Digital light processing and liquid crystal display technologies are often used in TV and monitor industries, but they are also found in resin 3D printers. Both DLP and LCD printers produce high-quality results, and the differences are usually subtle. Yet, they still exist and may determine your choice for one equipment type over the other. If you’re unsure which printer is best, this comparison between DLP vs. LCD 3D printers might help you pick.
DLP vs. LCD 3D Printers: Side-by-Side Comparison
DLP and LCD 3D printing systems are two common types of resin printers. Machines vary from entry-level – cheap and suitable for beginners and hobbyists – to industrial-grade equipment. Prices can go from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. DLP printers are the best choice for precision crafts, delivering higher accuracy and better resolution for small models. These printers also work with various types of resin. LCD printers are a better choice for larger models, functional parts, and hobbies. Although they work with fewer resin types, they’re generally cheaper. Briefly, here’s how the DLP vs. LCD 3D printers compare.
|DLP 3D Printers||LCD 3D Printers|
|Purpose||Professional and industrial applications||Hobbyists, beginners, light-duty applications|
|Technology||Digital light processing||Liquid crystal display|
|Accuracy||Higher accuracy for small models||Higher accuracy for large models|
|Suitability for high print volumes||Yes||No|
|Printing speed||20 – 140mm/hour||20 – 80mm/hour|
|Max print resolution||8K||8K|
|Approximate cost (desktop printers)||$500 – $4,000||$200 – $2,500|
DLP vs. LCD 3D Printers: What’s the Difference?
LCD and DLP three-dimensional printers use vat polymerization to cure photosensitive resin into solid layers, eventually turning into whole parts. Similar to FDM printing, the layers consist of transversal sections of the model, printed one by one according to instructions generated by a slicer program. Both machine types feature a vatting tank that contains the resin. A build platform is lowered into the vat, from where it rises slowly as the sections are cured and the part is formed. The main difference between DLP and LCD printers is the light source and the technology behind the resin curing process.
DLP printers get their name from the fact they use digital light processing technology to cure resin layers. These printers use a digital light projector similar to the ones used in home cinema settings to flash images of the entire layer onto the bottom of the vat tank. The projector uses a digital micro-mirror device (DMD) to direct light selectively only where needed. This component consists of thousands of tiny mirrors that enable high-resolution printing. High-end, industrial-grade DLP printers can print in 8K resolution, delivering excellent object quality.
However, desktop DLP printers generally use near-infrared light (400nm to 420nm) and have a maximum display resolution of 2560 x 1440 voxels – the 3D equivalent of pixels. Industrial DLP printers can use UV to visible light (<400nm to 700nm).
LCD printers are popular with hobbyists and jewelry makers. Similar to DLP, they can use UV, near-UV, infrared, or visible light to cure resins, but they don’t project it through a system of mirrors. Instead, these printers feature a liquid crystal display that flashes complete layers at the resin tank. The light comes from an array of LEDs that shine through the screen, pretty much like an LCD TV displays images. The screen in front of the light source masks the beam of light, revealing only the pixels necessary for printing (curing) the current layer. The remaining vat remains blacked out, which is why this technique is often called masked SLA (MSLA). This is the reason why some brands call their LCD printers MSLA printers.
Similar to LCD TVs, LCD 3D printers can have different resolutions. Entry-level desktop printers usually have low resolutions, but they can typically print high-definition objects. Higher-end models can print in ultra-high definition and beyond, up to 8K.
Both printers work with photosensitive resins, but the former is more versatile. The secret is the wide wavelength compatible with more materials and specialty resins. Because light is reflected onto the resin layer, DLP printers are ideal for resins requiring longer curing times. These materials include ultra-rigid and rigid resins, such as metal and ceramic-filled materials.
Because the LCD panel is placed between the light source and the vat, LCD printers output low-energy light. This light works best with resins that cure quickly, such as rubber-like and other flexible resins.
Both printer technologies work with standard and clear resins developed for LCD and DLP, although the wavelength may limit the use of a specific resin to a specific printer type. You can find the wavelengths that a resin requires on the product’s label. The printer’s manual can help you check resin compatibility if you are unsure about the wavelength a machine outputs. While specialty products are regularly released, most resin printers emit light – and most resins cure – in the 385- to 405nm range. Most resins are compatible with DLP and LCD, except for proprietary products work with a specific type of printer.
In addition to the wavelength and resin compatibility – which is generally printed on the product’s label – you should also consider the resolution, especially if you want to print at high resolution. LCD and DLP printers will benefit from using a purpose-made high-resolution resin. Phrozen, for instance, manufactures high-resolution resins for DLP and LCD printers, such as the Elegoo Saturn 2 8K.
