This quick guide will answer the question: How small can 3D printers print?
Generally speaking, the printer can print as small as what the extruder nozzle is allowed to print.
How small the printer can produce a part is a great indicator of the printer's additive manufacturing performance, however, the user must properly pick the right material, printer settings and make sure the part is printable in order to achieve the result.
Here are some examples of the smallest objects today's 3D printers can make:
Dutch Tiny Boat
The boat is about 30 microns, and it's about 1/3 the size of a strand of hair. To see the object, the user has to use a microscope to see its tiny form.
Check out the Nanoscribe Photonic printer that is able to produce something this small.
Micro Drill Machine
Look at this!
This 13mm X 7.5mm X 17mm drill model is made in an Ultimaker 2 3D printer.
The drill bit is only 0.5mm in diameter and it can be powered using a hearing aid battery.
This is a cube about 2.5 mm X 2.5 mm X 2.5 mm. It takes about 32 minutes to print with a layer height of just 0.05mm.
The cube has a grid inner structure, and it was printed on an SLA 3D printer that is capable of producing something this small.
A 3D printer's micron specs can give the prospect users on how fine the printer can perform the job.
As the micron number gets smaller the more details the printers can perform. The current 3D printers on the market offer:
- 10 microns
- 20 microns
- 50 microns
- 100 microns
- 200 microns
But micron level isn't the only spec to look for when printing small objects. There are specs such as vertical, horizontal resolution, extruder steps, and other critical factors to consider.
Available Technology To Print Small Objects
Small feature sizes and print accuracy can vary across the 3D printing industry. There are SLS, FDM, DLP, SLA, and many other printing methods available, and industry experts are always pushing the benchmark.
DLP can print between 25 - 300 microns, and the user needs to determine the balance between build volume and resolution to effectively produce the object.
SLA relies on the laser beam spot size to determine how small the object can be produced. Typically it's about 200 - 250 μm
Validate Your Model Design
Even though 3D printing is better than ever, but the user can't simply send anything to the printer and expect it to come exactly how it was imagined.
Always validate the design and understand the physical constraints of the 3D printer, material, and overall common sense engineering principles.
Nano 3D Printing
Nano scale 3D printing involves the process called multiphoton lithography (MPL), also known as two-photon polymerization (2PP).
These high-intensity lasers like the SLA printing process can create resolutions of up to 50 nm (0.05 µm). These parts are so tiny, they actually take more time to produce.
To put things into perspective, the naked eye can see objects as small as 0.1 mm (~100 micrometers (µm)). Therefore, you are unable to see many of the structures that 2PP is capable of creating.
Nano 3D printing can benefit the electronics industry for miniaturization of computer chips, sensors, AI technology, and many more.
Other areas that can benefit from Nano 3D printing can be the medical sector such as non-collateral tissue damage devices, refractive micro-optics, cell growth study, and many more.
Can FDM Printers Print Small Objects?
FDM printer's nozzle diameter determines how small the object can be made. The common nozzle size for an FDM printer is 0.4mm. It allows the user to get an amazing surface finish at smaller layers down to 20 microns.
Yes! the extruder can be interchangeable for compatible FDM printers, and some aftermarket nozzle options offer up to 0.25mm nozzle diameter.