Even if they do the “same” result, SLA printers are a completely different type of 3D printing – with their own advantages and disadvantages . After I had already dealt intensively with the Elegoo Mars (here is our test) , the test report for the ANYCUBIC Photon S follows .
- Anycubic Photon 3D printer
- Anycubic Photon S 3D printer
At AliExpress, choose the printer in white with at least 1.5 liters of resin to activate the $ 15 voucher. SO you get a liter of resin for around $10.
Preface to the test
Wait a minute, doesn’t Kristian always test the 3D printers? Yes, and he still does. But I was already very interested in the Elegoo Mars, our first SLA printer – as a fan of Miniature Wargaming , I was particularly enthusiastic about the (significantly) higher level of detail compared to FDM printers. I’ve already done several prints with Mars . I’ve tried a lot with different exposure times and automatic and manually set support structures – with variable success. That’s probably how everyone feels at the beginning. 🙂 I have now looked at the Photon S from start to finish. So here is my test or experience report.
The Photon S is a further development of the Anycubic Photon . On the other hand, the Z-axis has been improved (double guidance) and the lighting has a little more power (50W instead of 40W). Since the printer is now largely made of plastic, it is also a good 700 grams lighter.
Packaging and shipping of the Anycubic Photon S
Anycubic sells the printer through Amazon.com ; Amazon Prime shipping is also available there. We ordered on a Friday, and the printer was in our office the following Monday. The box didn’t have a single dent or kink, but it didn’t travel as far as our other packages.
First the box is removed. The printer and its accessories are completely wrapped in foam so that at least minor collisions cannot harm it. If for any reason something should happen, you can make use of the guarantee or the 14-day right of return.
I don’t like the workmanship of the case that much. Since the decision was made to use plastic here, the cladding just doesn’t feel that stable; when opening the flap you are always a little afraid that you could break it off. It also doesn’t really close flush at all points.
I like the flap much better than the cover on the Elegoo Mars . It looks better during the printing process (because you can see more), but it has to be lifted completely from the printer every time. I found that a bit annoying in the long run.
What is there? As soon as you open the box you can see the instructions, which are completely in English. The instructions are very thorough and explain in individual, illustrated steps the structure , the setup and the functions in the slicing software in detail.
There is also a bottle of green resin in the packaging – nice. It is quite possible that the enclosed 500ml bottle will simply be added to the printer price , but at least you don’t have to think about buying it as well. Please pay attention to it.
Otherwise we will find in the package: a mouth mask and some gloves, ten disposable filters for refilling the resin, a plastic scraper, hexagon screwdrivers of various sizes or Allen keys, a USB stick (4 GB) and FEP foils for the resin tank. The included power cord has a suitable power plug for German sockets , so you don’t need an adapter. What is missing are small pliers that you will need to carefully remove the support structures of the prints later.
Setup and setup before the first print
There is actually no real “set-up”, and if you know what you are doing (or follow the instructions in the manual), unlike most FDM 3D printers, the printer is ready to use in five minutes . You can first remove the tub for the resin (leveling is also possible with a tub and without paper). Loosen the two adjusting screws (you don’t have to remove them completely) and carefully pull the tray forward out of the printer. The important part of correct leveling follows.
Loosen the platform by loosening the large set screw and take it out of the printer. With one of the enclosed Allen keys you can loosen the platform so that it can be moved relatively freely and then attach it to the lift again.
Via the menu of the printer you navigate to the manual operation of the Z-axis via Tools and “Move Z”. Press the home button and the platform moves to the starting position. Place a sheet of paper between the screen and the platform and lower the platform in 0.1mm steps until the sheet can only be pulled out with resistance. Do this really in small steps so as not to damage the screen.
When you have reached this position, you can gently press the platform into place to test that all corners are touching the ground and that it is fully balanced. Then you can tighten the platform again. The whole process is also explained quite precisely in the instructions. The process is important, and once done correctly, you don’t have to level for the next few prints.
Before the first pressure, you fill the resin in the tub. How much you need depends on the pressure. In ChiTu (slicer software; explanation follows below.) You will even be given the required amount of resin, but to be on the safe side, simply pour a little more into the tub. You can also fill it back into the bottle with the enclosed filters.
