Whether you’re an artistic type, an analytical problem solver, or in a dynamic field that requires a refined touch, you’re likely to find numerous benefits in 3D printing. 3D printers have been on the market for a long time, and somehow people are still finding new uses for them.
Created back in the '80s with the intention to advance prototypes in manufacturing, 3D printing has since made an incredible impact on countless other industries; be it in dentistry, medicine, education, automotive, and really everything in between. By layering materials (such as plastic, metal, carbon fiber, resins, and many others) over each other and fusing them together with methodical precision, a 3D printer can easily create your desired pieces while you sit back, relax, and brainstorm about what you’ll print next.
I began my 3D printing journey several years ago when I bought a Monoprice open-frame printer. Since then, I’ve been able to use 3D printing as an artistic release, as well as engineer things that have had a direct benefit to my life and others’. Early on, as I was getting out of my car, I noticed a small plastic piece of my door handle had fallen off. I didn’t know what it was, or how to even search for a replacement online. After taking some measurements, I was able to replicate this piece with my 3D printer and in a matter of hours, had replaced it with ease — something I would have never been able to do by hand.
Whether I’m creating bag tags for the youth soccer team I coach to create a sense of unity, prototyping useful tools with friends, or experimenting with new designs, having a 3D printer has paid for itself many times over. Lately, I’ve been testing out the Anycubic Photon M3 3D printer, and have been thoroughly impressed by the speed, silent printing, and incredible detail it’s capable of. Having tried out several models and builds, I can say without a doubt that this is a 3D printer seasoned professionals would appreciate, and newcomers to the resin-printing field could happily take a crack at.
What is the Anycubic Photon M3 3D Printer?
— Dimensions: 10.6 inches L x 10.1 inches W x 16.7 inches H
— Weight: 15.4 pounds
— Compatible Materials: Resin
— Print Volume: 6.4 inches L x 4 inches W x 7.1 inches H
— Print Speed: Up to 50mm/h
Anycubic has made a name for itself among the 3D printing community as one of the leading manufacturers for DIY printing. Though they’ve been around since only 2015, they’ve become known for developing top-of-the-line 3D printers for home use and for regularly improving their users’ experience.
The Photon M3 comes equipped with just about everything you’ll need to get started, however I’d suggest adding on the resin itself to your order. In addition to the printer, Anycubic included gloves and a mask for safety purposes, a scraper, a screen protector for the LCD monochrome screen, a resin vat, tool kit, USB memory stick (as this printer doesn’t have WiFi compatibility), a user manual, and a funnel so you can pour your material back into the bottle when you’re finished with it. In terms of what you get for the price, the box was surprisingly full.
The 3D printer itself came together in a breeze. In fact, it took me longer to remove the packaging and initially check out all of the items than it did to assemble the printer, needing only four hex bolts and three thumb screws. Just a few minutes later, I’d finished setting up the leveling and Z-offset wizard, and was ready to take it for a whirl.
Resin vs. Filament
The Photon M3 is the first resin 3D printer I’ve tested, and it differs greatly from any fused deposition modeling (FDM) printer out there. While filament, used in FDM 3D printers, is a solid material that often comes wrapped around a spool, the Photon M3 uses resin. Resin is a liquid solution that solidifies after photocuring with UV light.
Comparatively, the Photon M3 can do far more in terms of pristine, unrivaled detail than any FDM printer could. 3D printers that use filament often build from the bottom up, melting and depositing layers of what’s essentially plastic strings of material. This method, though popular, often doesn’t produce the high-quality detail that resin does, and can lead to “stringing” (when artifacts and small strings are left on your printed piece, even after cleaning it up).
How the Photon M3 differs from this is, firstly, that it builds itself upside down (from the top up). The resin, like filament, goes on one layer at a time, but is cured between every layer for optimum efficiency and quality. I have never been able to create a realistic LEGO brick with an FDM printer, but with the Photon M3, I was able to print several compatible pieces that could seamlessly clip on to my other LEGO, despite a little bit of elephant foot. No matter the level of detail or difficulty, with every piece I threw at the Photon M3, the end result was always a clean, smooth, and slick structure. It truly seems like there’s nothing it can’t print.
Not only is the 3D printer amazingly speedy and quiet, but I was honestly astounded by the level of detail the Photon M3 was capable of. Having tested it out with some “Settlers of Catan” tile models and comparing them to the same file printed with an FDM printer, the comparison was mind-blowing. Not only is the Photon M3’s finished product clean and smooth, the tiniest details were visible — which was especially impressive on a tinier model.