DLP and LCD printers can produce accurate prints, but entry-level models of both systems can have problems with surface finishes. DLP’s main downside is the risk of distortion on the print edges, especially in wider parts. This happens because DMDs enlarge the light beam to fit the object’s width, which could result in distorted voxels at the edge of the build area.
Desktop DLP printers also have issues with light distribution uniformity. They typically concentrate the light in the middle of the print, with less curing on the sides. This results in a flashing effect that leaves the edges of the print uncured. Such issues lead to problems with layer adhesion, under-curing (the edges) or over-curing (the middle), or a poor surface finish.
Similar to high-end DLP printers, high-end LCD systems can produce high-quality parts. However, the quality of the screen has a direct impact on the finished object, with lower-end units running into uniformity problems. The main difference between DLP and LCD is that, while the former concentrates the light in the middle, uniformity issues in LCD printers can be unpredictable. A lack of LED array uniformity and alignment can also make it challenging to control distortion. For these reasons, the print quality of a low-end LCD printer is usually inferior to that of a low-end DLP printer. Regardless of which technology you prefer, both production methods require post-processing.
In broad lines, DLP and LCD systems are suitable for similar applications. High-end systems can cost over $100,000), but they can produce high-quality, highly accurate parts for the automotive, aviation, and medical industries.
Differences arise in desktop-sized printers. The main thing to remember is that DLP printers can’t change the number of voxels, meaning they print at a pre-defined resolution regardless of the model size. This leads to the distortion issues mentioned above. So, you can only get the best results when printing narrower models.
DLP printers work best for accurate and precise small-sized model applications, such as miniatures, collectibles, figurines, dental implants, jewelry, footwear, and fashion accessories. Desktop LCD printers offer higher quality on larger models thanks to their capability to adjust the resolution based on the model size. However, accuracy and precision can diminish in the case of smaller parts. While LCD printers are still suitable for jewelry, they are a better choice for dentures, prototyping, and general hobby applications.
DLP and LCD printers use light to cure resin, but wavelength differences give the former an advantage. Desktop DLP printers can build up to 140mm (5.5 inches) per hour. Since the printer cures the entire layer simultaneously, the model size doesn’t affect build speed.
LCD behaves in a similar fashion, but the lower wavelength reduces print speed to 80mm (3.14 inches) per hour or less. The viscosity of the resin also impacts speed. High-viscosity materials usually require longer curing, as the light may struggle to penetrate the resin layer. Conventional LCD 3D printers may struggle to print with high-viscosity resin, whereas DLP 3D printers can produce satisfactory results regardless of the resin viscosity.
Hobbyists and SMB owners might be better off with an LCD printer as far as pricing goes. These printers are an affordable alternative to their advanced 3D printing counterparts. Cheap, entry-level options are similarly priced to popular FDM printers like the Ender 3, making them the best first step into resin 3D printing.
DLP 3D printers cost about twice as much as LCD printers. Options are also limited, with Anycubic being the main brand that manufactures entry-level DLP systems. These printers are typically priced around $500 or more (entry-level LCD printers cost around $200), and the next level up can set you back over $1,000.
DLP printers are also more expensive to maintain and repair. If the projector fails, you’ll have to replace the whole assembly, which may cost as much as a new printer. Meanwhile, LCD panels are relatively cheap and easily replaceable.
DLP vs. LCD 3D Printers: 7 Must-Known Facts
- DLP 3D printers are typically designed for high-volume manufacturing as they deliver consistent batch-to-batch production.
- LCD 3D printers are less consistent in batch-to-batch production but easier to use and more suitable for beginners.
- DLP and LCD printers are generally compatible with the same resin types, but some brands only manufacture their systems with proprietary resins.
- DLP systems are more suitable for precision printing small parts and objects. LCD printers can produce better results when printing large parts.
- LCD printers are cheaper than DLP printers. They are more suitable for home use, especially for beginners.
- DLP systems are among the fastest 3D printers. Industrial-level models can reach speeds up to 700mm (27.5 inches) per hour. Desktop models can usually print at speeds up to 140mm per hour.
- LCD printers are slower, with top speeds – for desktop models – up to 80mm per hour.
DLP vs. LCD 3D Printers: Which One Is Better?
Apparently, DLP and LCD 3D printers can produce high-quality prints, but the choice often depends on your purpose and budget. LCD printers are the best choice if you want to get into resin 3D printing on a limited budget. An entry model won’t set you back more than $200, with some printers in this price range delivering resolutions up to 4K. If you want to print larger parts, go for LCD printers. While accuracy is typically inferior to DLP, these printers have fewer distortion problems.
DLP printers are more expensive but a better choice for professional use. They produce consistent batch-to-batch results and are ideal for small parts. Whether you’re printing dental implants or jewelry, a DLP printer won’t let you down. However, DLP printers may produce lower-quality prints than LCD in the case of large items, and they can cost two to three times more than an LCD 3D printer. Maintenance and repairs are also more expensive.