Should you buy an SL Tool Head for your Lulzbot Mini v2 3D printer?

Tool head
Tool head (Image credit: Windows Central)

Should you buy an SL Tool Head for your Lulzbot Mini v2 3D printer?

Best answer: If you are looking to create very small or very detailed models then the LulzBot SL Tool Head is worth the money. It can create visually stunning models but may take a little work to get it to produce the quality you want.Matterhackers: LulzBot SL Tool Head ($300)Matterhackers: LulzBot Mini v2 ($1,500)

The fine details are incredible

The secret of the LulzBot's new tool head, the SL Tool Head, is two-fold. The first part is the reduction in nozzle size: 2.5mm, down from 0.5mm, which helps reduce the amount of plastic going through the nozzle. This allows you to get ultra-fine details without having to reduce the resolution. I spent some time printing the same models at the same resolution — 0.1mm, on each of the tool heads, which is the standard — and the SL Tool Head to see what the difference would be (read on for the results).

If you're looking to create very small or very detailed models then the LulzBot SL Tool Head is worth the money.

The second part is the cooling system. PLA plastic especially needs an enormous amount of cooling to help solidify the fine details before the plastic droops. When you are extruding plastic that is only 0.1mm thick, any amount of sag will ruin detail. The SL Tool Head comes with a high powered fan that is blown down onto the print using a 360-degree vent. These vents are said to be special, but as far as I can see they're the same as standard vents. Maybe they're different internally but there externally, there are no differences.

The combination of the Nozzle size and active cooling helps the LulzBot SL Tool Head achieve results that are nothing less than staggering. When you get the printer completely dialed in, which I have to admit I haven't managed yet, you can achieve results almost on par with SLA resin printers. It really is very impressive.

Comparisons with the standard tool head

Minas tirith (Image credit: Windows Central)

These two teeny Minas Tiriths are pretty at 20 percent of their original size at 0.1mm layer height. I wanted to see how much detail they could pick up when reducing the size of the model and I'm impressed by how both tool heads handled it.

The 0.5mm tool head — that's the one of the left in the image above — did a good job with the walls and the cliff, but when you look at the details of the houses, you can see they are essentially just blobs. The LulzBot SL Tool Head, on the other hand, shows much more detail on all the houses and the spire on the top is far straighter.

Pay close attention to the palace on top of the city. You can see that the SL Tool Head captures the pillars in far greater detail than the standard tool head. Now, this isn't the best test of either tool head since the model itself is supposed to be much larger, so I printed out one of LulzBot's standard STL files to get a better idea.

Ring details face showing (Image credit: Windows Central)

Ring details (Image credit: Windows Central)

Although the photographs are not perfect — it's very difficult to capture fine detail on a 3D print — you can see that the 0.25mm print on the left is a far better quality than the 0.5mm nozzle on the right, even though both printed at 0.1mm layer height. This ring is designed to be cast and smelted in silver with jewels attached to it so those claws are incredibly important.

The standard tool head just cannot capture those small claws or even the holes in the bottom. The LulzBot SL Tool Head, however, does an excellent job at printing the claws and holes and, if I think if I tweaked the speed a little, I could make it even better.

Final thoughts

The LulzBot SL Tool Head tool head is not for everyone. As you may have noticed the LulzBot Mini v2 review the printer is pretty amazing on its own. For almost any everyday activity, the Mini is up to the challenge.

If you are looking to go a little more niche, whether it's jewelry creation or making miniature models for Dungeons and Dragons, then the Micro tool head might be the answer. Having two heads that are so easy to swap out is also a bonus; I was able to replace the tool head in just under five minutes and had it working almost perfectly.

The LulzBot SL Tool Head is an excellent addition to the LulzBot Mini, but a word of caution; this does not work as easily as the standard tool head. This is not a "works out of the box" solution; it will take time, patience, and some fore-knowledge to get the SL Tool Head to work the way you want it. Fortunately, LulzBot customer care is excellent and its support team is always happy to help.

James Bricknell

James built his first PC when he was 13 and has never looked back. He can be found on Windows Central, usually in the corner where all the 3D printers are, or huddled around the Xbox playing the latest games.