Introduction: How to Polish 3D Printed Clear Resin Models That Contain Many Details

Two months ago, I 3D printed my first model/artifact for my ongoing project called "Material Speculation: ISIS" as part of my Pier 9 artist residency. I soon learned that polishing transparent/clear Vero objects that contain many details is harder and more complicated than I had imagined.

Before I move on to the next steps about polishing, I thought I would add a short description in addition to a link to my project and the conceptual aspects of it:

“Material Speculation: ISIS” is a 3D modeling and 3D printing project focused on the reconstruction of selected artifacts (statues from the Roman period city of Hatra and Assyrian artifacts from Nineveh) that were destroyed by ISIS in 2015.

It creates a practical and political possibility for artifact archival, while also proposing 3D printing technology as a tool both for resistance and documentation. It gives rise to cyclical oiliness; engaging and representing a process compressed through time, resin/plastic, digital process, and crude oil. It intends to use 3D printing as a tool and process for repairing history and memory. “Material Speculation: ISIS”, goes beyond metaphoric gestures and digital and material forms of the artifacts by including a flash drive and a memory card inside the “body” of each 3D printed objects. Like Time Capsules, each object will be sealed and kept for future civilizations. The information in these flash drives includes images, maps, pdf files, and videos gathered in the last months on the artifacts and sites that were destroyed.


Step 1: Not Re-Inventing the Wheel

One of the first things I did was doing research on Instructables and also other online resources to see what I could find in terms of polishing resin. Especially Transparent/Vero Clear material which is what I've used here... I was looking for methods that would work with models that contain a lot of details.

So to perhaps save you some time in what's already been done, here are some selected links to look into with some super helpful instructions:

Bigger parts with no details:

Jewelry- Small -a bit- complex parts:

Polishing with libratory tumbler with ceramic media:

BUT none of the above links really solved my issue of very detailed and fragile parts that needed extra care to be polished.

Step 2: Testing + Sanding

With this model and also the one that I had printed to be able to experiment with, I tried different methods of sanding. My sculptures in this project contained both very fragile/detailed and also bigger/not detailed parts. So I went through two separate process of sanding:

  1. Sanding parts that were not too detailed using sand paper # 180- 220- 400-600-800-1500-2000 grit. This was easy and direct and didn't take much time. So after 1-2 hours of sanding, I ended up with a nice polished surface.
  2. Sanding parts that were detailed took much longer. I only used sand grids #1500 and #2000 for these parts while being super careful about pressure and details. I used different methods including cutting the folded parts of the sand grids to get into details and -in this case- different parts of the wings and face with a lot of fine lines. But then as I figured out later, in general, sanding detailed parts in not a good idea. Although I did my best to be as gentle as possible with sanding, I still lost some of the details of my sculpture and also not much happened in terms of those parts looking more polished/shiny. So DO NOT sand details and fragile parts at all. There are better ways to do it which I will get into in next steps.

*** again, refer to this Instructables for more details if you don't know much about sanding:

Step 3: Buffing Wheels + Dremel Tool

Buffing Wheels actually work so much better compared to sand grids for polishing detailed 3D printed parts. I used both NOVUS 2 and NOVUS 3 with buffing wheels but again made sure i was being gentle and careful. By that I mean that for example I kept the speed of the machine to normal (under 1000) and also didn't hold certain parts on the wheel for more than 2-3 mins.

Another thing I tried which didn't work as well was using smoother dremel tool bits to see if I could get through polishing some of the details in my model... but even the smoothest tools didn't work as well as I had hoped for.

Step 4: Add a Layer of Resin + Cure It

This step is one of the most successful methods for dealing with detailed 3D printed parts and also in creating a transparence and shiny surface. What I did here was experimenting with adding a very thin layer of resin on the whole objects using foam brush and clear resin.

Some tips here:

1- Add only a thin layer and don't add too much resin. As long as you use multiple foam brush to get into details and also keep the layer of resin thin, you should be able to get a nice result that cures fast and well.

2- I used both Ember and also object clear resin material to test the results and in my experience the Ember resin that I applied worked better for what I was looking for.

3- I tried both UV light as well as sun light to cure the resin. For the first object, I left it in for 30 minutes (with UV light) and for the second one I left it for 1 hour under the sun. As I learned, UV light works so much better and faster.

4- Safety tip: wear gloves and mask while working with resin.

Step 5: Castin’ Craft Resin Spray

This is the final step and also this spray is your best friend. After I added the resin and had it cured, I added a nice layer of craft resin spray on the whole artifact and it was MAGIC. It looked super nice and shiny after that.

Make sure you let it dry all the way before touching it or you will have your finger prints left on the model. Believe me, I know all about that!!!

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