high resolution 3d printer guide

Resolution is a much-misunderstood aspect of accurate 3D printing, and there are many important factors that affect print quality beyond just layer height. This article recommends the best high-resolution 3D printers, explains the factors making up a high-resolution 3D printer, and the benefits and drawbacks.

Typically within 3D printing resolutions, the Z-axis resolution, or Z-resolution, is most discussed. This is the vertical resolution and means the minimum layer height or thickness possible for a 3D printer.

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Small layers mean better resolution, and better surface quality parts with smoother surfaces and crisper edges.

Therefore, having a high-quality 3D printer that can print with small layer heights can be a great advantage. However, this is not the only factor that affects print quality, with a host of others affecting whether a high-resolution 3D printer actually prints accurate, smooth parts.

Accurate 3D printers we recommend

NameMax build volume (mm)Min layer heightPriceWhere to buy
Ender 3 V2220 x 220 x 2500.1 mm$279Creality Store here
Elegoo Mars 2 Pro129 x 80 x 1600.01 mm$280Elegoo here
Anycubic Photon Mono 4K132 x 80 x 1650.01 mm$299Anycubic Store here
Elegoo Mars 3143 x 90 x 1650.01 mm$349Elegoo here
Prusa i3 MK3S250 x 210 x 2000.05 mm$749 / $999Prusa Store here
Formlabs Form 3145 x 145 x 18525 microns$3,499Dynamism here
Ultimaker S3230 x 190 x 20020 microns$3,850Dynamism Store here

Resolution in 3D printing: X, Y and Z resolution

Z-resolution corresponds to the layer height of a printed part. However, the X and Y-planes are also very important in a high resolution 3D printer.

The X and Y axes control the 2D parts of the print: those within each 2D layer. The Z then adds multiple layers, responsible for height – the third dimension. Though they are all axes, the XY and Z axes are controlled by two separate systems, with some FDM printers having far more accurate Z-resolutions than XY.

low vs high resolution in 3d printing layers

The X and Y resolutions are the smallest movements the printer’s print head (the projector, extruder or laser, depending on technology) can make within a layer – horizontally.

Different 3D printing technologies are capable of better resolutions than others. For example, SLA 3D printers are more accurate than FDM 3D printers, even though their Z-resolutions can look similar on paper. This is mostly down to the better XY resolutions resin 3D printers can print with, leading to smoother surface areas, with the best resin printers able to print parts with barely noticeable layer lines.

However, other factors can also significantly affect print quality.

Other factors that affect print quality

  • Nozzle size: smaller nozzles on FDM 3D printer extruders can print more intricate and precise details. Standard nozzles are typically 0.4mm, though you can get far smaller 0.1 or 0.2mm nozzles for small and accurate details. They also work better for printing supports and overhangs.
  • Stability of frame & vibrations: a sturdy, heavy metal frame that anchors the printer and print bed to the ground is less affected by vibrations and other extraneous factors that can affect print quality.
  • Material: different materials are more accurate and precise than others, or are easier to print successfully than others.
  • Technology: for example, SLA printers are more accurate than FDM, and PolyJet offers some of the best precision in 3D printing.
  • Slicer and printer settings: your 3D slicer settings will make all the difference in print quality, and even the most high resolution 3D printers will print poor quality models if not optimized.

When do high quality 3D printers make the most difference?

If you plan on 3D printing a very basic structure like a cube, whether you use a high quality 3D printer, or use large or small layers, will make no difference. In fact, using small layer heights will just make the exact same print take far longer.

For these very basic models with few intricate parts or details, a standard cheap 3D printer will work almost as well as an industrial, high-resolution 3D printer that costs 20x the price.

However, high-quality precise 3D printers make a significant difference in more complex parts that have diagonal or arched lines or sides, or have embossing and engravings.

Especially in curved or diagonal parts, the lower the layer height and more accurate the printer, the less stepped these features will appear, and the smoother they will look, even up close.

very high resolution 3d printed ring mold
Very high-resolution 3D printers such as resin printers are commonly used to 3D print jewelry molds, such as this 3D printed ring. Source: Shapeways.

Moreover, if you are printing a small part, for example 3D printing a miniature or tabletop model, using an accurate printer with very small layer heights can be worth it, as even if it takes several times as long this still won’t take more than an hour.

