3D Printing - Anycubic Photon

What can I say, if you’ve seen my YouTube video or read any of my blog posts about this printer you’ll quickly notice that I absolutely love this printer! The quality is amazing and the ease of use is perfect, it works 99% of the time and the times that it doesn’t work or has a failed print is almost always due to my own mistake.

In comparison to regular FDM printers that many of us are more used to, they use a hot nozzle to extrude a line of plastic, this printer was actually easier to use.

What turns people away from these printers is they can be messy due to the viscous resin however once you have a system set up that works for you the messiness is easily controlled.

Things to consider when deciding on purchasing one of these printers:

  • Price – The Anycubic Photon is one of the cheapest DLP printers available at the moment and for the print quality I certainly think it’s worth the money
  • Quality – If you want very high quality parts then this will definitely satisfy you, it’s not without its flaws but it’s lightyears better than regular FDM printers.
  • Post Processing – If all you want to do is send a file to print to the printer and remove it off the print bed with little to no extra work then this is not a printer for you! Once the prints are finished there is still some extra cleaning of the parts that need to be done to remove excess resin.

Resin:

Post Processing – If all you want to do is send a file to print to the printer and remove it off the print bed with little to no extra work then this is not a printer for you! Once the prints are finished there is still some extra cleaning of the parts that need to be done to remove excess resin.

The last resin I used was the Wanhao grey, it was ok however and it was the cheapest resin I could find however the curing times were significantly higher to get well printed parts (up to 17 seconds per layer) and possibly more for thin walls.

Resinis reusable as well, once you’re finished simply pour the resin back into itsbottle after you have filtered it to remove any small bits of debris. The resinalso has a shelf life of about 12 months, this is the recommended shelf life asindicated by Monocure however it probably will last longer. Just be sure tostore resin bottles in dark locations like in a draw or cupboard where it won’tsee any direct sunlight as UV light will cause the resin to harden.

Post processing:

Once the file has been printed and you’re ready to clean the excess resin simple remove the model from the build plate. Using the supplied plastic spatula will work for a while however after repeated use it will quickly become unusable so I suggest getting a better spatula.

​The recommended cleaning solution is isopropyl alcohol, if the alcohol wasn’t so expensive in Australia I would use it however because it costs so much I’m using cheaper methylated spirits. It does a similar job however it’s a little more volatile so don’t leave it in the solution for too long, just long enough to remove the resin then wash the residual methylated spirits away with water.

It’s important to ensure you wear gloves during this process. The resin is toxic (lots of things you might find around the house are harmful, you don’t have to worry as long as you take precautions), I always make sure I wear gloves and have the windows open to allow air to flow through because the resin smells quite strong and the alcohol and the methylated spirits are very fumy!

Problems:

​Here are some problems you may encounter

Uneven bed

After I levelled the bed and tightened the screw to fix the levelled bed in position I began printing. When a layer gets cured (especially the first few support layers) there is a very strong suction force as the layer gets pulled away from the bottom of the vat. Believe it or not but this suction force actually caused the bed to tilt as it pulled away and thus I was left with a bed that wasn’t level shortly followed by a failed print.

Lesson– ensure that the bed is not only level but also the screw that holds the bed is very tight!

The rest of the failures are all due to inadequate supports, supports certainly help the print succeed however they can also be a pain if you trying to make a high quality print with minimal work because areas where we have supports need sanding.

One way around this is to orientate the model in such a way that the amount of required supports is minimized.

Supports - Not Enough

Print detached – Here there was insufficient support and the print at some point pulled away from the bed, using light supports could be the problem so you may want to use medium or heavy supports if this is happening or you might simple need more supports to hold the model.

Supports - edges

Here you can see we need more supports on the edges, a light support on each corner would be sufficient to fix this problem.

Supports - bridging gaps

Here you can see we need more supports in the middle, wecould add a couple of light supports to fix this or we can even tilt the modelat an angle which would also help reduce this problem.

Limitations - Circles

Here you can see the circle is not completely round, this is due to layer curing bleed through. The printer endeavours to create 0.05mm layer heights however when there is a new layer being printed and no layer behind it the UV light extends past that 0.05mm layer and cures a small amount of resin behind it.

Ways to fix this are by reducing the UV light exposure time or orientating the model to reduce these areas if possible. This circle is very small (the largest hole has a 2.35mm diameter), it’s much less noticeable for larger circles.

Warping

Sometimes you may notice the parts warping, by increasingthe UV exposure time per layer this can be reduced and by evenly curing themodel under the UV lamp will also help. Regularly rotating the model whilstunder the UV lamp may be necessary hence the reason I’ve been using a rotatingdisplay while the models are being post cured.

