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DLP vs LCD 3D Printing: 7 Key Differences

By <a href="https://mfg.trimech.com/author/trimech/" target="_self">TriMech Marketing</a>

By TriMech Marketing

Posted on March 18, 2024

Comparing 3D printing technologies can be challenging. Many people wonder what the difference is between DLP vs LCD printing, because at a glance they seem to be quite similar. Both build parts layer by layer using light projection with a vat of liquid resin. Let’s explore the seven key differences between the two, since each has its unique strengths and weaknesses. But first, let’s define how each technology works.

What is DLP?

DLP stands for Digital Light Processing. DLP is a projection system that bounces light off an array of tiny mirrors to produce images. These mirrors can tilt to direct light towards the screen or away from it offering a lot of control over the desired projected image.

The heart of a DLP system is the DMD (Digital Micromirror Device) chip, which consists of thousands to millions of these microscopic mirrors arranged in a grid on a semiconductor surface. Each mirror corresponds to a pixel on the display.

TriMech Service Locations Stratasys Origin one mid sole print

DLP print

What is LCD?

LCD stands for Liquid Crystal Display. These projection screens consist of an array of UV LEDs. The LCD screen can mask areas that should not be exposed to UV light. The exposed sections allow UV light to pass through and cure the resin in the vat. This is why LCD 3D printing is sometimes referred to as MSLA (Masked Stereolithography).

7 Differences between DLP and LCD

Light Projection

The first difference we need to dive into is the light projection technology. The results of each of these technologies is going to differ because the resolution and accuracy can be greatly affected.

DLP technology utilizes a precise light projector system to project light into the vat of resin. This results in highly accurate and detailed prints.

LCD, on the other hand utilizes a range of LEDs projected through a masking screen. This can lead to slight variations in the intensity of light reaching the resin. Sometimes we see light bleeding between the pixels, which can affect the accuracy and sharpness of a print.

Curing

Curing is a critical component of any liquid resin 3D printing. It is the process we rely on to build our parts. This makes it one of the most important differences between the two technologies.

Because the UV light passes through the LCD screen, up to 90% of the energy is absorbed by the screen. That means less irradiance per unit area reaches the resin. Lower light levels can cause some parts to not fully harden during printing, resulting in weaker properties after hardening. Some part geometries may need thicker supports for more strength and stability, especially when dealing with overhangs, bridges, islands, and large sections.

Resolution

DLP has an advantage in the resolution category. Some systems boast a maximum 4k resolution and can reach a resolution down to 5 microns. When printing larger parts, the pixel size increases to cover the surface area, decreasing the XY resolution slightly. This is most prevalent in fine edge detail.

Origin 3D-Printed part

DLP 3D-Printed part

In contrast, LCD screens can be manufactured in larger sizes, making LCD technology well suited for larger prints that don’t require fine edges or sharp detail.

Tolerances

The tolerances achieved are tied into the manufacturing process, which differs significantly between DLP and LCD technologies. The DMD chips used in DLP are meticulously manufactured so the printers can repeatably achieve very tight tolerances. This quality makes DLP technology reliable, even for production volume applications.

Conversely, LCD panels are designed to be cost effective. While not as stringent in tolerances, LCD serves as a more affordable alternative when precision requirements are less stringent.

Origin 3D-Printed part

DLP 3D-Printed part

Wavelength

DLP systems operate at a 385nm wavelength, which allows the curing of a broad range of materials, especially high-performance resins. This difference in wavelength influences resin curing, part quality, and mechanical properties. LCD technology is constrained to 405nm and resins cured at that wavelength, which is less stable and less accurate than 385nm.

Origin One part

DLP Materials

Purchase Price

The cost of DLP is typically a bit higher than LCD options on the market, because they have high end projectors and optics which increases the overall cost. LCD printers feature simpler designs and require fewer expensive components to manufacture. For this reason, LCD printers can appeal to those on a tight budget with less exacting part needs.

Total Cost of Ownership

While LCD printers have the advantage with upfront affordability, there are long term costs associated with ownership. The LCD screens can degrade at a faster rate, requiring frequent replacements, increasing operational costs. DLP printers, despite the higher initial investment tend to have lower maintenance costs.

DLP vs LCD Conclusion

In summary, while both DLP and LCD 3D printing have their merits, they differ significantly in crucial aspects. The choice between them depends on your specific project requirements, budget constraints, material selection, and long-term considerations. It’s important to understand how your 3D printer machine will affect your goals and projects.

If you’d like to speak with one of our engineers to figure out which technology is best for you, contact us.

Article by <a href="https://mfg.trimech.com/author/trimech/" target="_self">TriMech Marketing</a>

Article by TriMech Marketing

TriMech provides thousands of engineering teams with 3D design and rapid prototyping solutions that work hand-in-hand, from sketch to manufacturing. InterPro became a part of TriMech Solutions LLC in 2021.