Anycubic Photon S Review: The Best Budget Resin 3D Printer?

Anycubic Photon S
An amazing SLA printer for the money.
Zach Zach (233)
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4.5 - Our Rating
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The Anycubic Photon S is a budget SLA printer that produces phenomenal, highly-detailed prints. The Photon S is an upgraded version of the original Photon, sporting numerous improvements.

In this review guide, I'll cover the most important features of the Photon S, differences over its predecessor, whether SLA/LCD printers are right for you, and how the Photon stacks up.

How the Photon S works

The Anycubic Photon is an SLA printer. It uses a high-powered UV lamp to cure each layer of your model, building the print from a vat of plastic resin. When you slice your model, a digital flipbook of each layer is built with each "frame" projected onto the build plate.

FDM vs. SLA

SLA (Stereolithography Apparatus) printers are fundamentally different from "normal" FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) printers that melt a spool of plastic to form each layer. The result is a stunningly-high resolution print, making this printer ideal for printing figurines, jewelry, and other small models.

Photon S Specs

Attribute Value
Print speed 20mm/hr (0.78")
UV output 50W
Print technology LCD-based masked stereolithography (MSLA)/LCD shadow masking
Build LCD 5.2-inch 2K (2560x1440px)
Weight 13lb (5.9kg)
Printer dimensions 9in x 7.9in x 15.8in (230mm x 200mm x 400mm)
Build volume 115 x 65 x 165 mm (4.5in x 2.6in x 6in)
Z-layer resolution 10 microns (0.01mm)
XY resolution 47 microns (0.047mm)
UI display 2.8" color TFT touchscreen
Connectivity USB
Build platform leveling Manual
Print materials All resins suitable for 405nm LCD-based printers

Here's everything you'll need to complete this guide:

Anycubic Photon SAnycubic Photon S×1
Photon S 3D prints

The Anycubic Photon S is an amazing SLA printer that provides excellent prints with a few minor annoyances. For the price, however, I highly recommend this machine. It features several minor improvements over the previous Photon and is very beginner-friendly, taking only minutes to get your first print going.

The Photon S is a great choice for new users, but the improvements over the original Photon probably aren't large enough for existing Photon owners to make the switch.

Pros

  • Amazing print quality for the price
  • Easy to use
  • Up and running in minutes

Cons

  • Manual bed leveling can be a hassle
  • Flimsy housing
  • No network/internet connectivity

Who it's for

  • People who want to print figurines, jewelry, or other small, highly-detailed models
  • People who want to print small models to sell
  • People who don't mind a lot of clean-up (this applies to all resin printers)

Price

The Photon S normally retails for $498 but can be found for less, currently around $420, about the same price that the original Photon sold for when it was released. You probably won't get better prints for the price from another SLA printer.

Anycubic Photon S unboxing

Packaging

The Photon S arrived well-packaged and absolutely brimming with foam. A large internal foam block keeps the internals from shifting, and the entire unit was encased in a foam cocoon.

Scratch prevention

Anycubic had the foresight to wrap the Photon's acrylic windows with removable film to prevent scratches.

In the box

In the box, you'll find:

  • The Anycubic Photon S
  • A 500ml bottle of green UV printing resin
  • A dust mask and disposable Nitrile gloves (more on this later)
  • A 6A@12V power supply
  • A flimsy plastic print-scraping tool
  • A USB drive containing the slicing software
  • Several hex keys for disassembling the Photon
  • Replacement vat lenses
  • A stack of disposable funnels with built-in filters
  • A few extra screws in case you lose them while disassembling the Photon
  • Some documentation that nobody will ever read
Securing Anycubic Photon S build plate

Unlike most 3D printers you'll purchase, the Anycubic Photon S comes fully assembled. The only thing you'll need to do is secure the build plate, which attaches in about six seconds using a knob.

Anycubic Photon S build quality

Overall, the Photon S is well-designed, and all of its parts have good fitment. All panels fit together nicely, the hinged door operates smoothly, and the machine is very aesthetically-pleasing. I opted for the white model so it would look less utilitarian and more at home in our combination shop/office.

All machined parts have a nice finish and look like they were cast or machined with good tolerances. Despite the overall quality, I do have one major gripe: the plastic panels themselves just feel flimsy. The front door operates smoothly but feels wobbly since the plastic panels are just so thin. Only time will tell whether this becomes an issue, but they definitely could've increased the thickness and quality of the plastic they used for the main housing panels.

Photon S double guide rails

The Photon S offers minor but notable improvements over its predecessor. Because these improvements are marginal, this is not a "completely new machine". Nonetheless, Anycubic obviously paid attention to the community's complaints about the original Photon and made some marked improvements to address them:

Z-wobble reduction

The Photon S doubles the number of linear guide rails to two, reducing the dreaded Z-wobble that many Photon users have experienced

Updated control UI

Because the Photon and Photon S can't be controlled remotely, you'll spend a lot of time using the built-in control interface. Thankfully, Anycubic fixed many of the annoying issues with the old interface. Larger and more legible buttons and icons mean you no longer need a stylus to control your printer.

Carbon filtration system

The Photon S now features two small activated carbon filters on either side of the unit, greatly reducing fumes and the noxious stench of uncured resin. Nonetheless, like most resin machines, the Photon S still produces a smell. However, the filtration system is a very noticeable improvement that makes it tolerable to remain in the same room while a print is running.

Larger print volume

The Photon S offers a larger print volume than the Photon, adding 10mm to the Z-axis.

Anycubic Photon S size

This is one compact machine—taking up just 72 in² of space (9"x8"). This makes it ideal for living on your desk or a sturdy shelf, assuming you don't mind the fumes (more on this later).

