ProtoCAM: Excellence in Additive Manufacturing & Rapid Prototyping

Post-Processing & Finish Levels

Post-Processing & Finish Levels

All additive manufacturing pieces require some sort of final post-processing when they come off of the machine. In some cases, post-processing is as simple as lightly sanding the areas where support structures were attached. In other cases, innovative finishing techniques are utilized to deliver beautiful end-use parts that are rugged enough to stand up to real-world impacts.

At ProtoCAM, we offer a wide variety of finishing levels and options which help to provide our customers with exactly the end product they’re looking for. If you’re not sure what post-processing is right for you, contact us and allow our experienced engineers to help guide you towards the ideal finish for your unique project.

Choosing Your Finishing Level

Not all finishing options are available for all additive manufacturing techniques, so process and finish level selection should be two parts of the same decision-making process.

1. Research Your Options

ProtoCAM offers a variety of finishing options including a proprietary crystal-clear bottle finish—a technique developed in-house and available only to ProtoCAM customers. Read on to learn more about all our available options.

2. Consider Budget and Timeline

The more intense the finish, the higher the cost, and the longer it will take to deliver. Assess the look you want versus the look you really need and balance it against your available budget and target deadline. For example, if you are on a tight budget or under time constraints, you may want to skip the higher-finish levels.

List of Polymer Finish Levels and Options at ProtoCAM

Finish Levels

Natural SLA prototyping & stereolithography

This is the most basic finish. The support structures that hold the part in the machine are removed and those areas are thoroughly cleaned or sanded depending on the material. Neither part details nor geometry are touched in any way.

Results: Nice, sharp details; excellent for parts with smaller features
Available for: SLA, SLS, PolyJet 3D printing, FDM, MultiJet Fusion (MJF)

StandardStandard finish includes bead blasting for a pleasant matte surface.

The Standard finish is the most commonly chosen option. It starts with removal of the supports as with the natural finish, but the entire part is then bead blasted for a uniform matte look.

Results: Fairly uniform smoothness for good aesthetics
Available for: SLA

Standard + Exterior

Standard + Exterior (Std + Ext) begins with the standard finish and adds another level of finishing. The entire exterior surface is sanded to remove any build lines or stair stepping, and to create an exceptionally smooth surface for the final product. For parts that need to slide against another surface, Std + Ext ensures the exterior surface of the part is much more like that of the final product.

Results: Exceptionally smooth outer surface for superior aesthetics
Available for: SLA, PolyJet

Standard + All 

Standard + All (Std + All) also begins with the standard finishing, and adds a full, exterior, and interior sanding process. This finishing technique is most often used when creating master patterns for investment casting or some other type of foundry mold. Getting a completely smooth surface allows the manufacturer to easily remove the master pattern from the mold without get hung up on any build lines or stair stepping.

Results: Completely smooth surface inside and out; essential for foundry patterns
Available for: SLA, PolyJet

Primed SLA prototypes are also available primed.

The Primed finish takes a part that has been through the Std + Ext process and adds primer. The first layer of primer often highlights any flaws that may still be evident post-sanding; a second round of light sanding takes place, and a final coat of primer is applied. Primed parts are typically going to be painted by a customer’s own in-house paint department. Our goal is to deliver a part that is smooth and fully prepped so it can go straight to painting, saving the customer precious time.

Results: Exceptionally smooth, paint-ready part
Available for: SLA, SLS, PolyJet

Presentation Presentation stereolithography

The Presentation finish delivers a complete, ready-to-show part that can be taken to a trade show, presented to a customer, or used for marketing photos with no additional work on the part of the customer. Professional painting is completed by the ProtoCAM team in-house in order to get the part as close to a final production look as possible. Mixing automotive grade paints in-house allows for fine-tuning of the color matching process.

Results: Ready-to-show, fully-painted display part with exceptional aesthetics
Available for: SLA, SLS, PolyJet

Clear Clear Stereolithography / SLA Prototyping

Stereolithography offers a clear material for prototyping. The standard Clear finish involves removing the supports, sanding those areas smooth and applying a coat of professional-level clear urethane to counteract the matte look of the sanded areas. Clarity is on the lower end, as some areas are clearer than others. Build lines and stair stepping are not addressed.

