We get hands-on with Creality’s entry-level resin 3D printer.
We recently unboxed a wrapped, unlabelled box from Aurarum which turned up on our doorstep. It was a pleasant surprise to find a Creality LD-002R Resin printer, and three bottles of Aurarum-supplied water-washable resin.
One of the things that has kept us from really exploring resin printers in the past for our own use is the extra difficulties when working with resins. Water wash-up sounded pretty good to us, although it was still never going to be as practical as feeding in the end of a spool of filament. However, the two very different technologies have very different outcomes, and we will never shy away from reviewing a product even if we weren’t planning on getting one for the workshop.
Another challenge with resin printers has been fumes in the workspace. When it comes to FDM printers, we almost exclusively use PLA, and four printers sit between one and four metres from the computer at which this article was written. Excitingly, the Creality LD-002R has an air filter! That theoretically means fume capture, which in turn means being able to work in the same space.
With that decided, we unpacked and set up the printer after shoving aside a couple of the FDM units, and took a look at what we had. The package includes an array of accessories: Some tools for adjusting and opening parts of the unit; a metal scraper and also a plastic one, plus a brush, along with two pairs of gloves, two face masks, and four paper funnels with mesh inserts for filtering resin. There is also a USB stick with software and demonstration models, along with a manual and warranty card. The manual was about typical for Creality: A mixture of well-written and terrible translation, with over-explanation in some parts and not enough information in others.
The LD-002R is similar to many of the other resin printers in its class. It has a resin tank in the same size range, and printing dimensions around the same, too. The LD-002R uses a very rugged, rigid guide rail system for the z-axis. This takes the form of a dovetail rail, and matching slider which the leadscrew interface is mounted to. This ensures there is no movement in this plane, something which cannot always be said for twin cylindrical guide rails, which often have a degree of flex or play.
The base of the printer is quite deep, and contains the screen, motherboard, and power supply all in one unit. In the top face of this is mounted the LCD screen which makes the thing work. This is not a monochrome screen, although the next model up has one of those. Everything else appears the same between the two models. Monochrome screens are said to give sharper and faster prints due to a whole bunch of science that doesn’t really belong here. We may cover it later, but for now, we’re testing the printer we have on its own merits and not reporting on the technology in general.
Over this base unit sits the resin tank, with its clear, flexible skin at the bottom, almost like a clear drum skin. This is held in place by a clamp mounted with fourteen cap-head screws, plenty to maintain rigidity and provide even tension. The tank has graduations up the side, for 140mL, 170mL, 225mL, and 285mL. Integrated into the base behind the tank is a high-speed (and somewhat noisy, as most are) 40mm fan, which is part of the air filtration system. The unit does not come with a replacement filter, nor are there any instructions provided for doing so. That was a worrying sign, as any filter that is capable of absorbing chemical fumes, by its nature, has a lifespan.
On a whim, we decided to unscrew the fan unit. Sure enough, underneath the fan is a filter unit, not just a block of foam. This has what appears to be a carbon-impregnated gauze top and bottom, over a honeycomb arrangement containing some kind of beads. We prized open a tiny section and found these to be chunks of carbon rod. That’s a good sign, and means they stand a chance at absorbing resin fumes. Carbon filters have received criticism of late because of some people who touted their magical properties at stopping viruses. The reality is, carbon is very good at bonding with chemicals because it is such a reactive chemical itself. For any situation more complex than simple chemical compounds (like viruses), the story changes. Activated carbon, by the way, is just carbon that has been steamed to create millions of pores, giving a much greater surface area for things to bond to.
That was a happy discovery, so we reassembled it all, set it on the 3D printer shelf, and loaded the slicer software from the supplied USB stick onto the workstation computer. Installing the software was somewhat straightforward, but immediately, it told us that there was a newer version available. Great! Just click the link, and off we go, right? It wasn’t quite that simple, but it wasn’t too complicated to find the right version of ChituBox and install it. What was difficult was when the new version of Chitubox told us that we would have to upgrade the firmware on our printer for compatibility.
After about twenty minutes of digging, we found the right firmware. However, it took another hour to find instructions on how to update the firmware, and they did not come from Creality. We found the answers pretty quickly once we stopped searching the Creality website and turned to Google. It turns out all you need to do is unzip the firmware folder onto the root directory (the main one, not in any sub-folders) of the USB stick, and plug it into the printer with the power switched off. When you power the printer on, it checks the root drive, and finds, and installs the new firmware.
