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A Newbie's Guide to the Anycubic Photon S

I am sure there are many people out there who, like me, were enthralled by 3D resin prints they've been seeing on Twitter or YouTube or Kickstarter but were absolutely overwhelmed when they looked into doing it themselves. Having recently purchased an Anycubic Photon S, I had to go through the painful process of stitching together all of this disparate information to print out my own miniatures.

Now that I've succeed in going through a 500 ml bottle of resin I thought it would be a good idea to write out a step-by-step guide of what I did (or what I should have done).

External Resources

If you're not interested in reading all of my ramblings and need something more visual, I recommend this excellent YouTube video by Black Magic Craft. It was the only video I watched before I bought my printer.

Other resources I used were:

Before You Buy

Resin printing is not for everyone. If you live in a 500 square foot studio apartment you're probably gonna have a bad time. Don't make the beginner's mistake of thinking you can set up the printer on your kitchen table. Not only are prints going to take several hours but resin is also very smelly. Even if you don't find the smell to be that pungent the fumes are technically toxic and you wouldn't want them to be permeating your kitchen or bedroom.

Ventilation is the name of the game when you're considering getting into resin printing. Wherever you are planning on setting up the printer ensure that space will be properly ventilated. Ideally with large windows or doors to the outside you can open or proper fans and ducting that you can use to redirect the fumes outside. You absolutely cannot let these fumes stay in a small enclosed space!

The caveat to this is that the printer cannot be directly exposed to sunlight while it is printing. Resin printing actually uses UV light to harden the resin into the shape you want. So if your raw resin is exposed to sunlight it will harden and break your prints. So you have this catch-22 where you need your space to be well ventilated but your printer can't be exposed to sunlight. This is why you really need to think hard before you pick the space where you will be doing your printing.

Having said all of that you will need access to sunlight to properly clean up after you've finished printing. Raw resin is toxic and should not be thrown directly in the trash. You need to expose it to UV light to cure it before you can throw it away. The easiest way to do this is to leave the paper towels and anything else you use to clean in direct sunlight for 10-15 minutes. Please do not underestimate how important this is!

Step 0: Accessories you should buy

Technically speaking the Anycubic Photon S does come with everything you need to start printing, but not in the safest manner, and you'll burn through their supplies quite quickly. Below is a list of everything I believe you need at the bare minimum:

If you buy the five things above you will have everything you need to kick off a print. However when the print finishes we are playing an entirely different game. Now you are working with raw uncured resin dripping off the print. You will need to clean it before you can handle it without gloves. Remember raw resin should never touch your skin.

While you could clean your prints directly on your desk or whatever table you have I'd recommend buying a self healing cutting mat.

To clean your prints you are going to need at least two liters of isopropyl alcohol that is 90% purity or higher. Typically you'll find this at hobby or electronic repair shops. The variety you'll find at grocery stores or pharmacies will be around 70% purity which is better for disinfecting wounds than cleaning resin prints.

To clean your resin prints you should buy the Anycubic Wash & Cure Machine. When the print finishes you simply pop the build plate off the printer and attach it to the wash & cure machine. Not only will it clean your print but it will also clean your build plate at the same time! If you read the guides that I linked above in the "External Resources" section you'll see all sorts of makeshift systems involving picking containers. Forget all that bullshit! Spend the extra money and make your clean-up process 1000 times easier.

Once your print is clean there will probably be struts or supports still attached to the print that were necessary to ensure it didn't collapsing during printing. I use citadel fine detail cutters to remove these supports but you can buy whatever you'd like. Anything that will allow you to make very precise cuts.

When a print is cleaned it will still have a tacky feeling because the resin hasn't fully cured yet. If you bought the Anycubic Wash & Cure machine you can quickly toss it inside and you're done. Otherwise you could leave the print in the sunlight for 10-15 minutes or purchase a nail lamp which emits UV light.

The final supplies you'll need to buy are all related to cleaning up after you've finished printing.

Sweet Jeebus this was a long section but if you've made it through you should now own absolutely everything you need to start resin 3D printing.

Step 1: Unpack and level your Anycubic Photon S

Unpacking the printer is relatively straightforward. Simply remove all of the padding and follow the instructions provided. I basically just followed what was done in the Black Magic Craft YouTube video that I linked above.

