3-D Printing

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Is 3-D Printing Right for You?

Most of the 3-D printers currently on the market work by growing models layer by layer. Many of these printers use a photopolymer resin material that hardens when exposed to light. Other machines use a jetting process of wax-based material, which can help avoid the casting issues many users encounter with the photopolymer resins.

3-d printer

What You Might Want to Print…

• Pieces with complex geometries or freeform shapes. Because the printers grow the models layer by layer, they are ideal for pieces with undercuts and hollow insides.

• Jobs requiring production in volume. Printers allow users to print multiple items on the same build plate, saving users time.

3-D printing

Things to Be Aware Of…

• On most printers using photopolymer resin, all parts of a model must be supported during printing, so locations for supports must be considered: Those areas will need to be cleaned off after building. Some CAD programs can automatically assist with adding supports where needed, but manual manipulation may still be required.

• Because printers build models layer by layer, finished models can show layer lines, and the surfaces may not be as crisp and precise as a carved wax model.

• Before photopolymer resin models can be cast they first must be cleaned with a solvent and then post-cured since the printer only partially cures the model as it’s built.

• With large, solid pieces, the photopolymer resin material may leave an ash residue during burnout. Larger items result in a larger amount of ash, which could create porosity issues with the cast piece.

• Photopolymer resin models have different investment requirements. While many can be cast with regular gypsum-based investment, the water-to-powder ratios often must be adjusted. Dental investments may need to be used with certain models, but may involve additional work to remove the material after casting.

• Photopolymer resins expand during the burnout process, which can result in pieces of investment breaking off or cracking. To prevent this, avoid sharp angles or edges, anything with thin holes built into the design, or lettering more than 0.6 mm high. 

The Materials You Use

Materials vary by printer; each machine’s manufacturer has its own “secret-sauce recipe.” Many printers use photopolymer resin, but others use wax-based solutions that can be easier to cast. Consult with a printer’s manufacturer on what it offers and how you should use it to meet your needs.

What You Might Pay

The 3-D printer market has exploded over the last few years. There are now DIY kits that allow users to construct their own printers for only a few hundred dollars. Larger machines more geared toward production use begin for as little as $3,000 and can run upwards of $150,000. 

MJSA Journal would like to thank Steven Adler of A3DM Technologies Corp. in Portland, Oregon; Darla Alvarez of GIA in Carlsbad, California; Russ Hyder of the Jewelry CAD Institute in Las Vegas; Lee Krombholz of Krombholz Jewelers/Just Like You Designs in Cincinnati; Bob Lynn of Lynn’s Jewelry Studio in Ventura, California; and Mark Maxwell of Maxwell CAD in Oceanside, California, for their help with this article.

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