I was very happy about how little space this printer takes up, especially considering I have two other printers on the same table: My Ender 3 and the unreleased Anycubic Mega X. ;)

Furlexa for scale!

Anycubic Photon S build size

The Photon S offers a print volume of 115x64x165mm (4.5x2.6x6"), making it ideal for printing small, highly-detailed models such as figurines, jewelry, and more. Of course, you can also use it to print parts normally reserved for an FDM printer.

This is a sufficiently large build size for an SLA printer. Most SLA/resin printers feature a small build size, and this will increase over time as they gain prominence and can realize economies of scale.

Anycubic Photon S screen

The Photon S features a 2.8" color TFT touchscreen that's used to control the printer and start prints. Because the Photon S has no network connectivity and SLA printers aren't supported by OctoPrint, you'll be using this screen a lot.

The screen is highly responsive and the redesigned interface is easy to navigate. However, its viewing angle is awful, making the task of leveling the bed a true test of your flexibility. Poor viewing angles are a sign of cheap displays and it's unfortunate that this is where they found further cost savings.

Overall, the display interface functions well.

Anycubic Photon S resin

This printer uses UV-reactive resin; just about any 405nm photosensitive resin will work. The printer ships with a bottle of green Anycubic-branded resin that produces stunning prints.

One great thing about resin printers is you won't see print lines; so you can use crystal-clear resin to print models that appear to be made of acrylic or glass, making this printer perfect for producing figurines and jewelry for sale.

Leveling the Anycubic Photon S

If you've ever used a "normal" (FDM) printer, then leveling the Photon S should seem familiar. I wrote a separate Photon leveling guide, but in a nutshell, you loosen the print head and slide a sheet of paper between it and the print screen.

This process is simple but finicky. In general, the first layer of printing on resin printers is far more important than the first layer on FDM printers. Because of this, you need to level it just right or your prints may fail.

Additionally, it's a scary thought that you control the print head's Z-height manually using the interface as a part of the leveling process; I'm always afraid I'm going to smash it into the delicate LCD screen. It hasn't happened yet, but automatic leveling would've been a nice feature to alleviate this concern.

You should only need to level the print head after several prints, but you should check that the print head's adjustable ball screw hasn't loosened—some users have reported this loosening after several prints, requiring further adjustment.

Using ChiTuBox with the Anycubic Photon S

You can't use traditional slicers such as Cura to slice models for the Photon S (or any SLA printer, for that matter). This is because the printer operates on fundamentally different principles.

Goodbye gcode

The .gcode file used by most FMD printers features a set of coordinates and commands to instruct the printer where and when to print. SLA printers, on the other hand, feature a set of "slides", where each layer is part of a larger "flipbook".

The Photon and Photon S use a proprietary .photons file, which can be generated by either of two pieces of software:

1. Photon Workshop

Photon Workshop is made by Anycubic and included on the USB drive that comes with the printer. However, it crashes if you breathe on it, so I decided early on to ditch it. Additionally, the current version can't hollow models, a common desire for SLA prints.

2. ChiTuBox

ChiTuBox is a piece of free and open-source software (FOSS) that slices models for SLA/DLP/LCD printers. It recently added native support for the Photon S and has supported the Photon for a long time. I had a good experience slicing models using it, and my first print was successful.

Of the two, I highly recommend choosing ChiTuBox.

Finished prints on the Anycubic Photon S

I wrote a full end-to-end Photon/Photon S print guide, but I'll recap the process below.

Loading prints

Prints must be loaded onto a USB drive and inserted into the side of the printer. More annoyingly, the prints have to be in the root directory of the USB drive, or else the printer won't detect the file. How hard would a recursive search or directory feature have been to code? Probably not hard.

Anyways, there's no way to use OctoPrint with any SLA printer and the Photon S has no network connectivity, so you're stuck loading prints like a caveman until the foreseeable future.

After inserting the USB drive into the printer, it's just a few taps to get your print going.

Post-processing

After your print is complete, you'll need to clean it of uncured resin using 99% isopropyl alcohol (IPA). This process is a bit laborious but is specific to any resin printer. I normally submerge the print in IPA for ~3 minutes and then place the print under the sun or a UV lamp until it cures fully.

SLA printer safety equipment

Printing on the Photon S—or any resin printer—is an exercise in messiness. You're basically turning liquid, uncured resin into a print by zapping the resin with a high-powered UV light. As a result, you need to pay special care to safety protocols during the print process.

Always wear disposable Nitrile gloves (included) and safety glasses (not included) when handling resin or uncleaned prints. Uncured resin can irritate bare skin, especially if you have sensitive skin or allergies.

As with all types of printers, you'll want to print in a well-ventilated area. The printer's activated-carbon air filtration system goes a long way in reducing fumes and caustic resin smells, but it's not a completely sealed environment.

3D-printed models from the Anycubic Photon S

I can only use one word to describe the quality of the prints from the Photon S: phenomenal. For the price, I don't think you'll find an SLA printer that produces better prints. No budget FDM printer on the market can come close to the print quality you'll get from a good resin printer.

The Photon S provides a Z-layer resolution of 10 microns (0.01mm), and an X- and Y-resolution of 47 microns (0.047mm), making it ideal for small, highly-detailed prints of all types.

Highly detailed SLA print

I decided to print a few test models and scaled them to random sizes at 40 microns (0.04mm). They all turned out great, even at this relatively-low resolution.

Anycubic Photon S on desk

If you're looking for small and detailed prints, the Anycubic Photon S provides a great bang for your buck. It's easy to use, quick to set up, and offers the highest quality prints you'll find on any sub-$500 SLA printer.

Where to buy

You can currently find the Anycubic Photon S on Amazon for only $420, $50 off the normal price!

Series: Anycubic Photon
Anycubic Photon Print Guide
Show all in the Anycubic Photon series