The most important part of the unpacking process is the leveling of the printer. If it is not correctly leveled then your prints will probably fail really quickly and leave a large mess for you to clean up if you're not paying attention. So take extra time to be completely confident that your printer is leveled correctly. The best way that was described to me is the piece of paper you are using to level should be able to be pulled towards you but not pushed away.

Step 2: Update your printer's firmware

There is a very good chance that out of the box your printer will have outdated firmware. Unfortunately this is a fairly big deal because these 3D printers are very nascent technology and have been getting a lot of improvements via software updates. My Photon S for example couldn't actually read most of the files that I was trying to print because its firmware was so outdated.

You can download the latest firmware from Anycubic's website. Installing it is as simple as transferring the ".bin" files to a USB drive and "printing" them on the printer. Make sure you update not only the system firmware but the UI software as well.

Step 3: Find a model to print

Now that your printer is unpacked, leveled and updated you will need something to print. Ideally this should be the test model that Anycubic provides because it is a great stress test to ensure your printer is configured properly. You should be able to download the test model from the Photon S page on Anycubic's website. Simply copy the "ANYCUBIC_Photon S Test Model.pws" file to your USB drive and plug it into the printer. The test model should show up in the print menu.

If all of this works I would still highly recommend that you also prepare a couple of other models to print. You probably didn't spend all of this time and money to simply print a test model and then pack everything away.

Some of the websites I use to find models are:

If you are looking for cool tabletop minis to print I highly recommend checking out M3DM.

Step 4: Adding supports to the model

For the vast majority of the models you print you will need to add supports to ensure it prints properly. Visualize a human soldier holding a spear that is pointed straight upwards. You should be able imagine hundreds of 1 mm slices from his feet to the tip of the spear, that if you stacked them together would create a perfect print. But imagine if this solider was instead lunging with the spear. The slices for the soldiers feet would support his legs, then this hips, then this torso, etc. But what would support his spear? When you got to that first slice of the spear there could be nothing for the bottom of the spear to attach to. How can you stack another slice on-top of one that isn't supported? This is why you need to add supports to most models.

There are no ifs, ands, or buts about this, the next thing you need to do is set aside 10 minutes and watch this video by 3D Printed Tabletop about using PrusaSlicer to add supports to your model.

If you were too lazy to watch the video here are the Coles Notes:

  1. Download PrusaSlicer and configure it to print to a Prusa SL1 printer. This is Prusa's resin printer which is very similar to the Anycubic Photon S.
  2. Import the STL file of the model you downloaded in step 3 into PrusaSlicer.
  3. Right click on the imported model and select optimize orientation.
  4. Select the "hollowing" option from the toolbar to hollow out the model. You want to do this to minimize the amount of resin needed. I use wall thickness of 0.2 mm.
  5. Select the "supporting" option from the toolbar to add supports to the model. Use support point density between 60-75% because anything above that is overkill and will make cleaning your print much harder.
  6. From the menu bar export the plate as STL including supports.

Step 5: Converting your .stl file into a .photons file

Now that we have an STL file with supports we need to convert it into a format the Photon S understands how to print. Essentially we have to create all of those millimeter thin slices that are going to be printed and stacked on-top of one another.

While Anycubic provides software for this it is absolute trash. I have never seen anyone on the Internet recommend it. The gold standard seems to be Chitubox. Unfortunately they require you to create an account to download their software which means giving China your email but c'est la vie.

Once you have Chitubox installed you need to import your STL with supports. On the right hand side you should see two buttons, "Settings" and "Slice". There should be no need to change the settings right now but you should be aware of it because it is where you would go to increase the exposure time or accuracy of your prints. But these are things that you should only need to change in the future when you are doing more serious prints.

Once the STL with supports is imported you should click on the "Slice" button and watch as the software computes the hundreds of slices needed to print the model. When it finishes you should have a screen that shows the amount of resin needed and the estimated time of the print. There should also be a slider you can play with to view each individual slice that will be printed. Save the output into the ".photons" format make sure your filename begins with an underscore as the Photon S only recognizes files that start with _. 🤷🏻‍♂️

Copy the .photons file to the USB drive and we're finally ready to print.

