When working on the most impressive spaceships from Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, and other galaxies, learning more about clear 3D printing is essential. Ships and cars must have windows, so follow Gambody’s instructions on creating transparent 3D prints in filament and resin.
Translucent and optically clear 3D printing can be handy for many great things. From transparent figures and water drops to complex dentist prototypes and realistic see-through pieces, whatever you wish to recreate will be simple after mastering some techniques and exploring the tips below.
Clear 3D Printing
Technology never stands still. Small and big companies take advantage of 3D printing and continue researching new engineering prospects that save time and money.
Even if the company doesn’t make 3D printed cars, it can use clear 3D printing technology to test the efficiency of lubricant flow, as Chrysler did.
And some businesses started to 3D print prescription lenses, both simple and the ones integrated into AR/VR headsets. Luxexcel has already proven it to be a working solution.
Transparent 3D Prints
There are several methods of 3D printing clear plastics hobbyists can enjoy while working on any project with transparent parts. Below you will find tips for creating perfect models using resin, FDM filaments, material jetting, and home materials.
Every method can lead to astonishing results. It’s only up to you which one to try or how to experiment to enjoy the best outcome.
Clear Resin 3D Printing
Every clear resin 3D print can look outstanding if you know the right technology and settings. Using exceptional materials and 100% infill density, you can make excellent transparent parts that look realistic after being cured in UV light.
Users who wish to achieve clear SLA prints should work hard while post-processing their parts. At first, the parts might look amazing, but the model can become yellowish and dull over time.
What are your choices?
- Method 1. Clean each clear resin 3D print before you cure it with UV light. Use isopropyl alcohol for this. And ensure you cure just the right amount of time and do not overdo it to avoid the yellowing effect in the future.
- Method 2. If you want to simplify your experience, add some blue dye to your transparent resin, which will neutralize UV-curing’s yellowish effect. It can look perfect or, in many situations, turn into a cloudy model.
- Method 3. You can find a 3D printing service that uses the Stratasys ProBleacher device and choose photobleaching as your post-processing. It might be expensive, though.
Transparent Resin Post-Processing Tips
After you cure your clear resin 3D printing parts, you should sand or polish them with 400-grit sandpaper, which you replace with other types through the 32,000-grit sandpaper.
Read also: Sanding and Painting 3D Prints (Easy Steps)
Spray on a clear coat to protect the translucent clear part, or finish it with lacquer. Also, you might want to dip a 3D print into clear resin for a perfectly smooth finish effect.
Hobbyist Chris Kaniecki, for example, 3D printed Police Spinner transparent windshield in Dr.3D resin with ELEGOO Saturn, cured it with UV light, sanded the part starting with 800-grit and all the way to 32,000-grit sandpaper and then got rid of the cloudy effect by airbrushing the transparent windshield with Alclad Klear Kote. It took 5 or 6 clear coats to turn the cloudy piece into a glass-like crystal clear part.
Here is another stunning example of a clear resin 3D print made by Nathan Hartman, who sanded and polished the canopy for one afternoon:
Clear SLA Resin
Depending on your project, you can select the best clear SLA resin for your machine. If you are working in dentistry or another medical sphere, it is best to choose Nexa3D product, although its NXE xMEd 412 Clear resin costs nearly $2,000 per 11 lbs (5 kg).
For home display models, you can use more affordable solutions, such as Formlabs Clear Resin, Anycubic Clear, and similar. They cost from $26 to $149 per 2.2 lbs (1kg).
Other brands are Phrozen Aqua, SprintRay IDB 2 and Surgical Guide 3 Clear, Loctite 3D 3820 Ultra Clear, PhotoCentric DLP Flexible or Hard resin, and many others.
Read also: Free 3D Printing Software to Create 3D Prints
Transparent Filament 3D Printing
When talking about FDM/FFF printers, you can turn a 3D printing clear plastic into a see-through piece if you use clear filament and apply good post-processing work to remove visible ridges on the part edges and polish your plastic.
As you work with clear 3D printing filament, it is best to adjust your infill (make it lower), hot end temperature (make it higher), and layer height (it should be more significant) to achieve the optimal translucency effect.