Something to note is that your builds will be a little smaller than you may be used to, with a maximum build size of 6.4 inches L x 4 inches W x 7.1 inches H. For comparably priced filament printers, you would expect at least a couple extra inches to work with, but this is easily made up by the level of detail your models will showcase.
The way the Photon M3 accomplishes these near-exact masterpieces is down to the cleverly crafted screen, plate, high-functioning software, and of course, the use of resin. The build plate dips into the resin vat at your current build level, then the screen projects what one layer will look like. After completing this layer and setting it with UV light, it lifts up and goes back down to do another layer; this process repeats until the build is finished.
LCD Monochrome Screen
Something that sets this 3D printer apart is its LCD monochrome screen. Where other resin printers often employ a laser projection, the screen mounted on the bottom of the Photon M3 exposes each layer and then prints them on in succession. This feature, incorporated with the user-friendly software, led to a higher-quality surface finish and enabled impeccable detailing.
The included screen protector is such an important component here, as it keeps your LCD screen scratch-free and allows for a longer lifespan. The LCD is so essential to the entire operation that you want to ensure it’s protected. If your screen protector becomes damaged, you can easily strip it off and put another one on — whereas the screen itself would be a bit trickier to replace.
The front LCD screen and fully compatible Slicer software are also a very nice touch and I found it super easy to use. Once you’ve inserted the USB drive and you select your file to print, the screen shows you a preview of what the build will look like — something I’ve not experienced with any 3D printer before. This is especially helpful for those of us who have a poor file-naming convention. Even though the Slicing software wasn’t the typical Cura that I was used to, it was easy to navigate.
Laser-Etched Print Bed: Anycubic put a lot of thought into every aspect of this 3D printer, down to its special design of the print bed. This crucial piece of the Photon M3 is laser-etched to create a strong adhesion and keeps your builds from falling off as they’re printing. This is especially handy for heavier models that are more likely to lean or fall out of place, however it is very difficult to remove smaller items from the print bed if there’s a large surface area in contact with it.
Printing Capabilities: At 50mm/h, the Photon M3 is wicked fast. At this pace, it only takes two and a half hours to print a 12-centimeter-tall model, which is significantly faster than other leading 3D printers. And for its unbelievable speed and accuracy, the volume at which it operates is incredibly quiet. This may be partially due to the fact that there are very few moving parts in this printer compared to others. There’s only one screw that moves the plate up and down, whereas with a typical filament printer, there would be more armature, and you’d need to maintain the belts and ensure everything is lubricated properly. With this in mind, the Photon M3 requires very little maintenance and gives you more time to focus on your creations.
Something that’s undeniable about this 3D printer is that it stinks. Literally. Because of the fumes, you won’t want to be in the same room while it’s running unless you have an air purifier, so it’s important to place it in a well-ventilated space that you’re able to walk away from for some time. Thankfully, you can place the hood on it while it runs to keep in some of the smell, as well as to protect your prints from outside UV lights.
Another drawback that’s specific to using a resin 3D printer is that you’re stuck with a solid build volume. Filament printers can be specified so that your infill is only 10 to 20 percent for example, so you’re able to make a hollow shape and save your materials for purely visible and structural aspects. Because of the way a resin print needs to be supported, you can’t make any hollow pieces — this would also lead to trapped, uncured liquid inside. This makes resin printing more costly, as you’ll go through more material. Although it’s less economical, you’ll always end up with a flawless, durable model.
Finally, resin printing is messy. When you pull your piece out of the printer, it’s steeped in a liquid that you will need to clean off in a water rinser. To make this step easier, you can get water-rinse resin or high concentrated isopropyl alcohol. Once your item is clean, it needs to be cured in the same machine. It’s very easy to wipe off, but you’ll be messier than if you were to use a filament, and will want to ensure you’re working in an area that can get a little dirty. For the print quality though, this is a fair tradeoff.
While the Anycubic 3D printer is extremely efficient and capable of replicating some of the most complex designs, you may want to consider adding on a few more products to make your experience the best it can be.
Final Thoughts on the Anycubic Photon M3 3D Printer
Overall, my experience testing the Photon M3 3D printer was great. I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to those looking to add resin to their arsenal or newbies in the resin field, but it’s not necessarily the best pick if you’re completely new to 3D printing. This is an excellent choice for making toys, figures, or models for “Dungeons and Dragons” and other tabletop games.
Anycubic is really ahead of the game. I didn’t feel like I was really giving anything up, and for such high speed, precision, and low cost, I’m blown away.
As told to Mia Huelsbeck
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