You may run into some other problems that I am yet toexperience but so far these are the problems I’ve had and been able to correct.

Clean up:

Clean up is relatively easy, I use paper towels to wipe down the build plate and the vat when I’m not using the printer.

The methylated spirits lives in a jar on the shelf and I use it numerous times but when it does get too dirty I pour it into a disposable container and leave it out in the sun. The methylated spirits or alcohol evaporates and the residual resin cures to the bottom of the container. I do this over and over until the disposable container is unusable and I throw it into the rubbish. You don’t want to pour the contaminated mixture into the garden as it will kill whatever plant life is there!

It says that the vat can be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol however I did that a couple of times and discovered the FEP film in the bottom of the vat began to become very cloudy which has the potential to ruin future prints so I now simply wipe the vat with the paper towel only.

Spares:

You’ll definitely want to get some extra FEP films, the printer comes with one spare however I accidently put a hole in the first one using metal tweezers! Note to self…. Don’t use metal pinpoint tweezers to remove floating bits of resin from the vat! I now have two extra FEP films just in case.

The resin that comes with the printer is 250ml which will get used very quickly! Consider ordering an extra bottle along with the printer so you don’t get disappointed when it runs out.

Good to know info:

The build platform on the Anycubic Photon is quite small, the total build area is 115mm Long, 65mm Wide and 155mm tall. If we were to convert those numbers to HO scale that would be a scale Length of 10m, a width of 5.5m and a height of 13.4m, so space and size is limited, you won’t be able to print entire buildings in one go however if you have a design you’ll often be able to position each of the walls parallel and side by side, then once printed you could assemble them like a kit.

Build time is constant, it doesn’t matter if you have 20 individual copies of an item or just one, the build time will remain constant, compared to an FDM 3D printer, the more items on the build plate the longer it will take to build. So it makes sense to load up the build platform with as many items as possible per print, that way you’ll be capitalizing on time.

Printing is slow however compared to equivalent models on FDM the build time is comparable and is even improved when building numerous items in one print.

Printing large models with big surface areas – The way the printer works is it cures a thin layer of resin on the bottom of the vat, which cures and sticks to the previous layer and is lifted away after the allotted time allowing the next layer to be applied.

The lifting action creates a small suction effect between the bottom of the vat and the layer just applied and if there are not enough supports holding the model to the build platform then the model could possibly pull away from the rest of the model resulting in a failed print. I don’t consider this to be a con however it’s good to know that you’ll need to adequately support the model to have good successful prints.

Different coloured resins:

Using different color resins – Believe it or not but using different resins of different colors will make a large difference as to whether the print succeeds or fails. Clear translucent resins require a shorter exposure time when compared to darker more opaque resins. This makes a huge difference in especially for supports, if the resin isn’t being cured for an appropriate amount of time the supports will likely be the first thing to let go. Supports are only held to the model with a small surface area so you will need to ensure you have a suitable exposure time set depending on the color of the resin used.

On a side note, if you want your prints to finish faster then you’re better off using a clear resin, the UV light can penetrate further and cure faster in clear resin compared to dark opaque resin.

I’ve been printing mostly with clear green resin and have started trying a grey resin however once I finish the grey resin I’ll be purchasing clear resin as the success rate seems to be a little better not to mention faster prints due the lower UV exposure time required. I’ve been successfully printing using the clear green resin with the following settings.

Anycubic Clear Green Resin:

  • Layer Thickness:                            0.05mm
  • Exposure time:                               8 -12 seconds
  • Off Time:                                         3 seconds
  • Bottom Layer Exposure time:        50 seconds
  • Number of Bottom Layers:            4

I’ve also been using the grey resin from Monocure with great results however due to the opaqueness of the grey resin I’ve found I need slightly longer exposure times to cure the resin.

Monocure Grey Opaque Resin:

  • Layer Thickness:                            0.05mm
  • Exposure time:                               12 - 14 seconds
  • Off Time:                                         3 seconds
  • Bottom Layer Exposure time:        50 seconds
  • Number of Bottom Layers:            4

The Wanhao grey resin works reasonably well with the Anycubic Photon however the results are definitely not as defined compared to both the Monocure Grey and the Anycubic clear Green. Exposure times are also a fair bit longer.

