Many people wonder whether you can actually 3D print clear/transparent objects that you can see through. I decided to write an article about this to answer this in a little detail, so you have a better understanding.
Keep on reading through this article for useful information about this topic, as well as other tips you can make use of.
Can You 3D Print a Clear Object?
Yes, you can 3D print clear objects with FDM filament printing and resin SLA printing. There are clear filaments such as PETG or natural PLA, as well as clear and transparent resins that can create see-through 3D prints. You need to post-process the exterior of the print so it is very smooth, without scratches.
There are different levels of transparency that you can achieve, with most people only settling for translucent, or semi-transparent 3D prints.
With the right technique and amount of work, you can produce 3D prints that are very see-through, mainly through post-processing such as sanding, polishing, or resin dipping.
Many people are okay with clear 3D prints that are somewhat see-through which still looks cool, but you can achieve a great degree of transparency or semi-transparency with the help of sanding and coating.
There are different reasons why someone might want to 3D print a transparent object, such as a decorative piece for your home like a vase for flowers, or even a phone case that shows the mobile off.
Transparency and the ability to see through the objects is controlled by the way light passes through them. If light can easily pass through the object without any disturbance or being redirected, the object will be seen as transparent.
Basically, the way the light is reflected needs to be as straight as possible, so if there are scratches and bumps, the light will change directions, meaning it will be translucent (semi-transparent) rather than transparent as you want it.
Well, the first thing you’ll need 3D print a clear object is of course some good quality clear filament.
Then you’ll want to optimize your print settings to account for getting the best results in seeing through the filament.
Finally, you want to do some serious post-processing to get the most smooth and clear outer surface finish that you can get.
Let’s get into how the process looks with both filament 3D printing and resin 3D printing.
How Do You Make a Filament (FDM) 3D Print Clear or Transparent?
There are a few different methods that users have produced transparent and clear 3D prints using a filament 3D printer.
To make filament 3D prints clear and transparent, you can use a filament which can be smoothed with a solvent such as ABS and acetone, or PolySmooth filament with isopropyl alcohol. Using a large layer height is important, as well as doing post-processing like sanding and spraying a clear coat.
Using PolySmooth Filament with Isopropyl Alcohol
One method to do this is by using a specialized filament called the PolySmooth by PolyMaker, then use a high strength of isopropyl alcohol to gradually smooth and dissolve the outer surface, leading to a very clear 3D print.
The 3D Print General made a great video on the process of how he found one 3D printer user do this method successfully, which he then tried himself and got great results.
You can see how clear and transparent he got the 3D prints, though the method does take some time to get it to a good level.
He mentions that using a larger layer height works best for producing these transparent 3D prints, where 0.5mm was a great balance of being able to print at relatively steep angles while still being a good-sized layer height.
The 0.5mm layer height was coupled with a 0.8mm nozzle.
He makes sure to use vase mode so that there is only 1 wall that gets 3D printed, leading to less possible imperfections that can negatively affect the light passing through straight and direct, which is needed for that transparency.
You may also choose to do some sanding with some fine grit sandpaper, around the 300 grit mark to smoothen out those layer lines, but it’s not necessary since the alcohol is acting as a solvent anyway.
A mixture of the PolySmooth filament, and spraying isopropyl alcohol is likely to produce some really clear and transparent 3D prints.
3D Printing With Good Settings & Post Processing
3D printing transparent objects is easiest to do with flat objects because they are much easier to post-process. With curved objects or 3D prints with more details, it’s hard to sand and smooth those crevices.
If you want to 3D print a clear object, you’ll be better off with a flat block shape.
FennecLabs have a great article which details their tried and tested method of creating transparent 3D prints, ranging from clear lenses to “glass block” looking objects where you can see another model within.
They recommend that you use the following settings:
- 100% infill
- Maximize the temperature in the filament manufacturer’s range
- Keep your flow rate above 100%, somewhere around the 110% mark
- Disable your cooling fans
- Reduce your printing speed by around half of what your normal speed is – around 25mm/s
On top of getting the 3D print right in terms of settings, you also want to post-process the print to the best ability. If you want to 3D print transparent objects rather than translucent, using a range of low and high sandpaper grits is important.
I’d recommend getting a set such as the Miady 120 to 3,000 Assorted Grit Sandpaper from Amazon which provides 36 9″ x 3.6″ sheets.
You want to start off with the low grit sandpaper to get rid of the deeper scratches, then slow work your way up to higher grits as the surfaces get smoother.
It’s a good idea to dry, as well as wet sand as you do this to get the best results, so you can really get that clean, polished look on the outer model. This gives you a better opportunity to see through the 3D print clearer.
Once you have used a variety of sandpapers for your print, you can polish your model with a small soft piece of cloth along with polishing paste. Another option is to spray your clear model with a clear coating.
Do keep this fact in mind that the surface can easily be damaged if sprayed, so make sure that the coat of spray has been dried up completely before moving forward.
How Do You Make a Resin 3D Print Clear or Transparent?
To make a clear resin 3D print, you can use the resin dipping technique after your 3D print comes off the build plate. Rather than wash & cure your 3D print, you want to have a thin, smooth coat of clear resin on the outer surface. After curing, it provides a smooth surface with little scratches or layer lines.
When you 3D print normal transparent resin, although the layer lines are really small (10-100 microns), the outer surface is still rough enough to not provide a direct light to the other side. This leads to a translucent resin 3D print rather than a transparent one.
We want to get rid of all the layer lines and scratches on the 3D print to be able to see through.