Step 6: Commence printing!

We finally have a USB drive full of .photons files we want to print. Time to plug it into the printer and fill up the vat with resin.

First things first, take all the proper safety precautions. You are about to work with raw resin so ensure you are wearing nitrile gloves, safety goggles, and a mask. The room must be properly ventilated which means opening up windows, doors, and turning on any fans you might have. Lay down whatever shop towels you feel necessary to catch any potential spills.

Before you pour the resin you should shake it for 20-30 seconds to ensure it is well mixed. If your resin has been sitting idle for a long period of time the pigmentation may settle which can result in poor prints. Don't shake it too hard because that can cause air bubbles to form. You're just looking to ensure there is a nice mix.

If you look at the inside of the resin vat you should see a very distinct change in color around a centimeter from the bottom. The is an indicator of the maximum amount of resin you can pour into the vat, which is around 70 milliliters. There is no problem with pouring below this line if you know your prints need less resin but you should never pour above it. If you do you risk serious damage to your build plate because the resin will overflow and get into the build plate's ball bearings.

Generally speaking the lips of these resin bottles aren't great for pouring so be very deliberate with your motions. Slowly tilting the bottle until resin comes out is probably going to result in more resin ending up on the bottle than in the vat. I recommend quickly tilting the bottle to be perpendicular to the vat and then gently move it upright to slow the pour.

Now it is time to start the print using the touch screen. When it commences you should see the build plate lower all the way down until it is submerged in the resin. If this is your first print I recommend coming back every 30 minutes or so to make sure things look to be progressing. If it looks like your print has suddenly been cut in half that probably means something was configured wrong and you don't want to continue wasting resin.

Step 7: Cleaning the print

When your print finishes you don't want to immediately remove it from the printer. Wait at least 10-15 minutes to allow all of the raw resin that is on your print or build plate to drip back down into the vat. It will make the cleanup process that much easier. Personally I have set prints to run overnight and came back to them hours after they've finished. As long as your printer isn't exposed to sunlight there should be no issues because the resin has no way to cure.

It is now time to use your Anycubic Wash & Cure machine to clean the print. First fill the sealed plastic container with at least two liters of isopropyl alcohol. That amount will ensure that even for larger prints you will be able to completely submerge it as well as the build plate. Place the container onto the machine and ensure it locks into place.

Now we need to move the build plate from the printer to the wash & cure machine. Take the adjustable "S shaped" bracket which is designed to be used with the Photon S and place it on some shop towels in-front of you. You are about to remove the build plate from the printer and it is inevitable that some raw resin will drip from it. Unscrew the red knob of the build plate, remove the build plate from the printer and attach it to the "S shaped" bracket. Lower the build plate into the container you've filled with isopropyl alcohol and attach the bracket to the top of the machine. Adjust the bracket using the black knob so that every part of the build plate that has been touched with raw resin is submerged.

I rewrote the previous paragraph a dozen times because this a very important step that is incredibly hard to describe. If you need some visual help check out this video from Anycubic's YouTube channel:

Once you're certain everything is affixed correctly, place the yellow lid over the machine and flip the power switch. Ensure the "Wash" mode is selected and I recommend setting the time to 6 minutes. You really want to ensure your prints are thoroughly cleaned. When you press the start button the fan at the bottom of the container will start spinning and you should see a powerful vortex being created. This will knock lose all of the raw resin in the crevices of your print and allow it to float to the bottom of the container. Half way through the time the fan will switch directions to really help ensure your print is cleaned.

When the time expires go ahead and remove the lid of the machine and slowly lift the bracket and build plate out of the isopropyl alcohol. Let the build plate hang there for a moment so any remaining alcohol can drip off. Rotating the build plate so each corner is the lowest point speeds up this process. When no more alcohol is dripping transfer the build plate to some shop towels and remove the "S shaped" bracket.

Step 8: Removing the supports

Your build plate and print should now be completely clean but they are still attached to one another. Using the plastic spatula provided with the printer, gently try to pry the print off the build plate. This should not take much force at all. Slide the spatula in-between the print and build plate in a number of different places and it should pop right off. You'll be surprised how easy this actually is. You may find that sliding the spatula under one tiny side is all that it takes so be prepared to catch your print. We don't want any of those fine edges to be damaged.

