The Anycubic Photon is one of the very first DLP and SLA printers to be retailed at an under $500 price tag. However, it had to face extremely tough competition from more expensive printers such as Lulzbot, Ultimaker, and Formlabs. So without further ado, let us start this Anycubic Photon review.
The Anycubic Photon: An Overview
Let us see why this particular printer easily stands out from the many others that have hit the market in the past few years.
First and foremost, this is a straight-up DLP printer. That is, the Anycubic Photon offers a pretty neat 2K resolution. Yes, other printers do so as well, but not at this low a price point.
Second, it is very very small. In fact, it is outright tiny. Unlike many other home 3D printers, the Anycubic Photon can be roughly described as being the size of two shoeboxes stacked together. This makes it an ideal size for most desktops and workstations.
Apart from that, it is much more detailed than even the more top-end FDM printers that are available today.
FDM and SLA/DLP Printers: Understanding the Difference
Setting up an SLA/DLP printer is markedly different than doing the same with an FDM printer. This is because an FDM printer is more like a hot glue gun operated by a robot (in fact this is how it was designed way back in the 1980s).
Basically, hard material is pushed into a hot nozzle where it is melted and a thin stream comes out from the other end. Slowly, layer by layer (sometimes it takes thousands of extremely thin layers) a 3D object emerges and solidifies.
This process is known as Filament Deposition Modeling or FDM. It is also colloquially referred to as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF).
However, in the case of SLA and DLP, we can assert that both these methods are basically two sides of the same coin. Both SLA or Stereolithography and DLP or Digital Laser Projection utilize concentrated light to essentially ‘grow’ 3D tools, artwork, and other objects in what may be described as a pool of photo-reactive resin.
Related: Anycubic resin settings
How the Anycubic Photon works
Like just about any other SLA printer, the Anycubic Photon’s build plate is slowly lowered into a small pool of glistening liquid resin.
Once we started this Anycubic review, we could see that it did not reach the bottom and stopped just a fraction of a millimeter before it touched rock bottom. The baseplate is completely transparent. It has to be this way because it allows the laser light to shine straight up through the bottom.
Once this happens, then any liquid resin particles that are directly struck by the light will start to congeal and solidify. This is how the resin will slowly start forming the very first layer of a 3D object and methodically start fusing the same to the build plate. After that, the 3D printer will move its build plate upwards by a few microns.
This will help draws in more of the liquid resin beneath the plate and the whole process will begin all over again. In this way, various objects will be created layer by layer, starting from the lowest levels and going ever upwards, until the whole object is complete.
When it comes to photon3D, the whole process is not only quick but fairly easy as well. Unfortunately, the whole build plate leveling process has to be done manually.
Since a resin printer operates on the accuracy of this process, there is no room for error. Here an automated build plate is sorely missed. Albeit, having said that, the manual leveling process is still relatively simple compared to various other SLA or DLP printers out there.
However, it is very important that you clean the vat with isopropyl alcohol when making the first print and also adjust the layer height to ensure the best results.
Overall Design and Build Quality
Just because this printer only costs approximately $500, does not mean that it is a slouch in the design department. As a matter of fact, this is an astonishingly well-built machine in terms of build quality, for a printer this inexpensive. The resin tub and the build plate, for instance, have been constructed from machined aluminum.
On the other hand, the unit’s frame has been made from stamped sheet metal. This is the metal they used to make AK 47 rifles! In short, nothing about this machine feels either cheap or shoddy.
However, the printer does lack some of the more useful design elements that are now common on various high-end machines. Here it is pertinent to note that this machine has been designed to use the more common DLP process in lieu of true SLA.
In the long run, it means that there are at least a few minor (but notable) differences as far as overall print size and quality is concerned.
All things considered, the Anycubic Photon is a very well-made machine for 3D printing purposes, but it does lack a bit in the design department. At least as far as the build area, engineering and performance perspectives are concerned.
Software and User Interface
The Anycubic Photon’s onboard printing user interface (UI) is both very simple and extremely straightforward. It is a no-nonsense barebones system and the main directory is also very straight forward. Even a newbie should be able to handle it with ease thanks to its LCD screen.
The Anycubic Photon also comes equipped with its own slicing software. You will notice its sheer simplicity the moment you open the program.
Most of the options are already in-built and you can change only a handful of settings, at most. These include the following:
- Layer thickness
- Overall exposure time
- Off time
- Bottom layers and
- Bottom exposure time
However, if you are not an expert or if you don’t know what will happen if you modify these factors, you should not tinker with them. Here, your best bet will be to just simply leave the preset setting as it is. The same also goes with the resolution settings of the printer, since they are also pre-defined.
