TIPS WITH TONY: Fine-Tuning Your Additive Resolution

When you’re watching an epic movie filled with sweeping cinematography, you probably want the highest on-screen resolution possible with, say, a Blu-ray disc or high-definition stream. But if your children are watching old Disney movies in the playroom while arguing with each other over Legos, a standard picture from a classic DVD will probably suffice. The point: Don’t overpay for something that isn’t really necessary.

Normal resolution.

Normal Res
The same thought can be applied during 3D printing when you’re prototyping with stereolithography (SL). Proto Labs uses three resolutions that range in cosmetics and functionality. Normal resolution (NR) provides the lowest cost, but lacks fine detail. With NR you get a layer thickness of 0.004 in. with a minimum feature size of 0.010 in. — but that might be all you need in early prototyping.

High resolution.

High Res
If your part requires an elevated level of precision, there’s high resolution (HR). Here, you get a layer thickness (0.002 in.) and minimum feature size (0.004 in.) half of NR. It costs more, but the boosting the part quality may be well worth it depending on your intended application.

Micro resolution.


Micro Res
You can even step up to a higher level of precision, which most manufacturers are unable to provide. Micro resolution (MR) — the Blu-ray of additive resolutions, if you will — can provide optimal part detail on the smallest of part features. With MR, you get a layer thickness of 0.001 in. and minimum feature size of 0.002 in. Yes, that is an actual life-sized ant (not an evil oversized ant) atop a microscopic chess board. You can even see the staircase inside the rook!


Now, what if you are looking for a truly cosmetic, functional part such as a microfluidic slide? We can produce parts just like this using our microfluidic fabrication process in SL. This process is a modified form of high-resolution SL that allows the creation of any 3D objects through a process of stacking two-dimensional layers of 50 microns thickness (0.002 in.). The build is produced on a clear piece of acrylic, differing it from a standard build of SL. We do this so the down-facing surfaces are smooth and clear with minimal post-build processing.

Arriving at a Resolution
When should you really be using HR over NR?

  • Fine Features
  • Small Holes
  • Sharper Corners
  • Tiny Parts
  • Microfluidics

Back to our original point of not overpaying for unneeded benefits. If the preceding features don’t apply to your needs, we would suggest using NR — you save in build time, and most importantly, overall part cost. Don’t buy the 1080i Blu-Ray if you only need the 720p DVD.

For more information on stereolithography or additive manufacturing, check our complete SL and additive manufacturing design guidelines, or contact one of our customer service engineers at or 877.479.3680 with questions.

This entry was posted in Tips with Tony and tagged , , , by Tony Holtz. Bookmark the permalink.

About Tony Holtz

Tony is a technical specialist at Proto Labs with more than 10 years of experience ranging from CNC mill operator to mold designer to customer service engineer. While his formal education is in industrial machinery operations, he has extensive knowledge and experience in both traditional and advanced manufacturing processes and materials. Throughout his tenure at Proto Labs, Tony has worked with countless designers, engineers and product developers to improve the manufacturability of their parts.

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