With that installed, we followed the booklet instructions for levelling the build plate. That was very straightforward, and before long, we were ready for our first print. We decided to use one of the pre-loaded prints, the Eiffel Tower. This model is very intricate and stands 120mm tall. As it had already been sliced, we loaded some resin into the tank, quite an arbitrary amount, and set it going overnight.
When we came back in the morning, we had two surprises. Firstly, resin printing is slow! The print took a total of 19 hours 14 minutes. Of course, we had no idea because the print was pre-sliced and the data did not show in the display as it does for most prints. The second surprise was the fumes. Having never used an unfiltered resin printer here in the office, we can’t say if the inbuilt filter counts for a lot, or not. What we can say is that it doesn’t count for enough! The fumes are strong, and induced headaches soon enough. In the end, because we’re in NSW, writing this during lockdown and still need masks inside, those in the workshop slipped carbon filter sheets into the face masks we already have to wear, and that helped a lot. We also set up a fan and pushed much of the fumes into an unused room. Lesson learned: Filter or not, this thing needs either an extractor or its own space.
Quite a way through the day, the print was ready. One knobbed screw holds down the build plate, so it simply slides off. Water washable does not mean drain-safe, so this had to be washed in a bucket. Even with the supplied brush, it was hard to get all the excess resin off. In the end, we used running water from the tap, and just dropped it into a bucket instead of the drain. This helped, but is still not perfect.
Next up, curing. You can leave these in the sun, but regulated UV light is better. Prints can be both over- and under-cured. We happen to have a UV PAR stage light lying around, which was perfect. However, we had to manually turn the print every four minutes at different angles. When it had been left long enough, it was time to examine the print.
Firstly, it was still sticky. The excess resin that we had trouble washing off was likely not helping this. Over the next few days, however, the stickiness disappeared. The print looks amazing! We were thoroughly impressed by how well the details were rendered. The hand railings in particular are impressive given the scale. The inner handrails are a bit warped, but we feel like we did this during washing. When we first tried cleaning with running tap water into a bucket, it was hot from previous use. We’re not absolutely sure.
After that, it was time to try slicing our own model. We decided on the ever-popular, nearly industry-standard 3D Benchy. So, we opened up ChituBox. It is worth noting that you need to create an account to download and use this software, but the basic version is still free. The interface is not exactly iPhone-level intuitive, but it’s far from impossible. Labelling of menus and buttons could be much better, as could their layout. There are some instructions in the printer manual for the basics, and YouTube videos from a variety of sources for everything else. Creality do have tutorials on their website, too.
You have to load all your machine settings manually, because there are no profiles in the software and we could not find any on Creality’s website. They could be there and we may have simply missed them. After setting our print area dimensions, we left every other setting in the default value, and loaded the Benchy. Hitting Slice, we were impressed to see that the print was supposed to be under four hours. We weren’t holding our breath for that, though. With the file loaded onto the USB stick, it was over to the printer.
Immediately, there was a problem: The file format wasn’t recognised. It turns out there are several file formats you can save in, and the default, cbddlp, is not the one that the LD-002R recognises. After saving again in ctb, all was well and the print started.
You can see in the photo that there was a major problem. The tugboat had slammed into a glass door and cartoonishly squished itself flat and become much wider. As it turns out, Creality decided to break from mathematical standards and label the axes of the printer their own way.
On any two-dimensional plane, the x-axis is horizontal, and the y-axis is the vertical. In three dimensions, that same graph is still the same, but laying flat and facing the roof. The z-axis is the vertical, the x-axis should be the ‘left-to right’ axis, for want of a better descriptor, and the y-axis should be the ‘front-to-back’ axis, just like a standard plane laid down on the build plate.
So, of course, when we had to manually enter the parameters into ChituBox, we made the z-axis 165mm, the left-to-right axis the x-axis at 119mm, and the y-axis 65mm. Clearly, this is not the case! After changing the settings so that the x- and y-axes were swapped, we set the print going again. Surprisingly, the print took almost the predicted time to print, within a few minutes. The print quality is certainly great with even entry-level resin printers, and the photos will allow you to judge that for yourself.
However, as is almost always the case in making, and in life in general, every experience is an exercise in trade-offs. 3D resin printing is no different. There are issues around working with resin, with its handling requirements and ventilation needs.