The best high-resolution 3D printers

Now we have illustrated the components that make up a high-quality 3D printer, here are some recommendations.

High resolution and quality here are relative, meaning that we have chosen those in each price range that excel – a $200 3D printer cannot compete with an industrial 3D printer costing $20,000, but it may be the best in its price range.

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Ender 3 V2 – accurate 3D printer for under $300

ender 3 high resolution low cost 3d printer
The Ender 3 is a low cost, relatively high-quality 3D printer.

Just as the original Ender 3 was starting to get long in the tooth, Creality swooped in with the Ender 3 V2. A well-thought-out printer, the Ender 3 V2 remedies many of the misgivings of its predecessor while still keeping the asking price affordable to even the most budget-restrained makers. 

The belt tensioners, 4.2.2 32-bit mainboard, and silent stepper motor drivers do a lot to present what feels like a far more modern printer compared to the Ender 3.

In the context of low-cost high-resolution 3D printer performance, the Ender 3 V2 spec sheet doesn’t exactly wow, with a middling 100-micron layer resolution. But, don’t be fooled; high-resolution printing is defined by more resolution alone.

In action, the Ender 3 V2 assembles with a level of accuracy that feels inordinately good for a low-cost FDM printer. With few visible, warping, or layering issues with an excellent overall quality for larger parts and respectable results for smaller, detailed parts. And, coupled with that is a suitably large build volume – 220 x 220 x 250 mm to be exact – for larger projects and even small-scale batch printing.

For the price, you additionally get to play with a decent range of materials – PLA, ABS, PETG, TPU. The only caveat is you’ll need to stick to more straightforward prints, those relatively free of intricate embossing, minute detail, tight arches, and the like.

In our experience, the Ender 3 V2 shines best when used to create household items such as plant pots or, say, vases, figurines, toys, accessories, and similar items. We’d wager it also packs in enough printing aptitude for a modest business selling non-geometrically complex products.

Be warned; the Ender 3 V2 is very much a hobby kit printer, requiring its fair share of tinkering to perform at its best. Curious beginners up for a challenge and seasoned makers should find this a gratifying part of the printing process, but green newcomers may prefer an option a little lighter on the ‘hands-on’ aspects.

Top Pick
Creality Ender 3 V2 3D Printer
$279.99

Upgraded version of the original Ender 3 with a number of key quality-of-life improvements.

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Elegoo Mars 2 Pro

elegoo mars 2 pro

The Elegoo Mars and Anycubic Photon range have both revolutionized low-cost, high-resolution 3D printing for hobbyists and businesses worldwide. The Elegoo Mars 2 is capable of such accurate resin models that it is increasingly used for casting 3D printed jewelry molds before having them made into gold or other metal rings, bracelets, and chains.

Read more: our Elegoo Mars 2 Pro review & test prints

As an MSLA printer, the Elegoo Mars prints resin models that outperform its FDM counterparts, with high resolution 3D prints that barely show their layers. The 6-inch 2K LCD screen makes for fast 3D printing, able to cure a layer every 2 seconds.

Additionally, the Mars 2 Pro’s CNC machined aluminum structure improves stability, eliminating outside vibrations that could affect a precise 3D printed model’s detailed features. Moreover, the new and improved build plate is designed for better adhesion and better quality outcomes.

The printer is accessible in 12 languages, so non-English speakers needn’t worry, and if you do have any problems with your Elegoo Mars 2 Pro, the company will replace it with its 1-year warranty. Overall, it’s a great, high-quality 3D printer for cheap and precise resin part production.

high-resolution resin 3D print of a dinosaur head
A dinosaur head we 3D printed when we reviewed the Elegoo Mars 2 Pro.
Budget Resin Pick
Elegoo Mars 2 Pro Resin 3D Printer
Around $200 if on sale
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Anycubic Photon Mono 4K

anycubic photon mono 4k

Yet another iterative upgrade to a respected family of resin printers, the Anycubic Photon Mono 4K is another impressive option for those high-res 3D printer heads out there. It’s no understatement to count the Anycubic Photon Mono 4K among the top cheap high-resolution 3D printers out there.

