Getting Started in 3D Printing: Part 3

This post will be wrapping up the list of printers that I’m considering that was started in part 2. To understand the different features I’m looking for in a printer, I recommend reading the first half of part 2 which you can access by clicking here. The first half of my list consisted of FDM printers that use plastic filament as the source material for making objects. The printers described in this post will be SLA/DLP type printers that use a liquid resin as the source material. SLA printers rely on the use of mirrors and a laser to cure resin at precise coordinates. DLP printers rely on an LCD screen which flashed different shapes into the resin that correspond to each layer in the print. DLP printers are limited in their precision by the resolution of the LCD screen. The greater number of pixels, the more detailed the part can be. So, what resin 3D printers on the market falls within my $500 budget? Here are the models I’m considering:

Anycubic Photon

The original Anycubic Photon
  • Price: $279.00 ($169.00 on sale)
  • Website: Photon
  • Type: DLP
  • Printer Dimensions: 220x200x400 mm (8.7×7.9×15.8 inch)
  • Footprint: 440 cm2 (68.7 inch2)
  • Build Volume: 115x65x155 mm (4.5×2.5×6.1 inch)
  • Layer Accuracy: 0.0125mm (1.25 microns)
  • Layer Thickness: 0.025-0.1 mm (25-100 microns)

The Anycubic Photon is the printer which started all this trouble with 3D modeling a few years ago.  It is one of the best-selling resin printers on the market and for good reason, the Photon has incredible print quality compared to FDM printers and many other budget options.  How can I possibly know this without actually owning the printer?  Well, a fellow modeler did an extensive review of the Photon back in 2018.  You can find his review here (LINK).

Back when first released, this printer was much more expensive, but since the market has expanded considerably since 2017, the printer’s price has come down.  You can now buy the Photon for the same price as it’s smaller brother, the Photon Zero (LINK).  Great print quality at an affordable price?  That’s a winning combination in my book!  The compact size of the machine means that it can sit comfortably on a shelf or in a corner of a workbench.

The downsides to this printer are few, but the biggest drawback is the small size of the print bed.  Even by resin printer standards, the Photon’s printing dimensions are smaller than average.  Theoretically, a 40ft HO scale boxcar could be printed as one piece and would probably come out great.  But that leads into the second issue, print time.  The photon can only print 10mm per hour.  The same model would print two or three times faster on an FDM printer.  The Photon is slow even when compared to other resin printers.  Several years ago, the Photon was revolutionary, but the market has now caught up and is in the process of surpassing the Photon.

That final bit leads to my biggest problem with buying a Photon, it is no longer future proof.  Three years ago, I would have been ahead of the curve and this printer would have served me well, but now I think there are better options on the market.  Still, the Photon remains a benchmark that many people use to compare resin printers.  To even be considered for this list, other printers have to bring something to the table that the Photon does not.

Anycubic Photon S

The new(ish) Photon S
  • Price: $419.00 ($379.00 on sale)
  • Website: Photon S
  • Type: DLP
  • Printer Dimensions: 230x200x400 mm (9.0×7.9×15.8 inch)
  • Footprint: 460 cm2 (71.1 inch2)
  • Build Volume: 115x65x165 mm (4.5×2.5×6.5 inch)
  • Layer Accuracy: 0.0125mm (1.25 microns)
  • Layer Thickness: 0.025-0.1 mm (25-100 microns)

The Anycubic Photon S is the updated version of the Photon, being introduced to the market in the last year.  This is the natural progression for anyone looking to buy a Photon but wanting something newer.  An updated user interface, slight mechanical and electrical upgrades, and a fresh look make the original Photon look a bit dated.  Of course, it is hard to pull off a perfect sequel when everyone loved the original, and Anycubic has faced the same issue with the Photon S.

I like the small increase in print volume.  On paper it is not much, but an extra 10mm in length means a longer HO scale freight car could be printed in one piece.  It’s not quite enough to print a full 50ft boxcar, but the slightly larger variations of the 40-footer are doable.  The dual Z-axis guide rails increase stability and apparently solved the slight z-axis variation experienced by the original Photon.  The real-world difference is not all that apparent, however.  What is a big improvement is the print speed at 20mm per hour.  That upgrade alone makes the Photon S worth considering over the original Photon.

As a user of Sony cameras, I am used to complicated and ridiculous menu systems.  Anycubic users were not so lucky, I guess, because one of the biggest complaints of the original Photon was the sloppy menu design.  The Photon S has a brand-new menu so there’s a couple of extra points there.  A final benefit that I thought I would mention is this printer can work entirely off-line if needed. The printer can take USB drives or can be connected directly to a laptop for controls.  Other printers can do this too, but internet connectivity is all the rage these days and having a poor internet connection is an increasingly frustrating problem to have.