Whether they are enough to justify the great finishes that are achieved is entirely subjective. It might be a great choice for one maker, and not worth it for another. In time, the variety of resins will likely catch up to the vast array of FDM printer filaments out there. For now, however, we still see this as something worth exploring.
The resin is definitely more brittle than what we are used to with our FDM printer range. However, much practice has gone into filament choice and settings for our printers, so with time, maybe these issues can be solved, too. As it stands though, the resin we used broke every time we tried to get anything off the build plate. It did so only in small zones, with a limited amount remaining on the build plate, but it is still disappointing.
Again, settings may alleviate this issue in the future, and there are upgrade options, too. One of these is the flexible steel build plates not unlike those many people are familiar with for FDM printers. These allow a print to be flexed, not levered or blunt-forced off the build plate.
For another test, we decided to print one of our other favourite 3D printer test files. The Globe Lamp - Earth, by ClassyGoat on Thingiverse, has become our own internal standard for printer testing. This would be a fun print to have side-by-side with others we have done on FDM printers, but raises the challenge of not being able to clean the inside of the print very well, which was worth the experiment all on its own. Using this model involved scaling the print within ChituBox, something we had not attempted to this point.
The controls for this are to the left in their own buttons as they are with many slicers. We first added the globe, and scaled it using the dimensions field so the x-axis was 62mm, within the 65mm limit. We took note of the percentage this turned out to be, and used that to scale the base to the same size. However, we couldn’t move them around except as one group, which made placing hard.
Strangely, while the idea of keeping all separate items on the build plate as individual listings in a table to the right that looks and behaves like a ‘layer’ control in a photo editing program makes sense, the option for ‘select all’ is enabled by default and is not obvious. Once we had found this and turned it off, we could move the base and centre the models.
This time, we tried altering the layer settings. The default is 0.05mm. We tried 0.025mm, and used yellow resin this time. We saved the file straight to the USB in the ‘Modle’ folder (yes, that’s how it is spelled on the USB stick), and noted that the print was supposed to take just under ten hours. That meant it could happen overnight in the meeting room, so the workshop could be used the next day without respirators on.
Sadly, we were greeted with just a base section. On emptying the tank, we discovered that the globe itself had not adhered to the build plate and had dropped off as soon as the surface area bonded to the print face was bigger than the area bonded to the build face. We could find now way within ChituBox to add a brim the same way FDM printer slicers can, but this doesn’t mean it’s not there. Instead, the method seems to be using supports. This adds a raft anyway, and increases the number of connections between raft and print. With those settings, the print was successful. The supports also remove easily, but we snapped part of the lower section of the model trying to remove the last part of the raft.
The print was quite impressive, and without the fine fragile details on the Eiffel Tower, it was easier to clean properly with the brush provided with the printer. Brushing accounts for a lot more of the resin than running water alone does. After curing with the UV stage light, it was time to see how well the inside had been cleaned. With an aperture too small to fit a finger through, it was impossible to find this out by feel, but cotton swabs did the job. There is definitely some resin on the inner surface that is uncured, which will be an issue if the model is sat on its base too soon. It may also be an issue if the LED lighting option for this model is used. Even the water-washable resins are still active chemicals and have the potential to react with other plastics like the LED casing.
The Creality LD-002R is impressive for its price point. Most of the issues with it are common to resin printing in general and entry-level resin printers in particular. If we were to own one, we would be investing in a washable, reusable gauze-filtered funnel for cleaning the resin. The supplied paper ones were expended fast, and the gauze was bigger than the neck of the containers anyway. Much cleaning is needed between prints or before leaving the printer unused. The resin tank especially needs careful cleaning. The system does feature a cleaning mode, but there is a gap of 10mm on the long sides and nearly 20mm on the short sides, between the tank edge and the screen edge. This feature is really better for cleaning the surface of the tank over the screen.
We would certainly move this to a ventilated, unpopulated area of the building, or invest in an extraction system. A wash and cure station would be a must! We would also stock up on resin tank films. These are replaceable, but stock will not be held forever, and others may not fit. This film must stay in good condition, as anything that affects light passing through it will affect the prints. Once the surface becomes finely scratched enough to transmit less light, it needs to go. Besides that, and adding a flexible build plate surface, we think it’s pretty good. Now, we just have to decide whether to keep it or give it away as a competition.
Available from Aurarum: www.aurarum.com.au
- CREALITY3D LD-002R UV RESIN LCD 3D PRINTER 707338963235 $199.95