Let the print sit for two or three minutes so the remaining isopropyl alcohol on it can evaporate. While this is happening double check that your build plate is clean and if there are any blemishes use a bit of isopropyl alcohol on a towel to clean it. Then feel free to reattach it to your printer so the build plate is out of the way.

By now your print should be clean and dry so we can move onto removing any supports it may have. You want to do this before you cure the print because removing the supports after they have cured is a more much arduous process.

The easiest way to remove supports is by hand. Unfortunately it is also the easiest way to damage your print. Be very careful because once you've popped a support off, if you let it snap right back to its previous position it will most likely end up scratching the surface of your print. When you pull off a support you ideally want to break off a part of it entirely so it can never touch your print again.

You can also use the citadel fine detail cutters I recommended you purchase. These are great for not only removing supports from your model but also disconnecting supports from the base so they can be more easily removed by hand.

The biggest problem with removing supports is that no matter how much you read about my experiences or watch dozens of videos on YouTube, there is no way to truly be prepared for this until you try it yourself. Nothing beats hands on learning and you're just going to have to accept that for your first couple of prints you're probably going to make mistakes.

After you've removed all the supports and used the fine detail clippers to eliminate any "hang nails" that are left, it is time to move on to curing the print. Remember that all the supports you've been removing are still technically uncured resin and could be toxic. Ideally you would cure them by leaving them out in the sun for a bit before tossing them and the shop towels you've used into the trash.

Step 9: Curing the print

Thanks to the Anycubic Wash & Cure machine you're now at the simplest step in this whole process.

Attach the glass curing base to the machine, place your print on it, ensure "Cure" mode is selected and the time is set to 6 minutes. Place the lid over the machine and press start. Easy peasy.

If your print is on the larger size or has strange curves or crevices feel free to reposition it and put it through the cure process a second time. It is technically possible to overcure a print but we're talking along the lines of doing it for hours. So basically don't leave your prints out in the sun. Generally speaking 5-15 minutes is all that is needed to properly cure a print.

Once the curing process is complete your print is done! Go ahead and post a picture on Instagram and jump back to step 3 to start this all over again.

Step 10: Cleanup and storage

When you are not going to be printing anything for a day or two it is best to clean up your workspace and put everything into proper storage.

The resin vat is going to be your biggest nuisance so it is what I recommend you tackle first. There will always be leftover resin in the vat and the easiest way to clean it up is to pour it back into the bottle. Take the resin bottle, open it up and place it wherever you are most confident you can clean up a spill, because you're probably going to. For myself that is on-top of some shop towels on the silicon mat I have. Get out one of the paint filters you purchased and then unscrew and remove the resin vat from the printer.

Now we have come to the tricky part. For the love of all that is holy, DO NOT put the filter into the neck of the bottle and let it rest there. If you do, when you pour the resin it will seep out through the paper and run down the side of the bottle leaving you with a fucking horrendous mess to clean up.

The trick is with your non-dominate hand, hold the paint filter so that it is in the neck of the bottle but not touching any sides. With your dominate hand, pick up the resin vat and using the notch in the one corner of the vat, slowly pour the resin back into the bottle. If you do this right the paint will go straight down the filter into the bottle even if it seeps out the sides.

If everything I just wrote is still too difficult to visualize Anycubic has a video on their YouTube channel that I wish I had watched first so I didn't end up cleaning a massive resin spill at 2 am.

See how they don't let the paint filter rest in the bottle until the VERY end! DO THAT!

Once the majority of the resin is back in the bottle use shop towels and isopropyl alcohol to clean up the leftovers. Cure these cleaning materials in the sun for 15 minutes before you throw them out.

Add the resin vat back to printer and store it somewhere out of the sun along with your sealed isopropyl alcohol container.

Wasn't that easy?

Congratulations! You've successfully printed something using an Anycubic Photon S. It wasn't that hard right? 😋

Now that you have the basics down there is still much more to learn. There are dozens of settings in both pieces of software I referenced that you can tweak to get more out of your prints. I have barely touched any of them myself. I am still very much in the beginnings part of my 3D printing journey but I hope this guide helped you overcome any anxieties and allowed you to jump in with both feet.