The 3D printer market has changed over the past few years, with prices dropping and print quality improving. SLA printing continues to improve with the AnyCubic Photon Mono X, which is priced at $599. Those aren’t the lowest prices we’ve seen for SLA printers, but they’re pretty attractive for a device that makes impressive prints and belongs among the best 3D printers we’ve tested.
In addition to reviewing the Anycubic Photon Mono X, we also tested the Anycubic Wash and Cure Plus, which uses UV lights to wash and cure the prints produced by the Photon Mono X.
PHOTON MONO X 3D PRINTER: SPECS
Size: 18 by 11.4 by 10.6 inches
Print Size: 9.6 by 7.5 by 4.6 inches (331 Cu. in)
Type: SLA Resin
Photon Mono X 3D printer review: Design
The Photon Mini X is a Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printer, which is a method of turning liquid resin into solid objects using a light source. As layers of this solid material are deposited on the metal plate, the process is repeated layer by layer, creating the final product.
Because it uses melted plastic to build layers rather than FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling), SLA printers are normally more expensive. (Form Labs’ Form 3 is our favorite SLA printer, and it costs $3,499.) SLA printers, however, produce more intricate prints with finer detail because they use finer layers. A typical FDM printer has a layer height of 0.01mm, which is ten times bigger than the default layer height of the Photon Mono X.
With a height and width of 18 inches and 11.4 inches, the Photon Mini X is a small printer compared with the size of the prints it produces: It produces prints measuring 9.6 x 7.5 x 4.6 inches, or 331 cubic inches in all. Its largest volume is the hood over the printing area, which is made of clear plastic that shows the printing process but blocks UV light.
As opposed to most SLA 3D printers that use lasers to zap resin, the Photon Mono X goes with a panel of ultraviolet (UV) LEDs and an LCD screen above and directly below the resin tank. In effect, this works like the backlight on your HDTV: it shines through the screen where the pixels are turned on and stays blocked where they are turned off. Each pixel on the screen is positioned at a distance of approximately 0.01mm on the final print. So, the screen has a resolution of 4K (3840 x 2400 pixels). This is a clear sheet of fluorinated ethylene propylene (FEP), which uses UV light to solidify the resin.
After heavy use, both the screen and the FEP film should be replaced due to UV damage. This model’s monochrome screen will last for thousands of printing hours, while the FEP sheet needs to be replaced every 20 to 30 prints.
Furthermore, monochrome screens are faster: unlike color LCD screens that are typically used in SLA printers, monochrome screens have no filters that block red, green, and blue light. Therefore, the printing process will be faster since more light will get through. According to AnyCubic, this printer can print six vertical centimeters (about 2.3 inches) per hour.
In terms of shape and size, the Wash And Cure Plus is similar to the printer. As an alternative to the print head, a UV LED arm bends at the end to cover the entire print. In addition, a removable wash vat with a built-in agitator is provided for mixing liquids.
Photon Mono X 3D printer review: Print process
Photon Workshop software, which is available for both Windows and OSX, sets up prints created by the Mono X. This is a decent but slightly quirky 3D slicer that lets you load a 3D model and then set it up for printing. It is possible to move, multiplied, and scaled models, then save and print them. Though Photon Workshop lets you edit existing models, you can’t create new ones.
A print can be automatically supported while it is being produced by the Photon Workshop, and removed later. However, I found that several of our print failures were caused by incorrectly placed supports and that I would usually add automatic supports, then manually add more to areas of the print that might have problems.
The possibility of dividing models is one of the interesting features here. Models that are too big can be divided up by Photon Workshop. After each piece is printed, it adheres to the next. I think that’s a neat trick that other slicer apps could benefit from.
In addition, Anycubic has an Android and iOS app that you can use to start a print or to monitor the progress of a print. Using this app, you can’t upload a print file, but it’s nice to know how far away a print is from completion. I would prefer if there was a camera to determine if the print is working, but it’s not included on the Photon Mono Xr.
As soon as the print has been completed, the Wash and Cure Plus is used to – as the name suggests – wash the print to remove any liquid resin and cure it to solidify the resin. After removing the prints from the bed, you can wash them in isopropyl alcohol, or you can mount them on one of two slots of an included basket. It can hold 8.5 liters (2.25 gallons) of liquid. It won’t always be that much, but enough to completely cover the print. As the main ingredient in hand sanitizers, isopropyl alcohol is not readily available.
Once you have placed the print, you select the length of time it should be washed for and then press the dial to start. A stirring agitator stirs the liquid for 2 minutes, changing directions every 2 minutes so that every crevice of the print is cleaned.
Once the print has been washed, it can be removed and allowed to dry. After that, it is time to cure the print, which is done by replacing the alcohol container with a rotating platform on the Wash and Cure Plus. Again, you select the cure time by using the control dial. Generally, this will be between two and five minutes, depending on the size of the print.
During the UV exposure process, the platform that supports the print rotates to expose it to the LEDs on the towering arm above it, which produces UV light. Before you can begin, you must replace the plastic cover that blocks UV light. The UV light intensity at this level can cause eyesight damage.
Photon Mono X 3D printer review: Print speed
With our 4-inch high Thinker test model, the Photon Mono X printed in just 7 hours and 35 minutes—significantly faster than your average printer of this class. To print the same model at the same size on the Peopeoly Phenom, for instance, took just over 13 hours.
We usually print the Thinker models vertically so that printers with an insufficient build plate can print the Thinker lying down horizontally. It took only 3 hours and 56 minutes to print this direction using the Photon Mono X, which has plenty of print space large enough to handle this.
Photon Mono X 3D printer review: Print quality
Photon Mono X prints are excellent. There were clean, sharp edges to my prints and organic curves and surfaces to them. During testing, we use three models to test the quality of the printer’s reproduction of details: Rodin’s Thinker, planetary gears, and a geometric sculpture.
As a whole, the Thinker statue was well modeled, with intricate details and seamless, organic curves that matched the real deal. An accurate interlocking surface and sharp, clean edges made up the Geometric sculpture. When we fixed the gears together, we found the grey resin we tested with this printer produced quite a bit of dust and residue (the white material).
Nevertheless, we noticed some issues with prints: sometimes, the layers came loose, resulting in flapping resin. You can see this in the horizontal print of The Thinker, where the inner calf of the right leg has a few layers that don’t adhere to the layers above. Also, one of the points of the geometric sculpture appears to be flattened since the layers were pushed down by the liquid resin during the printing process.
Although most of these problems can be fixed by tweaking the print, the loose layers and squashed point suggest that the print needed more supports to hold it in place while printing, or that the object would do better printed at a different angle.
These findings all confirm what most 3D printers need to achieve their best quality prints: some tinkering to get the best quality prints and retrying failed prints is needed.
|High-quality prints||Some print failures|
|Fast prints||Slicing software produces inconsistent supports|
|Large print size for low cost||SLA printing is still a mess, stinky business|
SLA printing has never been easier to afford than with the AnyCubic Photon Mono X. However, it does so without compromising much: while printing will still be messy and error-prone at first (and you’ll need a mask and a box of disposable gloves), it’s relatively simple and not very fussy after that.
While SLA printing can still be a time-consuming process, some Photon Mon X prints have failed and have to be altered and re-printed. In addition, I recommend purchasing Wash and Cure Plus. Thanks to this product, cleaning and curing SLA prints is much easier.
With the two, you can print large prints of high quality at a superfast speed and for less than $800. SLA printers such as Form 3 are ideal for professionals when they need to do heavy-duty printing, but For hobbyists and those curious about 3D printing, the Photon Mono X is an excellent option.