Is this printer future-proof?  Honestly, I do not think so.  It is apparently a great printer, but it offers nothing new besides a new coat of paint, a better user interface, and some design tweaks.

Elegoo Saturn

The Elegoo Saturn
  • Price: $400 Pre-order
  • Website: Saturn
  • Type: DLP
  • Printer Dimensions: 280x240x446 mm (11×9.4×17.5 inch)
  • Footprint: 672 cm2 (103.4 inch2)
  • Build Volume: 192x120x200 mm (7.5×4.7×7.8 inch)
  • Layer Accuracy: 0.00125mm (1.25 microns)
  • Layer Thickness: 0.01-0.15mm (10-115 microns)

To me, it appears the Elegoo Saturn is the first of a new generation of affordable resin 3D printers.  It has a much larger build volume than anything in the Anycubic Photon line (3.5x more volume), uses a 4k resolution LCD that can print at 30mm per hour, dual z-axis guide rails, new version of the ChiTu slicing software, and all of that in a package that’s not much bigger than other 3D printers on the market.

While the resolution of the screen is higher, it is also a bigger screen, so prints will maintain the same quality as smaller models.  This is good though because if a 2k screen were to double in size (quadruple in area), then the pixels would be bigger as well, leading to more sloppy-looking prints.  By increasing the resolution, the pixels per square inch stay roughly the same.  A monochromes screen is also faster, since it makes a binary on/off light function rather than the red-green-blue screen colors of typical LCD’s.

The fast print rate means the Saturn should be able to keep up with FDM printers, all while delivering great precision and resolution.  The best part is that the pre-order price for this printer is $400.  So far, two pre-order batches have sold out, but I expect to see a third batch sometime soon.  The only issue that I can find is that the printer will not be available on the open market until November, and by then there will be Black Friday and Christmas to deal with.  The printer will likely be retailing for something less than $600 then, which puts it right out of my budget.  I decided to include this printer on the list because there is still a chance to buy the printer at $400 pre-order, or to wait for the discounts that come out around the holidays.  So, there is still a few opportunities to buy this printer at less than $500.

Elegoo Mars

The Mars, competitor to the Photon
  • Price: $360 ($250 sale price)
  • Website: Mars
  • Type: DLP
  • Printer Dimensions: 195x195x405mm (7.7×7.7×15.9 inch)
  • Footprint: 380 cm2 (60 in2)
  • Build Volume: 120x68x155mm (4.7×2.7×6.1 inch)
  • Layer Accuracy: 0.00125mm (1.25 microns)
  • Layer Thickness: 0.01-0.15mm (10-115 microns)

When Anycubic released their Photon, Elegoo gave its answer shortly afterward.  They released the Elegoo Mars, a DLP printer that has similar specs to the Photon.  There are enough differences to warrant a comparison, however.

For one thing, the 22mm per hour print speed is double what the Photon can do and is on-par with the Photon S.  The overall build quality is greater, and the Mars is more utilitarian in design.  For instance, while the Photon features a large top-opening hatch to access the print bed, the Mars simply has a removeable cover.  The only real purpose of enclosing resin printers is to keep UV light and fumes contained so as to not hurt anyone or anything stationed nearby.

Elegoo has established itself as a printer company that puts quality materials into its products and the Mars reflects that, edging out Anycubic for quality of materials and quality control.  Reviewers also noted the forgiving design, making the Mars an ideal candidate for a noob like myself.  The Mars served as a runway for the Saturn to launch from, so many features are shared between the two printers.  The Mars just happens to be smaller with a lower resolution LCD.

And thus, concludes my list of 3D printers I’m considering purchasing.  I am certainly no expert, but I felt that when writing up this list I have learned quite a lot about how printers work and what to look for.  I encourage people to do the same and research on the internet to find what printers best suit their needs.  Certainly, the printers I have come across are popular and work well despite the affordable price, but there are plenty of other printers on the market which I looked over.

Some, like the small and speedy Phrozen Sonic mini feature a 4k resolution screen.  While the affordable price and other features are quite attractive, the build volume is simply too small for my needs.  Others, like the Creality3D LD-00R is cheap but does not offer anything that the Photon or the Mars does not.  Truth be told, there are a lot of “clone” 3D printers on the market and so a list that includes all of them would be very repetitive.

Now then, I need to think over my options and in Part 4. I’ll be discussing my purchase then moving into software.

To see the other posts in this series, click on one of the links below:

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