We put the Photon Mono resin printer and cure/wash station from Anycubic to the test to see if they are good value for money.
Masked Stereolithography 3D Printing
For anyone wanting to know more about MSLA 3D printing technology, we encourage you to read Issue 29 where we explain the differences between the various technologies and some basic safety precautions unique to this type of 3D printing which you should follow.
Back in mid-November, I was excited to see an announcement from Jaycar stating that they will be stocking the Anycubic photon Mono. This was an exciting development for Australian makers as it puts the impressive Masked Stereolithography (MSLA) technology into the reach of the average hobbyist.
In summary, this type of 3D printing utilises an LCD and a very bright 405nm (near-ultraviolet) LED. The LCD illuminates its pixels where resin is not desired for a specific layer of the model.
The ultraviolet light passes through the non-illuminated pixels of the LCD and causes the resin pressed between the build platform and the thin layer of Fluorinated Ethylene Propylene (FEP) plastic that sits above the LCD, to cure to the build platform.
The build platform then moves up, breaking the surface tension holding it to the FEP sheet, and repositions itself once again so that the model is slightly above the FEP sheet, allowing the process to be repeated.
This means, the only moving axis in this technology is the Z axis. This makes this style of printer much more affordable.
What’s in the box
On opening the box and removing the well-protected contents, we have the following items.
- The Printer
- The 12V 6A / 72W power supply
- User manual
- Basic tool kit containing Allen keys / hex wrenches
- A metallic USB thumbstick
- Plastic scraper
- Wooden handled metal scraper
- Resin Vat
- Build platform with FEP sheet attached
- Face mask
There is no resin included in the package, so be sure to also purchase some when buying one for yourself. Call me pedantic, but I would like to have seen Anycubic provide a small amount of resin in the kit to get people started. Even 250ml would be enough to have a few test prints and would be a huge relief to anyone who purchased without realising they needed to also buy resin.
The main printer is essentially three pieces. The cover is an orange translucent UV resistant plastic that simply sits on top of the main base. The main base is a weighty black plastic, but none the less, feels quality and well built.
The build platform is a machined aluminum and simply attaches to the Z-axis mount via a single large thumbscrew.
The USB thumbstick we received was a red generic/unbranded type with a metallic cover, and is otherwise unremarkable.
The resin vat comes with the FEP sheet attached, and on close inspection, is a two-piece unit with the FEP moulded into a plastic surround, which then bolts to the resin vat. This means, you will not be able to replace the FEP sheet using a generic FEP. Rather, you need to purchase the FEP replacement directly from Anycubic.
Note: At the time of writing, Jaycar does not sell the replacement part separately, however, we understand they will do in the near future. In the meantime, if you damage your sheet, your printer will be inoperative until a replacement sheet can be sourced. The Anycubic online store has the part listed for $15.99 (2 units): https://diyode.io/043fepfilm
The FEP sheet is a consumable part which under normal use will require replacing at some point. It is also very easy to damage, and thus, if you’re purchasing this printer, we would also recommend you either purchase a few spare FEP sheets.
Another alternative is to purchase a new resin vat that allows you to easily replace the FEP sheet. We recommend the Sovol 3D Resin vat which uses a simple FEP sheet that is currently much easier to obtain. With that said, if you can get the Anycubic FEP sheet, it is many times easier to replace. This way, when the inevitable happens and your FEP sheet is damaged, you can start printing again immediately.
The power supply is a 12V 72W wall-wart that plugs directly into your mains power socket. It seems to be of decent quality and well over-specification for purpose. The power supply is wide though and extends past the size of the power point, rendering the socket next to it useless. A power brick-style power supply would have been more convenient in our opinion.
|Slicer Software||Anycubic Photon Workshop|
|Build Area (L x W x H)||130mm x 80mm x 165mm|
|LCD Resolution (XY)||0.051mm 2560 x 1620 (2K)|
|Minimum layer height / resolution (Z)||0.01mm / 10-micron|
|Maximum layer height / resolution (Z)||0.15mm / 150-micron|
|Max print speed||50mm an hour|
|Operation||2.8 inch touch screen|
|Printer size (L x W x H)||227mm x 222mm x 383mm|
The printer comes with a slicer included called Anycubic Photon workshop. This slicer works perfectly well, and is a great entry-level introduction to SLA / MSLA printing. However, you’re not locked into using any specific slicer. There are several other slicers including one of our favourites, Formware 3D, that will work with the Anycubic Photon Mono. This means more demanding power users who may outgrow the basic functionality of the slicer have the ability to switch software to get more advanced features.