X, Y, Z Tips
Keeping in mind your X-, Y-, and Z-axes is essential for the best clear 3D printing result. Here is some advice for hobbyists:
- If you need to 3D print a transparent window for a car or spaceship, ensure you achieve transparency perpendicular to your Z-axis;
- If you are making a 3D printed vase, it will look great with the clearness across its Y- and X-axes;
- If you wish to achieve the translucency in the Y- or X-axe, use a layer height that is at 75-90% or similar in size to your 3D printer nozzle diameter;
- If your whole project must be fully transparent, work in all your axes for the best result;
- Remember that bigger layers usually refract less light resulting in an excellent clear 3D print;
- Ensure your 3D printing speed is lower by a third of the standard one;
- Increase the nozzle temperature to the maximum allowed by your filament brand;
- Turn off the cooling or fan;
- Increase the flow rate to over 100% (it can be 105% or even slightly more).
Clear Filament Post-Processing Tips
After creating a clear 3D print with an FDM printer, you should sand the parts really well and apply a clear coating. Different types of filament require different treatments:
- Users who are working with PolySmooth 3D printing material should spray the sanded parts with ethanol (give a few days for the project to completely dry), but too much of such a finish can make the parts less stable;
- Do not use a solvent on ABS filament to avoid getting a cloudy look;
- You can spray the polyurethane coating on your PLA and ABS 3D prints, which are known to create the best transparent 3D prints among other filaments;
- Clear PETG prints might not need any post-processing at all;
- If you use polycarbonate to make translucent 3D printing models, print at high temperatures and finish them with acetone.
Here is an example of how clear PLA looks in a 3D printed Thanos Infinity Gauntlet:
Hobbyist Jérémie Bizart (Les Minutes Maker) used translucent PLA to recreate the Wasp figurine wings:
3D Printed Clear Plastic & Resin by 3D Printing Service
While modern FDM and SLA 3D printers allow clear 3D printing with much post-processing work, some hobbyists think it is easier to use third-party 3D printing services once in a while. Such services often own industry-level printers that can flawlessly 3D print translucent and clear parts in PLA, PETG, and other filament or resin.
The best 3D printing services give you a choice of 3D printers, offering SLA, MSLA, and DLP machines that print with transparent resin and cure the models with UV light. Such a process is called vat polymerization.
Besides, a 3D printing service could offer you one of the Stratasys or Mimaki 3D printers that apply Polyjet technology or material jetting. They also use clear resin (VeroClear, VeroUltraClear for Stratasys, and Pure Clear Ink for Mimaki) and cure it with UV light. After being printed, such parts are polished or covered with lacquer or go through photobleaching.
Custom Translucent Clear Parts
Your household items and some tricks can also do a miracle and help you create transparent parts for your 3D prints.
Enthusiast Guido Kehder suggests 3D printing the part you wish to be clear with PLA (or a different non-transparent filament), sand it very well, and thermoform it with a clear film. Or you can use it as your mold for forming a piece with epoxy resin.
Guide Kehder knows another method too. Here is an example of a vacuum-drawn windshield fitted into the 3D printed Warthog M12B vehicle:
Hobbyist Peter Rocco cuts the window shapes for his 3D prints using PET soft drink bottles. Another enthusiast Carlos Díaz, whose 3D printed DeLorean wows, used acetate sheets for car windows. Although, he had to change the design to make it happen.
Enthusiast Roel Kroes is also very creative. While working on the Sentinel 3D print, the maker created many drops of hot glue for the monster’s eyes and introduced red LEDs to light them up.
Short vocabulary on 3D printing methods:
- SLA – stereolithography;
- MSLA – masked stereolithography;
- DLP – digital light processing;
- FDM – fused deposition modeling;
- FFF – fused filament fabrication;
- Polyjet – material jetting.
Can you 3D print clear plastic?
Absolutely! Even average desktop 3D printers can print clear plastic. Thus, hobbyists can recreate transparent parts to make their 3D prints as realistic as possible.
However, it takes some setting tricks and much post-processing work to turn PLA, ABS, and other plastic parts into transparent objects. Only clear PETG prints often need no post-processing.