Review: Anycubic Photon D2 DLP Resin 3D Printer

The new Anycubic Photon D2 DLP resin 3D printer is now available and this review should help you decide if the printer is right for you.

Cameron Coward
a month ago3D Printing / Displays

The new Anycubic Photon D2 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.

DLP vs. MLSA resin 3D printing

When people talk about consumer resin 3D printers, they’re usually referring to masked stereolithography (MSLA) technology. This process works by shining UV light through an LCD screen into a vat of resin that solidifies when exposed to that UV light. When a pixel on the LCD is set to its darkest state, it prevents light from passing through. Those opaque pixels mask the portion of each layer that shouldn’t solidify.

Digital light processing (DLP) is much less common. Instead of a masking LCD panel, DLP 3D printers utilize MEMS (micro-mlectromechanical systems) projectors. A UV light shines onto a DMD (digital micromirror device) array made up of millions of microscopic mirror elements. Each tiny mirror flips to either reflect the UV light towards the vat or not, which determines if that pixel cures.

DLP printers have two primary advantages over MLSA printers. The first is that the projector has a much longer service life. 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 advantage is reduced light bleed, which is a common problem with MSLA printers.

Light bleed

MSLA printer specifications always list the resolution of the LCD panel, because that is the most objective way to determine the detail that the printer can produce. The higher the resolution, the finer the detail. Ignoring techniques like grayscale anti-aliasing, the pixel size of the LCD panel 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 theory. In this case, light bleed can reduce the effective resolution of an MSLA 3D printer. Light bleed occurs when UV light from an “open” pixel bleeds over onto an area masked by an opaque pixel and causes that resin to cure. This happens because the rays of UV light coming from the LED array aren’t perfectly perpendicular to the LCD panel.

Manufacturers, including Anycubic, attempt to keep the light rays as straight as possible with the use of lenses, but that isn’t perfect. Some light rays will always be at angle, which will cause the light bleed.

DLP printers, on the hand, are far less susceptible to light bleed. Because a single-point light source reflects off of millions of individual mirror elements and then into the vat, the angles of the rays have less of an effect.

In this case, the DLP technology integrates algorithms that improve light uniformity to 92%. That high light uniformity also allows for accurate gray scale anti-aliasing, with 16 gray level steps to smooth surfaces beyond the base resolution.

Anycubic DLP printers

The Photon D2 is Anycubic’s second DLP 3D printer model. The first was the Anycubic Photon Ultra, which stood out as the first DLP models 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 165 mm (XYZ), while the Ultra’s was 102 x 58 x 165 mm. The Texas Instruments DLP projector increased from a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels on the Ultra to 2560 x 1440 pixels on the D2. That means pixel size dropped from 80μm to about 51μm.

That pixel size is comparable to the Anycubic Photon Mono X and it’s a little bit bigger than the pixel size of the Anycubic Photon Mono X 6K, which is 34.4μm. But remember that the difference in display technology between MSLA and DLP printers makes it difficult to directly compare effective resolution based on pixel size.

Setup

Now that you understand why DLP resin 3D printers are appealing 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 going over the display technology. Suffice it to say that the printer arrive packaged well, it came with all of the typical accessories, and the build quality is on par with Anycubic’s other models. It is small, which is to be expected given the build volume. Setup was straightforward and only required a few minutes to level the build platform.

On the software side, I stuck with Anycubic Photon Workshop software. Third party slicers may add support for the Photon D2 in the future, but the DLP projector makes it more complicated than simply revising an existing MSLA printer’s profile.

Resin

I began my tests using Siraya Tech Build resin, and then switched to Anycubic DLP Craftsman resin once that arrived. The latter resin is made specifically for DLP printers. I’m not sure how the formula differs, but it worked very well in my tests.

I started by printing the included test file, which is a small cup with filigree like a Fabergé egg. Even with the default settings and the Siraya Tech resin, it was flawless. From there, I printed a huge D20 and a miniature figurine. The D20 turned out well, but I had some issues with adhesion and delamination with the miniature.

It was around that time that I switched to the Craftsman resin, which solved all of those problems. The miniature turned out very well and then I printed all of the parts for a neat Tic Tac-firing blaster.

Print detail

I found myself very impressed with the detail the Photon D2 produced. It is hard to describe the difference between this and the prints from a high-resolution MSLA printer, but the best word I can come up with is “crisper.” The Photon D2 doesn’t necessarily print finer details than MSLA printers can, but the details are crisper and cleaner to my eye.

The included “Faberge cup” model shows that crisp detail quite well. Where an MSLA printer might have produced a soft edge between two nearby features, the Photon D2 has clear distinction. Even when a feature is a fraction of a millimeter away from another, it still has clear, defined edges.

Warping

I’ve been vocal about how I think MSLA resin 3D printers are unsuitable for mechanical parts because it is so difficult to avoid warping on large, flat surfaces. I was curious to see if that would remain true for DLP resin 3D printers, which is why I chose the Tic Tac blaster as a test print.

I was happy to see that these parts have very little warping, even though the two main halves have surfaces that I would have expected to warp on an MSLA printer. There were still a couple of wavy edges, but those can be explained by my support placement.

I have a few theories about why DLP printers might produce less warping than MSLA printers, but I’ll need to do more testing on the subject before I can say anything definitive. For now, I will say that the Photon D2 might be worth special consideration if you print mechanical parts and have had issues with warping.

Summary

There is a lot to love 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 power.

The only real drawback is that the DLP projector is significantly more expensive than LCD panels. That means that the Anycubic Photon D2 is far costlier MSLA printers of the same size and resolution. But as I’ve said, pixel size doesn’t tell the whole story when you’re comparing DLP to MSLA.

For those who want to get into DLP resin printing, the Anycubic Photon D2 can’t be beat. This is the only DLP printer in the consumer market, other than the preceding Ultra. The only competition is in the prosumer space and those models cost thousands of dollars.

Cameron Coward
Writer for Hackster News. Maker, retrocomputing and 3D printing enthusiast, author of books, dog dad, motorcyclist, and nature lover.
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