimension, labelled as Z which makes the printing 3D.  The 2D and Z dimensions are handled differently and have to be dealt with separately which leads to confusion about the quality of print to be produced.

3D printing resolution

Because it offers unique challenges, 3D printing handles resolution a little differently.  The size of the resolution is changed depending on the task at hand.  There are three common ones used normal, high and micro. 

In the majority of cases, the normal resolution will do the job.  It is similar to a standard print and offers great quality but without those extra levels of detail that you see on higher resolutions.

High resolution increases this to a scale of about 0.1 millimetres, offering detailed work that can include small features.  And if this isn’t enough, you can go to the final, highest level of resolution, micro.  With this, you can have features in the hundredths of millimetres.  You can see this video on 3D Printing Fine Resolution Features to see the differences in action.

When micro resolution is used

When micro resolution is used, there are specific issues to contend with.  For example, a standard plastic won’t be able to handle that level of detail and can often lose rigidity if it is used.  That’s why specialist materials are needed.

One example is MicroFine Green, a material created specifically for precision jobs.  It has individual layers that are just 0.025mm thick and this allows very extremely tight tolerances.  It is a bit like ABS plastic and is bright green in colour.

Micro resolution parts are also ideal because there’s no need to sandblast them when they are printed in fact, this would actually destroy some of the fine details that make them so important.  All it does mean is that companies needing this level of resolution should be happy to go with green!

How to select the right resolution

When you work with experts in 3D printing, they will know what resolution works best for the project at hand.  Designs that benefit from a higher resolution can include ones with organic forms, small embossings or intricate engravings or even things like rounded arches.  However, the higher the resolution, the longer it will take to produce the part, so this is also worth factoring in.

Resolution has always been a big factor in printing and as 3D printing develops, new resolution levels may become available.  Currently, the three available levels work for types of projects undertaken and going forward, new levels may be introduced if the need for them is found.  Or perhaps, a new way to handle resolution may even be developed.