Under the hood, the Anycubic Photon Mono 4K sports, you guessed it, a 4K LCD panel capable of a pixel resolution of 35 microns, a 15-micron improvement on its predecessor. In layman’s terms, this equates to a smooth finish and fine detail in every print, both immediately apparent to the naked eye.

Imperfections are near indistinguishable, and, dare we say it; the results are as close to perfection as we’ve seen in this price range in the overwhelming majority of prints. The Anycubic Photon Mono 4K also nips through prints with a more-than-respectable sub 2 second layer cure time.

For us, the printer brims with hobby potential. We’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint an application where it doesn’t impress. That said, the Anycubic Photon Mono 4K comes into its element with 3D models and similar display items thanks to its propensity for carving out detailed features.

Much like other resin printers, the Anycubic Photon Mono 4K comes with its fair share of mess and requires strict adherence to a regular cleaning regimen. The absence of a resume function and an occasionally temperamental native slicer feel like unfortunate oversights. But, these are minor gripes for an otherwise excellent low-priced, small form factor resin printer.

Anycubic Photon Mono 4K 3D Printer
$299
Anycubic Store here Amazon here
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Elegoo Mars 3 – Best Cost-Effective Resin Pick

elegoo mars 3

The Elegoo Mars is back and arguably better than ever, with a new numeral slapped on for good measure. Fast, beautifully detailed, compact, and cost-effective, the Elegoo Mars 3 also sports the specs we like to see in high-resolution-geared resin printers, namely a 6.6-inch 4K Ultra Monochrome LCD and a razor-thin 35-micron resolution.

Marketing and technical blather aside, Elegoo Mars 3 delivers impressively detailed results with clean edges and on-point accuracy suitable for even the most demanding resin projects. A larger build volume than the Mars 2 Pro, tallying up to 143 x 90 x 165 mm, also lends itself to larger prints while keeping up those minute features and finer details.

We’re particularly impressed with how well the printer fares when tackling figurines, toys, and models, even what we deem large ones for a resin printer. Best of all, the Elegoo Mars 3 sticks to the Mars tradition of no-nonsense printers that perform to the same high standard day-in, day-out. In other words, a workhorse.

Despite some reservations about the flimsy lid and the lack of features like air filtration and Wi-Fi connectivity, we highly recommend the Elegoo Mars 3 for makers, hobbyists, and businesses looking for a cheap high-resolution 3D printer. Note that the Elegoo Mars 3 is tied to the ChiTuBox slicer and won’t work with third-party alternatives.

Premium Resin Pick
Elegoo Mars 3 3D Printer
$320
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Prusa i3 MK3S+

  • Price: $749 kit / $999 assembledAvailable on Prusa Store here
  • Build volume: 250 x 210 x 200 mm
  • Type of 3D printer: FDM 3D printer & DIY 3D printer
  • Minimum layer height: 50 microns

Balancing high resolution and workhorse-like reliability, the Prusa i3 MK3S+ is known for being one of the best 3D printers around. Available as a 3D printer kit or pre-assembled for a few hundred dollars extra, this FDM printer can print precise 50-micron layers, and do so time and time again without fail.

For better XY resolutions and part quality, resin printers like the Elegoo Mars are still better, but the Prusa balances still excellent quality, with wider material compatibility – from ABS to PLA to Polycarbonate to Nylon! – and can even be adapted into a color 3D printer that can print 5 colors simultaneously if you purchase the Multi Material Upgrade Kit.

It’s fast, always improving, and balances excellent resolution with dogged grit and reliability.

prusa i3 mk3s high quality 3d printer
Best 3D Printer Kit Overall
Original Prusa i3 MK3S+ kit

The best 3D printer kit of all time. If you have $1,000, this is some of the best value you can get.

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Formlabs Form 3

formlabs form 3 high resolution 3d printer

The leading prosumer resin 3D printing company, Formlabs printers are now used extensively across the jewelry, dental, medical and hearing aid sectors.

Looking at the numbers underpinning the Formlabs Form 3 – chiefly, a 145 x 145 x 185 mm build volume and 25-micron resolution – isn’t exactly a head-turner. However, Formlabs’ innovative LFS tech is the type of innovation we like to see. The real sophistication lies in just how easy the printer is to use. With the Formlabs Form 3, the onus is on the machine to do its thing, no faffing and no babysitting required.