The Anycubic Photon S is operated entirely via the touchscreen on the front. The on / off switch is on the right and turns on the printer and the display. Most of what you see is self-explanatory. After a short loading time you will see the start screen, where you can choose between print, system and tools.
Under Print you come directly to the file view of the USB stick (if you have one plugged in) and can choose between the available print files. You will also see a preview image. If you choose one, you can either delete or print the file, or you can go back.
Under System you will find the items Language, Service and Info. Pressing Language immediately changes the language to Chinese, so it is best not to touch this field at all. The English is very easy to understand.
Finally, the Tools menu item gives you the option of moving the Z-axis manually, which is important when leveling, among other things. “Detection” also lets the lighting test what should be done before the first print, and “Z = 0” defines the new zero point of the Z axis. You can also turn off the key tone here, otherwise a rather annoying beep will sound each time a key is pressed.
The first print
No printing without slicing. While the actual printing process takes place without your intervention, you have to take action yourself beforehand and “slice” the model to be printed. Fortunately, after a short training period, this is really not difficult. Anycubic has already packed its own software Photon WorkShop onto the enclosed USB stick. From there you can simply install it, it is available there for both Windows and Mac.
After the installation you can start the software directly and import the test file PHOTONS.stl, which is also on the stick, via “File -> Open”. It looks like the screenshot below.
Follow the instructions in the manual. You don’t have to set a lot for the first print; I also did without support structures at the beginning. If you have set everything, click on Slice and save the file on the stick.
You then put the memory stick in the printer and select Printing on the touchscreen. The file should be displayed here directly and you can start printing.
With the suggested settings, printing the test file took a little over six hours – just to give you an idea of how long SLA printing can take.
The result is already impressive, especially when you consider that the slicing and preparation of the print took less than ten minutes. The Anycubic Photon lettering inside the cube is perfect. While the surface of the grid structure is apparently smooth, the individual layers can also be seen on the lettering with the naked eye (but this is due to the model). The latter point is admittedly grumbling at a high level, and compared to most FDM printers, the level of detail is still outstanding.
The right slicing software – Photon WorkShop vs. ChiTuBox
You can now make settings on the object in the slicing program itself. You can view it from all sides, change the orientation and size or load multiple files and print them at the same time, as long as there is enough space. For now, we’ll be content with the test file, which I haven’t changed any more.
Some parameter values are recommended in the instructions; I have adjusted these accordingly. Depending on experience, you can later adjust the layer thickness (how high each individual layer is, standard is 0.05mm), the exposure time (the duration of the exposure of each individual layer, standard 8 seconds) and the speed of the Z-axis. This can greatly reduce the printing time.
Short calculation example: Your layer thickness is 0.05 mm, so a 5 cm high model has a thousand layers. If you increase the exposure time by just one second, the pressure increases by over 16 minutes. If you want to reduce the layer thickness and, for example, only print with 0.02 mm, then the print will take 2.5 times as long as with 0.05 mm – logically.
Later you can also add support structures here, which is essential for many models. Again, the best approach is trial and error. Starts with the automatic support structures (just a click of the mouse) and manually adds structures where they are missing. It may take a few prints before you get the hang of it.
I already knew this software beforehand. In contrast to the Photon WorkShop, which is tailored to Anycubic, you can select several printers at ChiTu; In addition to the Elegoo Mars, there are also printers from Phrozen, SparkMaker, Wanhao and the two Anycubic Photon and Photon S.
ChiTuBox looks a little nicer than the Anycubic program, apart from that, both slicers are extremely similar. The interface is almost identical, the operation is also the same.
There are a few more options here, however, so you can have the model displayed transparently and view the sliced file again before saving (while Photon WorkShop saves the file directly). You can also see the time it will take to print before saving. It really doesn’t take much, but ChiTuBox just feels rounder to me and is my software of choice for the Photon S.
Small note: With some devices the problem arises that the models cannot be displayed in the software. This was also the case with my Mi Notebook Pro in the beginning. The solution: Select the application “Run with graphics processor” and (in this case) “NVIDIA high-performance processor”. The application can then be used as normal.
