Highly detailed prints at a high cost

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The Nobel 1.0 is unlike any 3D printer I’ve worked with before. It’s the first stereolithography 3D printer with a price low enough for general consumers, costing $1,500. (Pricing for the UK and Australia will be announced at a later date, but that converts to around £965 or AU$2,065.) Though that’s hardly cheap, it’s by far the least expensive SL 3D printer on the market; others can cost twice the price or even much more.

And if the price of the printer hasn’t put you off yet, keep in mind that the consumables for this type of printer, namely the liquid resin, are not cheap either. The resin for the Nobel 1.0 costs $120 for 1kg (2 pounds).

In return, the Nobel 1.0 can print in extremely high detail and can print objects with overhang features that are difficult for fused-filament fabrication (FFF) printers — which the rest of the 3D printers I’ve reviewed are — to print. The Nobel 1.0 is also compact and relatively quiet during operation.

The new SL technology doesn’t make the Nobel 1.0 print quickly. In fact, most of the time it takes longer to print an object of the same physical size than do FFF printers. This is because, as an SL printer, the Nobel 1.0 always prints solid forms while FFF printers can hollow out the thick parts. And that means the printer will use up materials much faster, increasing the total cost over time.

All things considered, I really like Nobel 1.0 for the way it prints — which is as fascinating as pulling a solid object out of a liquid container — and its print quality. However, considering its slow print speed, and most importantly its total cost of ownership, I feel that the printer is only suitable for 3D printing enthusiasts, and not for general use. For other options that are not as cool, but are faster and more affordable, check out our recent 3D printer roundup.

The Nobel 1.0 3D printer is quite compact and comes with a light-blocking hood.
Josh Miller/CNET

Compact design

The Nobel 1.0 is compact, just about the size of a large home coffee maker. The company gives its dimensions as 11 by 13.2 by 23.2 inches (280 by 337 by 590 mm), and when I measured it myself I got similar figures.

On top the printer has a large black plastic hood that protects the print platform and the resin tank from the outside world. The printer needs to be covered up during operation (it won’t work without the hood on), mostly to keep other light sources and dust from interfering with its laser beam. But when it’s not running, you can remove this cover to add more resin, remove the printed object and clean up.

The printer comes already assembled. All you have to do is remove its packaging and install the included 500ml resin bottle as well as the resin build tank. It took me just a few minutes to do this thanks to the clear instructions included. During a print job, a pump will automatically fill the build tank with resin from the bottle.

The print platform is directly on top of the build tank and is attached to an arm designed to move it up and down. The build tank is made of glass and underneath it there’s an ultraviolet laser beam that does the work of turning liquid resin solid. (More on how the printer works below). The print platform determines the size of objects the Nobel 1.0 can produce, which is objects of up to 5 by 5 by 7.9 inches (127 by 127 by 200 mm). This is quite large considering how compact the printer is.

Similarly to other XYZprinting 3D printers, such as the
da Vinci Jr
, the Nobel 1.0 has 2.6-inch LCD screen and six navigation buttons on the front. You can use these buttons to manage the printer, including replacing resin, viewing the printer’s status and initiating a print job. The printer connects to a computer via a USB 2.0 port on the back. It doesn’t feature an SD card but it does support printing from a thumbdrive, via another USB port also on its back.

Unlike FFF printers, the Nobel 1.0 has a simple initial calibration to ensure the build platform and the bottom of the resin build tank are leveled. All I had to do was follow the instruction on the printer’s screen to move the platform all the way down until it pressed against the bottom of the tank. After that the printer was ready to work, and it did, without any hiccups or the need for further calibration.

XYZprinting Nobel 1.0 Specs

Stereolithography 3D printing technology

The Nobel 1.0 uses stereolithography (SL) 3D printing technology, also known as stereolithography apparatus (SLA). In a nutshell, this technology works in the opposite direction from fused filament fabrication (FFF).

With FFF, the printer builds an object layer by layer from the bottom up on the print platform, similarly to icing a cake or using calking. With SLA, however, the printer’s print platform dips itself into a container full of nothing but liquid resin and slowly pulls up a solid 3D object, upside down. Imagine you put your fingers into a cup of cocoa and slowly pull out a candy bar that has never been there before. It’s kind of magical like that.

Technically, however, there’s no magic. In the case of the Nobel 1.0, the print process is like this. First the print platform lowers itself into the resin glass tank, then an ultraviolet laser light, reflected from an actuated-mirror device underneath the tank, shines on the resin underneath the build platform. (For this reason, SLA is sometimes called the laser 3D-printing technology.) Exposed to the laser light, the resin cures, solidifies and sticks to the platform. As more resin is exposed to the laser light, the pattern is created and joins the layer above. As more and more layers are being created, the build platform slowly — very slowly — moves upward and finally pulls the entire object out of the tank when the print process is finished.

The object the Nobel 1.0 printed (left) is clearly more detailed than the one printed by an FFF printer.
Josh Miller/CNET

Another big difference between FFF and SLA 3D printing is that while FFF produces a lot of heat during a print (which is required to melt the plastic filament), SLA remains cool the whole time. Instead you have to deal with the liquid sticky resin, which can be messy. Also, while with FFF the 3D object is ready to be used right after the print, an SLA 3D object needs to be washed with strong solvent (over 75 percent alcohol) afterwords; otherwise, it will remain wet (and sticky) for weeks. This is the case with the Nobel 1.0.

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