New Photon Anycubic D2 The DLP resin 3D printer is now available and this review should help you decide if the printer is right for you.
Full disclosure: Anycubic provided me with the Photon D2 for this review. But, as always, this review is as honest and unbiased as possible.
Resin 3D printing DLP vs MLSA
When we talk about consumer resin 3D printers, they usually refer to masked stereolithography (MSLA) technology. This process works by shining UV light through an LCD screen into a vat of resin which solidifies when exposed to this UV light. When an LCD pixel is set to its darkest state, it blocks light from passing through. These opaque pixels hide the part of each layer that should not solidify.
Digital light processing (DLP) is much less common. Instead of a masking LCD screen, DLP 3D printers use MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) projectors. A UV light shines on a DMD (digital micromirror device) array composed of millions of microscopic mirror elements. Each small mirror flips over whether or not to reflect UV light back to the vat, which determines whether that pixel cures.
DLP printers have two main advantages over MLSA printers. The first is that the projector has a much longer lifespan. A typical MSLA LCD panel is good for around 2,000 hours of use, while a DLP projector can last 20,000 hours. The other big benefit is the reduction in light loss, which is a common problem with MSLA printers.
MSLA printer specifications always state the resolution of the LCD, as this is the most objective way to determine the detail the printer can produce. The higher the resolution, the finer the details. Ignoring techniques such as grayscale anti-aliasing, the LCD pixel size is the smallest detail an MSLA printer can create. In theory, this means that smaller pixels are always better.
But the real world doesn’t always adhere to the theory. In this case, a slight bleed can reduce the effective resolution of an MSLA 3D printer. Light bleed occurs when UV light from an “open” pixel spills over an area masked by an opaque pixel and causes that resin to harden. This happens because the UV light rays coming from the LED array are not perfectly perpendicular to the LCD panel.
Manufacturers, including Anycubic, try to keep light rays as straight as possible with the use of lenses, but it’s not perfect. Some light rays will always be at an angle, which will cause the light to bleed.
DLP printers, on the other hand, are much less susceptible to light leakage. Because a point light source reflects off millions of individual mirror elements and then into the vessel, the angles of the rays have less of an effect.
Anycubic DLP Printers
The Photon D2 is Anycubic’s second DLP 3D printer model. The first was the Anycubic Photon Ultra, which established itself as the first DLP model to hit the consumer space. Compared to the Photon Ultra, the Photon D2 is a huge upgrade.
The most obvious changes are resolution and build volume. The Photon D2’s build volume is 131 x 73 x 165mm (XYZ), while the Ultra’s was 102 x 58 x 165mm. The Texas Instruments DLP projector went from a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels on the Ultra to 2560 x 1440 pixels on the D2. This means that the pixel size has gone from 80 μm to around 51 μm.
This pixel size is comparable to the Anycubic Photon Mono X and it’s a bit bigger than the pixel size of the Anycubic Photon Mono X 6K, i.e. 34.4 μm. But remember that the difference in display technology between MSLA and DLP printers makes it difficult to directly compare effective resolution versus pixel size.
Now that you understand why DLP resin 3D printers are attractive and how the new Photon D2 compares to the Photon Ultra, I can discuss my experience with this printer.
Usually, I like to talk about packaging and presentation, but I’ve already taken up too much space in this article by reviewing display technology. Suffice it to say that the printer is well packaged, comes with all the typical accessories, and the build quality is on par with Anycubic’s other models. It is small, which is normal considering the volume of construction. Installation was simple and only took a few minutes to level the build platform.
On the software side, I stayed with the Anycubic Photon Workshop software. Third-party slicers may add Photon D2 support in the future, but the DLP projector makes it more complicated than simply revising the profile of an existing MSLA printer.
I started my testing with Siraya Tech Build Resin, then switched to Anycubic DLP Craftsman Resin once that arrived. This last resin is specially designed for DLP printers. I don’t know how the formula differs, but it worked great in my testing.
I started by printing the included test file, which is a small watermark cup like a Fabergé egg. Even with default settings and Siraya Tech resin, it was flawless. From there I printed a huge D20 and a miniature figure. The D20 went well, but I had some sticking and delamination issues with the miniature.
It was around this time that I switched to Craftsman resin, which solved all of these problems. The miniature turned out great, then I printed all the parts for a neat Tic Tac blaster.
I found myself very impressed with the detail produced by the Photon D2. It’s hard to describe the difference between this and the prints from a high resolution MSLA printer, but the best word I can find is “sharper”. The Photon D2 doesn’t necessarily print finer detail than MSLA printers, but the detail is crisper and crisper to my eyes.
The included “Fabergé Cup” model shows this sharp detail quite well. Where an MSLA printer might have produced a soft edge between two close features, the Photon D2 makes a clear distinction. Even when one feature is a fraction of a millimeter from another, it still has clear, defined edges.
I mentioned how I think MSLA resin 3D printers are not suitable for mechanical parts because warping is so difficult to avoid on large flat surfaces. I was curious to see if this would hold true for DLP resin 3D printers, so I chose the Tic Tac blaster as a test print.
I was happy to see that these parts warped very little, even though the two main halves had surfaces that I would expect to warp on an MSLA printer. There were still some wavy edges, but these can be explained by the placement of my bracket.
I have a few theories as to why DLP printers might produce less distortion than MSLA printers, but I’ll have to do more testing on this before I can say anything definitive. For now, I’ll say the Photon D2 might be worth some extra consideration if you’re printing mechanical parts and have had warping issues.
There’s a lot to like about the new Anycubic Photon D2. The DLP projector produces really crisp, clean details that look fantastic. It also produces less heat and consumes less energy.
The only real downside is that the DLP projector is significantly more expensive than LCD panels. This means that the Anycubic Photon D2 is significantly more expensive than MSLA printers of the same size and resolution. But like I said, pixel size doesn’t tell the whole story when you compare DLP to MSLA.
For those who want to get into DLP resin printing, the Photon Anycubic D2 can’t be beat. It is the only DLP printer in the consumer market, other than the previous Ultra. The only competition is in the prosumer space and these models cost thousands of dollars.