It seems just a short while ago that a reliable resin 3D printer cost several thousand dollars. And really not that long ago that they’d cost several tens and even hundreds of thousands. As someone who is definitely not very good at handling technical products, I’ve always kept away from resin 3D printing. Too hard to get low-cost systems to work and too expensive to get reliable ones. But that’s how fast 3D printing evolves. Today Companies like Anycubic can offer machines such as the Anycubic Photon Mono that, for just over $200, ensures a truly seamless, high-resolution, liquid resin 3D printing experience: here is 3dpbm’s Anycubic Photon Mono review.
Shenzen-based Anycubic was founded in 2015 and has since become one of the most popular 3D printer brands in the market. The company now has nearly 300 employees. James Ouyang and Lu Ouyang, the current CEO, co-founded Anycubic after James received his Ph.D. from the University of Auckland. Aycubic’s first filament extrusion 3D printer, the Mega, came out in 2016. Now the company has four lines of 3D printers, including the Photon series of LED photopolymerization 3D printers and the newest line of 4Max Metal line of extrusion printers for metal filaments to produce green metal parts.
This success does not come by chance, so when they proposed we test and review their Photon Mono and the Wash & Cure station we were intrigued. The shipment was arranged for two 3D printers and a Wash & Cure station to our testing and media lab. After this intermediate stop, one machine was shipped to me to conduct further tests, with a 1-liter bottle of 405 nm UV sensitive standard grey resin and a selection of delicious Southern Italian cold cuts: food for the printer and food for the human.
Going from unboxing to printing a test part took literally five minutes, which was surprising. I was under the impression that resin 3D printing is still something still confined to the realm of makers and experts but that is no longer the case. Once the printer was out of the box, all I had to do was screw on the printing platform and calibrate it (which takes less than 30 seconds) with a sheet of paper, and then screw the resin vat onto the LED base.
The machine comes perfectly packed in cardboard and styrofoam. The supplied toolbox includes plastic gloves and a surgical facemask (something we have all become all too familiar with, lately) to handle the resins, as well as metal and plastic spatulas to remove printed parts from the platform. The toolbox also includes all the necessary hex-keys to tighten the print platform and vat screws, as well as a quality control “Pass” certificate and an “after service card” with a few QR codes linking to Anycubic’s website pages.
The first piece—a hollow cubic-shaped grill, with some internal features—supplied by Anycubic came out perfectly on the very first try. This is the first time I was able to print something somewhat complex on a resin 3D printer on the first try. Then it was time to test models created from original STLs. The first one we used was a custom figure 3D model that Anycubic had sent us over the holidays. In order to do this, we had to familiarize ourselves with the Anycubic Photon Workshop software.
The program’s ease of use also plays a relevant role in making their 3D printers more accessible. First, it’s available for macOS as well as Windows, which is a nice departure from the low-cost systems we tested in the past. Second, it is available in perfect English and it is sufficiently intuitive for anyone who possesses basic 3D printing notions. While I certainly don’t have sufficient experience to manually insert supports, the software can do it automatically leaving the user to selecting the 3D printing angle (I learned that usually 45° works best) and the size and shape of the supports.
This is generally sufficient, and I was surprised by how few supports are needed compared to filament systems. However, we did run into a few support issues with the first print. The figure had some minor layer adhesion issues, and the candy-cane stick came out with a part missing. However the resolution and surface quality was absolutely amazing. The embedded writing on the figure’s base was rendered perfectly, although the base itself reported a slight deformation issue.
Pushing the limits
Printing a solid figure with relatively low-resolution details, however, probably is not the best way to push a resin 3D printer to its full potential. I moved to test the machine’s resolution capabilities on smaller and more intricate objects. First was a Lion figure downloaded from Cults 3D. As you can see in the photo below, the surface quality is excellent and so are the details. Speed was also impressive, requiring just a little over an hour to print. One very nice feature is that the software tells you exactly how long the print will take as you export the sliced file to the USB key (supplied by Anycubic).
Next up, to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Galileo Galilei (January 8th, 1642), the father of the scientific method, we printed a bust of the great astrophysicist downloaded from MyMiniFactory. The Anycubic machine rendered him justice. Details on the 5 cm tall bust were simply perfect, as was surface quality, with no visible defect. Even at a 45° angle it only required single support, which meant that post-processing was just a quick alcohol bath. The entire print took just under two hours, which was impressive as well.
So we decided to push the detail level even further, first with an R2D2 robot from Fab365 and then with a Mandalorian figure downloaded from Thingiverse. The R2D2 robot was reduced by 60% so we were very curious to understand if the reduced tolerances would still be sufficient to enable the movable parts to move freely. The Mandalorian was technically easier to print, however, it was reduced in size by 75% to just 3 cm tall. Finally, to really push the limits of the machine’s resolution we printed a copy of me, shrunk by nearly 99% to just under 2 cm tall. Well, you can see for yourself in the photo gallery above: the level of detail on such a tiny print can compete with some of the best photopolymerization 3D printers out there.
Altogether the Anycubic Photon Mono offered a great resin 3D printing experience for a casual user. We did not run into any major issue other than a general surprise for the quality of the prints. As always, with low-cost systems, we can offer no guarantee as to the durability and long-term reliability of the machine. We worked it non-stop but only for a couple of days. The machine seems very solid and, considering that there are very few moving parts and that the LED display is probably less delicate than a high-res DLP projector, we are fairly confident that it will be able to handle longer usage. Either way, it certainly seems to be worth the (minimal) investment.
The main element limiting resin 3D printing adoption is that, compared to filaments, resins are messy. Anycubic makes it easy to handle printed parts with the Wash & Cure station. In general, a denaturized alcohol bath was enough however handling toxic resins is annoying. It would be interesting to test a water-washable biocompatible resin material as well as different transparent colors or a castable resin performance, which would make this machine into a viable jewelry production tool. I was really surprised by the number of materials now available, from so many online vendors, and by how much material prices have gone down. Sure, resin 3D printing is still not for everyone but if it has become so widely accessible —and easy—a lot of merit goes to companies like Anycubic and great little machines like the Photon Mono.