Microsyst Nanoeng. 2023 Aug 15;9:103. doi: 10.1038/s41378-023-00542-y. eCollection 2023.
Conventional manufacturing techniques to fabricate microfluidic chips, such as soft lithography and hot embossing process, have limitations that include difficulty in preparing multiple-layered structures, cost- and labor-consuming fabrication process, and low productivity. Digital light processing (DLP) technology has recently emerged as a cost-efficient microfabrication approach for the 3D printing of microfluidic chips; however, the fabrication resolution for microchannels is still limited to sub-100 microns at best. Here, we developed an innovative DLP printing strategy for high resolution and scalable microchannel fabrication by dosing- and zoning-controlled vat photopolymerization (DZC-VPP). Specifically, we proposed a modified mathematical model to precisely predict the accumulated UV irradiance for resin photopolymerization, thereby providing guidance for the fabrication of microchannels with enhanced resolution. By fine-tuning the printing parameters, including optical irradiance, exposure time, projection region, and step distance, we can precisely tailor the penetration irradiance stemming from the photopolymerization of the neighboring resin layers, thereby preventing channel blockage due to UV overexposure or compromised bonding stability owing to insufficient resin curing. Remarkably, this strategy can allow the preparation of microchannels with cross-sectional dimensions of 20 μm × 20 μm using a commercial printer with a pixel size of 10 μm × 10 μm; this is significantly higher resolution than previous reports. In addition, this method can enable the scalable and biocompatible fabrication of microfluidic drop-maker units that can be used for cell encapsulation. In general, the current DZC-VPP method can enable major advances in precise and scalable microchannel fabrication and represents a significant step forward for widespread applications of microfluidics-based techniques in biomedical fields.