Wanhao Grey Opaque Resin:

  • Layer Thickness:                            0.05mm
  • Exposure time:                               17 - 20 seconds (Sometimes more!)
  • Off Time:                                         3 seconds
  • Bottom Layer Exposure time:        50 seconds
  • Number of Bottom Layers:             4

Pros and cons:

Pros

  1. Details – It does an amazing job of rendering very small and intricate detail right down to HO scale (1:87th) which is the scale I currently model in and even though I’m yet to make any models in smaller scales I think it would perform exceptionally well even right down to N scale which is approximately 1:160th scale.

    I’ve printed tiny couches with button detail that came out exceptionally well, I’ve also printed book shelves and every book was modelled with not one book looking deformed of out of place even though they were only 1mm wide, I printed a seat with very thin wicker type supports that printed perfectly.

    Whatever design you have you can bet your last dollar that a DLP printer like the Anycubic Photon will be able to easily and accurately 3D print your model.
  2. Ease of use – I’ve had a regular FDM 3D printer for a while and I’ve printed many different designs using it however getting it ready to print can be a pain… especially if using ABS plastic! Levelling the bed is an ongoing issue and setting the Z height can be a challenge.

    With the Anycubic Photon I can start from nothing and have my first print started in 4 minutes and not only that but the process of leveling the bed is a breeze! You could have absolutely no experience with the 3D printer and by simply following the very well presented instructions you’ll have the bed leveled and the resin ready in no time.
  3. Easy to use slicing program – Actually building a model to 3D print is an entirely other subject however once you have your model getting it ready to be printed on the 3D printer takes less than a minute once you know the few basic steps.

    Basically the model is imported into the Anycubic Photon Slicer, you orientate the model or scale it so it fits into the build platform area, next add some supports making sure you add supports to any overhanging parts and finally slice the model and save it to the USB that you’ll then plug into the printer, it’s that easy!

    So far I’ve only had one print not work and that was because I didn’t add enough support, I’ve found that you’ll need supports on the very bottom of the model (the first few layers that are cured with the UV light) every 1 to 2 centimetres. Any steep overhanging parts could also do with some support as well.
  4. Not much waste for failed prints – With regular FDM printers if you start the print and walk away it’s possible that the print will fail and the machine will continue to pump out a long string of plastic filament! However with the DLP printer the failed part will stay in the bottom of the vat and form a shell so that every time the UV light tries to expose a new layer of resin it will be blocked by the layer that is stuck on the bottom, this is a great thing because resin is expensive and if we can avoid waste for no reason then we are definitely better off.
  5. Sanding – Resin sands very well, I don’t really need to say much more! Compared to PLA filament resin is so much easier to work with, it’s especially important to be able to easily sand our models when making small scale details.

The main reason I started printing in ABS on my regular FDM printer was simply so I could sand my models easier, resin is just a dream to sand and small burs are very easily removed with a sharp hobby knife.

Cons:

  1. Smell – The resin smells quite strong so it’s definitely notvery practical to use it in a small room or anywhere in the house for that matter!
    I have mine set up in the garage and open a window.
  2. Cost – The resin used to make the models is quite expensive however there are stores selling it for more affordable prices. The Anycubic Photon comes with a small 250ml bottle of resin which is a good starting point, I managed to get 2ltrs of the Wanhao resin from China for $90USD plus $40 postage. Considering most places sell 500ml for about $80- $90 I think it’s a good deal and the resin has been performing very well in the Photon DLP printer.
  3. Messy – I’m not going to try and sugar coat it… it’s messy! If you’re not careful you’ll have resin all over the place, if you set up a well-organized cleaning station you won’t have any problems... It can be clean if you really try, just be methodical and keep everything in its place and you’ll have no problems with mess.

    I always wear gloves and I use Isopropyl Alcohol to clean up. Alcohol very quickly dissolves any uncured resin so it’s actually quite easy to clean up if you do end up making a messy however just be sure to keep the resin off your skin and avoid eye contact.

Large flat surfaces & curved bottom layers – I’ve noticed a slightly annoying (Fixable) problem that occurs when printing large flat pieces as a first layer, basically the first layer goes down and because this layer is a very thin membrane as the print platform lifts and then lowers again it creates a ballooning effect and traps some resin between the layers resulting in a slightly curved first layer.

It’s easy to work around this by having the flat surfaces at an angle of say 45° or by adding more supports to the flat surface layer (More cleanup is required in this scenario).

Well that just about covers all the extra details you might want to know about the Anycubic Photon, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to leave a comment and if you have any photos you’d like to share of 3D prints you can attach them to your comment.

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Downloads:

Download the files associated with the project. All files are included in a zip for convenience.

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