Results: Basic see-through finish for clear parts; some opacity
Available for: SLA

Improved Clear

The Improved Clear finish also begins with an SLA clear part, but is generally selected for projects that require a higher level of surface consistency and clarity. Build lines and stair stepping are removed and smoothed, the entire piece is sanded, and a urethane clear coat is added.

Results: Good clarity on most parts
Available for: SLA

Clear Bottle

While a good, clear surface can be achieved on most prototypes with the improved clear finish, bottles and other parts with large internal surfaces and small entries have always presented a particular challenge for rapid prototyping companies. Inside surfaces remained somewhat matte resulting in a rather cloudy finished product. ProtoCAM customers can achieve exceptional clarity on even complex pieces. The clear bottle finish addresses both the interior surface as well as the exterior surface, replicating a production bottle almost perfectly and creating truly clear, transparent parts.

Results: Exceptional transparency on even complex parts and bottles
Available for: SLA

USP Class VI

This finish is specific to medical-grade parts and prototypes that need to conform to USP Class VI certification. It ensures parts are safe for in vivo use.

Results: USP Class VI certified part; acceptable for in vivo use
Available for: SLA

Dying

This finish includes the dying of a part black for a matte finish. More color options coming soon.

Results: Black-dyed part resulting in a clean, matte look.
Available for: MJF, SLS

Smoothing

Smoothing may be accomplished by hand, or chemically, to achieve a smooth and clean product feel.

Results: Chemically or hand-smoothed part with smooth surface feel.
Available for: MJF, FDM, SLS

Other Post-Processing Options

Plating

ProtoCAM also offers plating options; plating helps to enhance the strength, visualization, and overall value of your project. The design and build phases are critical when plating is desired to allow room for the additional plating and to create a structure that will be strong enough in the end product.

Various materials will be affected by our plating processes differently, so it is very important to choose an appropriate material type and technology to build the plated parts. Our engineers are always available to assist you in choosing the correct technology and materials for your desired end product. Our available plating materials, which can be utilized for both SLA and MJF parts include:

  • Nickel – ideal for strength and aesthetics
  • Vacuum Metalized Aluminum – ideal for aesthetics (replicates a chrome finish)

Thickness of the metal plating is also a factor to consider and will depend on the desired end product. Our engineers work with each customer to determine the appropriate thickness that will achieved their ideal final piece.

Please contact us to learn more about what options are available for your additive manufacturing project.

Metal Inserts

We utilize professional thermal inserter equipment to offer the option of including metal inserts in thermoplastic parts to our customers. Our inserter equipment has accurate control of temperature to prevent damage to plastic parts and provides a strong, permanent installation of inserts with high resistance to rotation and pull-out. Our equipment also allows for inserts of many different sizes and is available for use with any of our technologies.

Please contact us to learn more about what options are available for your additive manufacturing project.

Polymer Finish Levels at a Glance

FinishDescriptionUseSLASLSPolyJetFDMMJFCostTime
NaturalRemove supportsCrisp clean detailsXXXX$X
StandardRemove supports; sand and bead blastTypical model with consistent finishXX$X
Std + ExtSand exterior surface to improve finishAesthetic modelXX$$XX
Std + AllSand interior and exterior surface to improve finishPart used for foundry patternsXX$$XX
PrimedSand, reduce build lines and paint with primer onlyCustomer may want to paint or a basic primer finish is sufficientXXXX$$$XXX
PresentationSand, reduce build lines, prime and paintAesthetic models used for presentation or show samplesXXXX$$$$XXXX
ClearRemove supports and clearcoatLooking into a partX$$$XXX
Improved ClearRemove supports, reduce build lines and clearcoatHigh clarity level is neededX$$$$$XXXXX
Clear BottleSpecial finishUsed for bottles only; replicates a production bottleX$$$$$XXXXX
USP Class VISpecial finishMedical useX$X
DyingSpecial finishMatte black finishXX$X
SmoothingSpecial finishSmooth surface finishXXX$XX

For more detail on choosing a finish, click here. Or, contact us and discuss with one of our engineers what might work best for your particular project.