Support generation is the area where you will truly have near-absolute control over your 3D printing machine. This area allows you to decide if you want to auto-generate supports or alternately, manually insert them yourself. If you were to use the automated support structures you will be in good hands since they are also quite sound.
The Anycubic Photon slicer software provides the user with excellent control over the following aspects of the support structures:
- Shape radius
- Length and
- Density along with many other options
Other than that, the Photon 3D printer slicer software offers multiple convenient ways to scale view and ultimately rotate the model. The slicing process is also very fast in comparison to various other commonly used software products. Once done, it will leave you with a Photon file that will be fully customized and exclusively prepped for the Anycubic Photon Printer.
In short, the slicer included with the Anycubic Photon is considered to be adequate enough for the job at hand. Even though it lacks in the design department and does not provide any proper explanations regarding individual settings, this slicing software is nonetheless simple, effective, and very easy to use as well, even with uncured resin.
Leveling the Printer for the First Time
The actual assembly work takes approximately 30 minutes or so. After that, you have to clean the vat as much as possible to ensure that there is no ingress of foreign matter inside.
You will have to remove the whole resin tank from the chamber so that you can start the leveling process without let or hindrance.
You can use the touchscreen LCD display to access the “MOVE Z” function via the “TOOLS” setting. Once the Z axis starts to descend you are good to go. You should use an Allen wrench to loosen the screw at the top of the print platform. This will allow you to tweak the platform and fine-tune it till you get it as level as possible.
The leveling process of this printer is somewhat similar to most FDM printers that have to be manually calibrated. You should slowly lower the platform in extremely small increments in order to avoid any potential issues.
If there is even the smallest tilting of the platform, there will be a very big risk of poor quality or even failed prints. Once done, you should reset the Z-zero position, to lock the calibration settings firmly into place.
Once you run a function test to your complete satisfaction, you should place the vat back into the printer and thoroughly tighten the adjustable nuts.
After the assembly and the leveling procedures are complete, you can commence pouring the resin into its vat to start printing. Initially, you should only fill it up around halfway or one-third of the way for your first few prints. Once you get the hang of the whole thing, you may print at full volume and speed.
Print Performance of the Anycubic Photon
As the old saying goes; “the proof is in the pudding.” The Photon 3D printer has been getting a whole lot of hype for some time and it has to be tested to see if it is really as good as it is touted to be.
In a nutshell, the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, it would not be far wrong to assert that all the positive publicity is completely and totally warranted. There is no doubt about it. This awesome printer definitely punches way above its weight class.
One of the best things about this printer is that provides excellent value for money, especially when it comes to surface finish and resolution.
Albeit, having said that, it is pertinent to note that there are a few minor issues that need work. When running initial test prints we saw that certain sections actually came out looking all soft and squished. It almost looked as if someone had a go at them with a hot iron or a belt sander.
Yes, in the budget-friendly DLP resin printer market, the humble Photon is, without question, the single best printer you can get in its allocated price range.
However, it is most definitely not quite the same level as many other top tier printers such as the Formlabs Form 2, at least not when it comes to reliability and value-added features. However, in terms of sheer print quality alone, this machine is not far behind.
If you are in the market for the single most detailed, high-res 3D prints you can get for the least amount of funds, the Photon is your answer.
This is a pretty durable machine since there are very few components and parts on this unit that are likely to wear out very fast. In general, the Photon is counted amongst some of the more long-lasting resin printers available out there. Let us check out this machine’s pros and cons:
- This is an extremely affordable unit, especially when compared to other SLA and DLP 3D printers
- Very easy to setup
- User-friendly interface
- Produces very high-quality prints thanks to its ultra-impressive resolution of anything between 25 to 100 microns
- Very Compact size
- Efficient design
- Clear and lucid instructions for both assembly as well as subsequent cleaning operations
- Customized slicer with very strong support structure generation
- Excellent value for money for a printer this small
- Safety equipment is provided with the machine
- Very small build volume
- Resin 3D printing is not for everyone since it can get quite messy
- Post-processing of 3D printed objects requires patience and space
- Frequent and proper cleaning is required and that is a time-consuming and cumbersome exercise
- Safety gear is very necessary at all times
- The user must be cautious when using hazardous materials
- No error checking sensors available
- Printer Dimensions: 220 x 220 x 400 mm
- Technology: DLP (Digital Light Processing)
- Build Volume: 115 x 65 x 155mm
- Working Voltage: 12V DC
- Touchscreen: 2.8-inch color screen
- Layer Resolution: 25-100 microns
- Connectivity: USB stick, SD Card
- Input rating: 110V/220V AC
Anycubic Photon vs Elegoo Mars
The Elegoo Mars and Anycubic Photon are quite similar in many respects; however, there are a few prominent distinguishing features that easily set these two LCD 3D DLP printers apart. Let us check them for ourselves in order to make an informed decision when purchasing a 3D printer.