After printing, the finished print still needs to be cleaned. At this point I don’t want to write a detailed guide on how to do it best (but we could actually do it), especially since it no longer has much to do with the printer itself but applies universally to all SLA printers.
If everything worked, the finished print sticks under the platform, which is raised all the way up after completion. Unscrew the platform and carefully remove the pressure with the plastic spatula. You can also use other tools for this, but it should not be made of metal so as not to scratch the plate. In any case, wear gloves to avoid coming into contact with the synthetic resin.
Then the print must be placed in an isopropyl bath for about three minutes . Isopropyl can also be ordered online and costs from € 10 per bottle. In order not to use up everything after two prints, you can also roughly wash the print off with it or clean it with a cloth soaked with isopropyl, but then you may not achieve the same effect. The alcohol removes any resin residues from the object. Again, it is recommended to wear a face mask because the 70-99% alcohol smells really strong.
Then the print has to harden under UV light . If you don’t have a special lamp, you can simply put the print in the sun, which takes longer but has the same effect.
Quality of prints & tips
The quality of the prints is absolutely convincing. And that doesn’t even take many attempts, the first print was a good success. With a layer height of 0.05 mm (the standard setting), the individual layers can no longer be seen so well with the naked eye, although the slightly transparent green resin has its share here. The surface of the grid structure of the test print feels completely smooth.
This can be further improved by reducing the layer height, which is accompanied by a sometimes greatly increased printing time. For this you can reduce the exposure time of the individual layers. The initial setting is 8 seconds; In my experience so far, this can also be reduced a bit. Above all, a long exposure time for the first levels is important. The first 5-10 layers should have an exposure time of 40-60 seconds; especially more with large prints. But remember: it will be more difficult to release the pressure from the platform; if you already damage the print, the exposure time should be reduced.
If the pressure fails , you only notice it after at least an hour (depending on the settings), because you cannot look into the pool. Only when the platform rises far enough out of the tank will you see whether a model is being printed at all. If the print fails, however, the printer does not notice it and simply “prints” on. In this case, a hardened resin layer forms on the bottom of the tank, which you have to carefully remove after canceling the print, for example with a plastic spatula.
Some experiences I’ve had so far:
- The remaining resin does not have to be filled back into the bottle immediately after printing, but at the latest after two days. This should always be done with the enclosed filters, which you can also buy from Amazon .
- Make sure to set support structures at all (!) Overhanging points of the model. The printer cannot print “in the air”, every point needs a connection to the printing platform.
- So far I haven’t had to level up again. Do it thoroughly the first time and screw the platform tight, then you should first be able to make many prints one after the other without being disturbed.
- Make sure there is good ventilation . I made some of the first prints in a small, poorly ventilated room, which can cause discomfort in the long term and is certainly not healthy either. Avoid skin contact and wash your hands thoroughly after handling the prints.
You can find many free ready-made models on Thingiverse . I’ve made a few dozen prints now and will continue to print and try out too.
Conclusion – buy Anycubic Photon S?
I’ll divide the conclusion in half. One of the questions is: Why an SLA printer instead of an FDM printer? And secondly: If SLA, why the Photon S?
The clear advantage of SLA printing is simply the much higher level of detail. If you want to print miniature models or small spare parts that have to fit down to the millimeter (screws and nuts, for example), then SLA is definitely the better choice. In addition, there is almost nothing to set up, you can start printing a few minutes after unpacking. The disadvantage is the usually much smaller pressure chamber; For particularly large prints, where you can do without the smallest details, filament printing is the better choice. In addition, you handle chemicals here and ideally you should never work with the resin without gloves and face mask. Cleaning and post-processing after printing is also more time-consuming with SLA printing. If you don’t want to do this to yourself, he’s not for you either.
But if you want an SLA printer, I can really recommend the Anycubic Photon S – if it’s worth the extra charge. The predecessor Anycubic Photon delivers similar results for 100 € less, as does the Elegoo Mars . Compared to Mars, I like the cover, which is much more convenient to open and close, and the positioning of the USB port on the side. That wouldn’t be worth 100 € to me personally. The real advantage is more of the 50W UV lighting, which enables slightly shorter exposure times. If you print a lot, this will of course save time in the long run, especially with the maximum level of detail and a layer height of 0.01 mm.