As far as build volume goes, the Anycubic Photon Mono is in the top end with a build area of 130mm x 80mm x 165mm. After a quick online search of popular MSLA / SLA printers with a 2K LCD, the Anycubic Photon Mono has the largest build volume. In fact, we could not find a similar priced 2K MSLA printer with a bigger build area.
|Anycubic Photon||115 x 65 x 155||1.16L|
|Anycubic Photon Mono||130 x 80 x 165||1.72L|
|ANYCUBIC Photon Mono SE||130 x 78 x 160||1.62L|
|QIDI Tech Shadow||115 x 65 x 150||1.12L|
|Creality UV Resin LD-002R||120 x 65 x 165||1.29L|
|Creality LD-002H||130 x 82 x 160||1.7L|
|Phrozen Sonic Mini||135 x 75 x 130||1.61L|
|ELEGOO Mars 2 Pro Mono||129 x 80 x 160||1.65L|
|NOVA3D Bene4 Mono||130 x 80 x 150||1.56L|
|EPAX X1-N UV||115 x 65 x 155||1.16L|
Connectivity is limited to untethered USB only. You first use the slicer to slice the model and then save that to a USB drive, which you insert into the printer to print from.
It would have been great to have the ability to control the printer directly from a PC, as this would open up a number of options such as being able to move the bed. An SD card would also be a better alternative to the USB option, which would avoid the USB stick protruding from the printer, and avoid any damage if the stick is accidentally bumped.
We imagine a serious knock could easily damage the mainboard and render the printer inoperative.
The LCD is a 2K monochrome LCD with a resolution of 2560 x 1620. The first round of MSLA printers, such as the Anycubic photon, commonly used colour LCDs which were more often than not excess stock from other portable electronic devices such as mobile phones and tablets. These LCDs were chosen due to them being easily obtainable and relatively inexpensive, however, they are less than ideal for 3D resin printing as:
- Colour LCDs are more susceptible to damage from the UV light used to cure the resin.
- Colour LCDs have a lower aperture ratio due to each pixel having three components (RGB).
- Colour LCDs block more UV light requiring longer exposure times.
By switching to a monochrome LCD, the Anycubic photon Mono has a minimum exposure time per layer of 1.5 seconds, whereas the original Anycubic Photon had a minimum exposure time of 4.5 seconds, giving the monochrome screen a three times faster printing speed.
Likewise, Anycubic claims the lifespan of their monochrome LCD is four times longer than the original photons LCD. They also appear to back this claim by changing their warranty on the LCD from 3-months on the original Photon to 12-months on the Photon mono. This indicates to us that Anycubic is confident that the Monochrome LCD is much better suited to the job.
The minimum layer height of the Anycubic Photon Mono is an astounding 10-microns, which is simply mind blowing and translates to incredible detail reproduction in the Z axis. It means details that would be lost in similar machines with a 20-micron minimum layer height are reproduced with this machine.
The unit is controlled via a tiny but functional 2.8” touchscreen LCD. The menu system is very simple to navigate and seems intuitive with minimal language translation needed. Whilst certainly not groundbreaking, the display and menu system simply works and gives zero issues.
How WELL does it print?
With all the impressive specifications, there is really only one thing left to do, and that is, of course, to test the abilities of the printer.
All of our prints were made using the default settings of the Anycubic workshop slicer to give as close as possible the out-of-the-box user experience. We have no doubt that the prints can easily be improved further by tweaking settings to dial in your printer. Our first print was the torture test, which came included on the USB stick. This torture test is a torture test for FDM 3D printers and, in reality, is incredibly easy for a MSLA printer to reproduce.
Thus, unsurprisingly it printed flawlessly, as you see here.
This print is incredibly difficult for FDM printers to replicate due to the very fine details. A MSLA printer on the other hand has absolutely no issues recreating the print.
Note: You may notice that the print appears warped. This occurred after printing as we were attempting to remove the part from the build platform.
Our second print was a little more ambitious. We designed our very own custom tabletop miniature (COVID face mask and all) using the website https://www.heroforge.com/
This is a simple website that allows you to create highly detailed miniatures which are perfect for 3D printing on an MSLA printer.
As you can see here, the level of detail captured in the print is astounding. Everything from the digits on the D12 die to the creases on the book, and the pebbles on the road beneath have been faithfully recreated in the miniature.
This level of detail is incredibly impressive and is miles ahead of anything FDM printing can currently reproduce. We printed a number of other common designs such as the #3DBenchy from user creative tools on Thingiverse, which again is an incredibly simple print on a MSLA printer. It came up flawless.
Since the usual FDM benchmarking tools were incredibly simple for the Anycubic Photon Mono printer, we wanted to return to printing highly detailed models for tabletops. In our online research, we discovered the Manticore by user M3DM on Thingiverse.
This is an incredibly detailed print and should allow us to demonstrate the insane level of detail the 10-micron minimum layer height is able to replicate. We were clearly not disappointed, and the printer blew away our expectations, managing to even replicate the tiny veins on the wings of the beast and each tuft of hair on its mane.
Wash and Cure Station
One of my main concerns when we first encountered the technology back in 2019 was the post processing requirements. Unlike your traditional Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printer, these MSLA printers require the additional steps of washing the print in a solvent to remove excess resin and then curing it fully with UV light.