Using the resin dipping technique is really effective to do this, as we can carefully apply a thin coat of resin and cure it as normal.
Some people choose to use the sanding post-processing method, similar to filament printing which can work really well, although not for complex shapes. If you have a flat shape or one that can be sanded fairly easily, this should be okay.
Another method as previously mentioned is by spraying a clear coat after 3D printing the object.
The Rust-Oleum Clear Painter’s Touch 2X Ultra Cover Can from Amazon is a product that many 3D printers use as a base for their 3D prints. Many users have used it as a way to provide a smooth surface without having to sand.
This smooth surface is what works well for creating that improved transparency. It’s quick-drying, even-spraying, and perfect for giving your 3D prints a more professional finish.
It’s said that you avoid washing clear resin 3D prints with isopropyl alcohol because it is known to lead to slightly cloudy translucent 3D prints, though as long as your post-processing is done well, it should be okay.
An ultrasonic cleaner is a great solution for cleaning clear resin 3D prints, along with a good detergent. Check out my article – 6 Best Ultrasonic Cleaner for Your Resin 3D Prints for cleaning your prints like a pro.
You shouldn’t over cure/over exposure your clear resin 3D prints because it can lead to yellowing, as well as curing it for too long after washing it.
Some people have recommended submerging the clear 3D print in a clear glass of water, then curing it after you have cleaned and dried it. You can check out my article on How to Cure Resin 3D Prints in Water.
Another user recommends using Rust-Oleum Polyurethane Gloss Finish Spray from Amazon. It’s described as a crystal clear finish that never yellows.
You also want to remember to either hollow your resin 3D print or have 100% infill because anything that doesn’t provide a clear direction of light through the object is going to contribute to less transparency.
Best Transparent Filament for 3D Printing Clear Objects
You can find transparent filament for 3D printing in almost all types of printing materials. PLA, PETG, and ABS are the most common printing material but when it comes to printing transparent models you need to choose the best one.
Users’ feedback and experiences say that ABS and PETG can get better and almost the same results in terms of transparency while PLA usually results in foggy prints and may be hard to print as well if you are not much experienced.
It may be difficult for beginners to print clear objects with ABS but you can get the job done using PLA & PETG. Some of the best transparent filament for 3D printing clear objects includes:
This is a really popular filament which have many users praising its quality and features. You’re getting an easy-to-use, clog-free and bubble-free filament that works with all your standard 1.75mm FDM 3D printers.
You have a 100% satisfaction guarantee as well. Many users mention how much they like the level of transparency they get in their 3D prints even without post-processing, but to get that high level, you’ll need to follow the right steps.
You can find a spool of GEEETECH Clear PLA Filament from Amazon today.
This is a lesser known brand of filament, but still looks like it performs really well in terms of producing transparent 3D prints. It’s a clear ABS filament of high quality that users mention produce amazing 3D printing results.
The tolerances are pretty tight and it has a fairly wide printing temperature range. Some users said how it doesn’t have the typical smell of ABS compared to filaments like HATCHBOX ABS, which is great.
It is known to have a pretty nice flow through the nozzle, as well as having great layer adhesion.
A user of this filament said it was his first time 3D printing with ABS, and a 30-hour 3D print later, described it as the best quality they have achieved so far. They also have a heated build chamber at a temperature of around 55°C.
You can get some Octave Transparent ABS Filament from Amazon.
OVERTURE is a very popular brand of filament that many thousands of users have grown to love, especially their transparent PETG.
They guarantee a bubble-free and clog-free experience.
It’s important for your filament to be dry so they give each filament a 24-hour drying process before they package it up in their vacuum aluminum foil packaging along with desiccants to absorb moisture.
With the proper print settings and post-processing, you’ll be able to get some pretty great transparent 3D prints with this filament.
Get yourself a spool of OVERTURE Clear PETG from Amazon.
Best Transparent Resin for 3D Printing Clear Objects
Anycubic Plant-Based Resin is one of my favorite resins out there, and their clear color works great. It has a rating of 4.6/5.0 on Amazon at time of writing and has countless positive reviews of just how well it produces high quality resin 3D prints.
You don’t get that high level of shrinkage in this resin. There is a shorter curing time compared to other resins, as well as great precision and smoothness.
It’s environmentally-friendly since it uses soybean oil as the raw material, also leading to a low odor.
Many users have created flawless 3D prints without needing to do all sorts of tweaking a trial and error with the settings. This one works really well right out of the box.
This Elegoo ABS-Like Resin is probably the most popular brand of resin out there, having around 2,000 customer reviews and a rating of 4.7/5.0 at time of writing.
Similar to the Anycubic resin, this one has a shorter curing time than usual so you can save time on your 3D prints. It has high precision, low shrinkage, fast curing and great stability.
There are many features that you’ll love when you get a bottle of this resin for yourself for your transparent 3D prints.
Siraya Tech Simply Clear Resin is a great product for you to create transparent resin 3D prints. One of the main highlights of this is how easy it is to clean and handle after printing.
Usually, resin manufacturers recommend cleaning with high strength alcohol like 70%+, but this one can be easily cleaned with 15% alcohol. You also get a resin that is fast to print and has a low smell.
On top of this, it has high strength so it can hold up to more force than other resin out there.
As many users have described, once you use a coat of clear gloss varnish after you cure it, you can create some lovely crystal clear parts.
Another user mentioned how he’s tried four different brands of clear resin and none of them were as easy to handle as this one.