The actual volumetric difference between these two printers is nearly indiscernible at first glance. But appearances can be deceptive because the Elegoo Mars is ever so slightly bigger than its Anycubic Photon counterpart. The Z-axis measurements for both of these two machines are virtually the same. However, Mars offers another 5mm on the X-axis as well as 3mm on the Y-axis.
As a general rule, the overall print quality of resin-based 3D printing technology is virtually indistinguishable to the human eye. This holds particularly true when you compare the Anycubic Photon with the Elegoo Mars. This is because both these printers offer XY resolution of 47 microns each.
Apart from that, they also offer a Z-layer resolution that is as low as a mere 10 microns. In a nutshell, when it comes to 3D print quality these machines are quite evenly matched. That is, they deliver quite satisfying results, especially when you consider their really low price point.
The assembly procedure in-between these two machines is also roughly similar in the sense that they are both basically plug and play 3D printers. They are both shipped largely pre-assembled and they both require just a bit of unboxing and assembly related work before they can be put to use.
The main setup step for these two printers is the same and it consists of inserting the resin vat in its proper place and attaching the main print plate. This is the only time consuming pre-assembly procedure with both these machines.
The driving engine between the two machines is also extremely similar. For instance, these two printers use a 2560×1440 2K HD masking liquid crystal display (LCD) to project the light into the resin vat.
The Mars has a slightly bigger touch screen and overall volume, but otherwise, the functional mechanics are quite similar. On the other hand, the exterior portions of these two printers are much more distinct.
This holds particularly true when you compare the red UV light blocking lid that comes as standard on Mars with the more limited front side window of the Photon.
Anycubic Photon vs Ender 3 Pro
Anycubic Photon is not a ‘do it yourself’ (DIY) printer so it is almost set to work, right out of the box. Apart from the adequate instructions that you will need for set up, leveling and cleaning purposes, you will need some tools as well.
Here, the Photon truly shines since it comes with all the accessories and tools that you will need in order to get started without any hassle. However, resins are not included in the barebones package.
In terms of print quality and speed, the Ender 3 Pro is quite close to the Anycubic Photon S. However, unlike the Photon it has a ‘resume print’ option that enables it to resume printing from where it left off, even after a power outage.
As far as the assembly is concerned, the unit comes with multiple assembled parts and you will need only a few hours to fix all the components in their proper place. However, the Photon comes almost fully assembled and that means that it can be put to use within minutes only.
- REMOVABLE BUILD SURFACE PLATE: Provide all-round protection to your 3D printer build plate and ensure consistent temperature throughout the build surface. Easy to remove the printing models after...
- SAFE POWER SUPPLY: Ender 3 Pro comes with a branded power supply, protecting your printer from unexpected power surges, that can heat the hot bed to 110℃ in just 5 minutes.
- RESUME PRINT FUNCTION: Ender 3 Pro can resume printing from the last recorded extruder position after suffering unexpected power outages.
- SEMI-ASSEMBLED KIT: This easy-to-setup kit comes partially assembled, allowing you to learn about the basic construction of 3D printers as you finish putting it together. A fun STEM educational...
The Various Issues with Resin Based Printers
Here, you should also try and understand that resin printing is not something that everyone would like. It is very simple really. Resin is both sticky and messy, and it is a real pain to clean up, once you are done.
This is why many experts and professionals might end up putting you off 3D printing in general. In fact, it is not considered to be the ideal printer for beginners
Apart from that, the Photon is definitely the best choice in case you need to print something really big, or for that matter even a medium-sized object. As mentioned earlier, it is a minuscule 3D printer.
The Verdict: Should You Buy The Anycubic Photon?
The short and succinct answer to your question is a resounding ‘yes.’ We understand that there are plenty of ways of spending 500 dollars, but you may rest assured that this is by far and large one of the best ones possible. This way, you will be able to enjoy a whole new hobby, or perhaps an entirely new profession.
There are very few printers better than this one. In its price range, it has few peers and hardly any superiors. This holds particularly in terms of print quality as well as overall ease of use.
Since the SLA and DLP printer markets are dominated by options that are usually priced well above 1,000 dollars, this machine is a real bargain.
As a matter of fact, it would not be wrong to state that the Anycubic Photon S makes for a near picture-perfect introduction to the world of SLA and DLP 3D printing not just for beginners alone, but also for their more seasoned counterparts too.