When we first explored the technology, this was done by washing the print in Methylated spirits and then curing in the sun, which whilst worked perfectly fine, proved to be an incredibly messy task. This messiness made it very easy for cross contamination to occur and, for us, resulted in a sticky mess that would cause minor chemical burns if you unwittingly came into contact with it.
It’s for this reason we are very pleased to see that Anycubic have created a wash and cure station which can be purchased separately or in a bundle with the Anycubic photon Mono.
What’s in the box
The package comes packaged just as well as the Photon Mono with everything held firmly in place with formed foam inserts.
Inside the box you will find the following:
- The Wash and cure station including orange UV resistant acrylic lid.
- Small tool kit including spare screws.
- The washing container and lid.
- A 12V 3A / 36W “wall wart” power supply.
- Metal washing basket to put loose prints in and to protect your print if it falls from the build plate.
- Cure platform
- Washing rack to place your build platform on while washing.
The only things you will need in addition to the wash and cure station is a resin print, of course, and 3.5L of cleaning solvent.
Our only gripe with the wash and cure station at this stage is the oversized plugpack style power supply. This style of power supply does not easily fit in our side by side power points so you need a mains double adaptor or power board to power the resin printer and wash station at the same time. It’s only a niggle but make sure you have a power adapter board available if you, like myself, have limited access to your power socket.
The concept is very simple. After printing your model, your print and the build platform will both still be covered with the UV curable resin. This resin needs to be thoroughly washed off or it will cure to the model and/or bed, which would result in loss of detail, an unattractive print or worst still, as I discovered recently with the original Photon, resin seeping into the build platform ball joint and preventing correct levelling.
With the Anycubic wash and cure station, you simply fill the 3.5L wash container with your chosen solvent. Isopropyl Alcohol is recommended, however, due to cost and availability we just use Methylated spirits. It seems though, that many people are getting great results with less volatile general-purpose household cleaners. This is certainly something we would like to investigate further.
Once your print has finished, you simply remove the build platform with the print still attached and place it into your wash and cure station. You then use the mode select button to select wash, and rotate the dial to select the length of time. This is displayed on the four 7-segment displays.
For us, we used a 30-minute wash cycle, which was more than sufficient to thoroughly clean the printed models when using methylated spirits. The wash mode uses a magnetic rotor to stir the solvent with enough force to create a small vortex on the surface.
Interestingly, the rotor spins in one direction for one minute before stopping and starting again rotating in the opposite direction, repeating this process for the entire wash duration. This produces a very good cleaning action which fully removes the uncured resin from the print very quickly.
After cleaning, you can remove the build platform and print, and wash under running water to wash away any excess solvent. You then carefully remove the support material (while the print is still soft).
Once done, you can place the curing stand into the slot on the curing station and place your print on it. Using the mode button, select cure, and then dial to select the time. We found that a twenty-minute cure cycle was more than sufficient using the skin tone Anycubic resin.
The cure station has a strip of UV LEDs that illuminate the model while the platform rotates. This results in an evenly cured model in most cases, except prints with a large underside. In these situations, we found that the curing stage would need to be repeated with the model laying over with the bottom exposed to ensure it was cured correctly. The rotating base also means that you can cure multiple prints in a single go, which was very handy.
All in all, the wash and cure station is very well built and does an incredible job of cleaning and curing the prints. However, you may find you want to modify the workflow a little to get the best results. Specifically, in regard to optimising and reducing the amount of wasted cleaning solvent, and even the type of cleaning solvents used.
Suggested tips to save solvent wastage
Using the wash and cure station, we found that it was good practice to first wash your prints outside of the cure station in a separate container of solvent. We did this because the solvent quickly becomes saturated with tiny particles of cured resin. If you do this in your wash and cure station, you fill-up the entire 3.5L with these particles and they have the potential to stick to your final print, reducing the quality. Initially, we would just leave the polluted resin in the sun for a few hours and then filter it with a coffee filter. This wasn’t ideal though as the large solvent container does not pour well, resulting in a substantial loss of solvent. We found having two containers was ideal and we would simply clean the model twice.
As such, we recommend acquiring a second solvent container. You can use one container filled with a soiled solvent for a first wash to remove as much of the resin as possible. Once the first wash is done, you can then finish the clean in a second container filled with clean solvent. This will allow you to maximise the lifespan of your solvent and produce the best looking prints.
Our final Thoughts
All in all, the Anycubic Photon Mono is a well priced monochrome MSLA resin printer, which we have no doubt will impress you as much as it has us. It has a nice and simple user interface and produces incredible highly detailed prints, making it perfect for model builders, tabletop gamers, and even jewellers. If you’re in the market for a resin printer, we have no issues recommending the Anycubic Photon Mono.
Pros & Cons for Resin Printer
Likewise, the Wash and Cure station is well built, and great value. It should certainly be considered, as the benefits in the time and effort required in post-processing are immense.
Pros & Cons for Wash & Cure Machine
Available in Australia from Jaycar