And, the results follow. Equipped with high-quality resin, the Formlabs Form 3 performs exceptionally to yield beautifully finished and detailed prints suitable for commercial ends. Print failures are all but nonexistent; you’d need to physically shake the machine during a print to trigger anything resembling errors.

You do pay a hefty premium for the pleasure of owning a Formlabs Form 3. However, the expense is quickly recouped in time saved alone by the set-a-task-and-forget nature of the printer, something that could conceivably prove invaluable in a fast-paced commercial environment. For small to medium-sized businesses requiring small-batch failsafe precision models along with prototyping, there’s little out there to rival the Formlabs Form 3.

Overall, for precise 3D printing, the Form 3 is one of the highest resolution and quality 3D printers out there.

Extremely High Resolution 3D Printer
Formlabs 3D Printers: Form 3
$3750
Dynamism here
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Ultimaker S3

Smaller, but every part as technically brilliant as the S5, the Ultimaker S3 is capable of incredible 20-micron layer heights that are so small you’ll struggle to see them. Though this slows down print time by increasing the number of layers in a part, the resulting model will have unmatched quality compared to almost any other FDM printer.

As well as the fantastic precision, the Ultimaker S3 is also a dual extruder 3D printer, allowing for the production of precise, multi-colored or multi-material 3D prints, and as a result is used heavily in creating architectural building model prototypes before building work begins.

The printer is easy to use, easy to print with – Ultimaker also own Cura, the most popular 3D slicer – and offers fantastic 20-micron precision with a wide variety of materials compatible, including carbon fiber. Overall, the printer speaks for itself, and proves itself as one of the best high resolution 3D printers in FDM.

ultimaker s3 accurate and precise 3d printer
Premium FDM Pick
Ultimaker S3
$4450

Ultimaker manufacture some of the most accurate and highest build quality FDM 3D printers around.

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Advantages of a High Resolution 3D Printer

  • Better quality: high resolution makes for smoother surface finishes, with great details and aesthetics on parts.
  • The only way to get fine details: models that have arches and sharp diagonal details can look very jagged in higher layer heights, with low resolution 3D printers unable to adequately print these details.

Disadvantages of an accurate 3D printer

  • Perfect settings required: increased precision requires perfect calibration, the perfect temperature settings to avoid imperfections in the filament or resin, and the right heated bed temperature and adhesion on the print bed. Any errors here can create imperfections in the print.
  • Much slower: printing with 25-micron layer heights takes four times as long as 100-micron layer heights, as four 25-micron layers equal the height of one 100-micron layer. For large and complex models, prints can take days.
  • Higher chance of print failure: the more layers a model has, the more opportunities there are for errors to occur – which could render the part useless.

High-Resolution 3D Printing Technologies

Some 3D printing technologies considered high-resolution include:

FDM – Fused Deposition Modeling

FDM, or Fused Deposition Modeling, is the most popular and common technology used for high-resolution printing. The process involves depositing melted filament in layers on a fixed build platform using a heated extruder to create models. FDM falls on the lower end of the high-res spectrum and is generally favored as a low-cost alternative to more expensive technologies. FDM printers commonly offer resolutions in the 50 to 200 microns range.

Resin (SLA, DLP, LCD)

Photopolymerization, commonly known as resin 3D printing, involves projecting a laser or light source to cure liquid light-sensitive resin into layers. Specific technologies include Stereolithography (SLA), Low Force Stereolithography (LFS), Masked Stereolithography Apparatus (MSLA), and Digital Light Processing (DLP).  Resin printers commonly hit layer resolutions as low as 25 to 35 microns.

MJF – Multi Jet Fusion

Multi-Jet Modeling, or Material Jetting, uses inkjet print heads to jet melted materials layer by layer to create a 3D part or model. Expensive and highly accurate, MJF printers are the reserve of large businesses with deep coffers.

PolyJet – Photopolymer Jetting

Printers that employ PolyJet, or Photopolymer Jetting, rely on layers of photo-sensitive liquid photopolymer resin jetted via print heads then cured thanks to a UV light source to create prints. Much like MJF, PolyJet involves considerable expense, although the printers are generally smaller in size.

High-Resolution 3D Printer FAQs

We also have an article about how to maximize dimensional accuracy and precision in 3D printing.