The Next Generation - But A Step Backwards
Hi everyone, Justin here from Gilded Lion Miniatures. In the next three months we are going to be seeing the release of quite a few exciting resin 3d printers. I've been running a Phrozen Sonic Mini 4k for a while now to get ultra high detailed prints and remove any aliasing on my prints I sell here at gildedlionminiatures.com. I love this machine with a passion, but it's small screen size makes me wishing for a printer with a similar XY resolution. Some exciting new printers I've seen are the Elegoo Mars 3, the Massive Phrozen Sonic Mega 8k, the Epax E10-5k, and a printer I'd really like to try out and review - the Longer Orange 4k.
Why Screen Resolution Isn't the Full Story
About a year ago, we saw Phrozen release the Phrozen Sonic Mini 4k much earlier then other similar-sized printers. Around that same time we saw the release of the Elegoo Saturn, the Anycubic Mono X (I really want to try out this printer too!), the Epax E10, and other medium-sized printers, that I may have mentioned in my last blog post around that time. All of these printers at had a 4K screen, but all of the above with the exception of the Phrozen Sonic Mini 4k were a larger printer.
Bigger means better right?
... Well not necessarily. Often times in resin printed minis, we run into a situation called aliasing. Aliasing, for those unfamiliar with it, can show up on a variety of prints as small circular artifacts on the printer. You can actually see an example of this on one of the items on my store - this amazing centaur model:
As you can see, near the bottom of the model are various circular artifacts. These can be mitigated with a large printer in a variety of ways, I prefer to use the anti-aliasing setting on larger figurines (I use anti-aliasing x8 in Lychee Slicer). Another way to mitigate aliasing I've found is to rotate your model depending on the layer height. This is helpful, but aliasing will still show up on parts of the model occasionally. In the above model, I fixed the issue by increasing by aliasing to 16x and rotating the model.
The Problem with Anti-Aliasing
Anti-aliasing sounds like a great solution to mitigate aliasing (it has ANTI-aliasing in the name!). It is great! However, due to the nature of anti-aliasing, you "smooth" off the edge pixels, which technically results in duller detail. This is fine for 75mm and 100mm miniatures, but when you a printing a small 28mm Dungeons and Dragons figurine, you can lose a decent amount of detail with anti-aliasing.
The Better Solution - Increasing Resolution and XY Resolution
So now, the meat and potatoes. Anti-aliasing is a great solution with some tradeoffs. However, we can reduce the impact of aliasing on prints by increasing our printer's screen resolution, and more importantly it's pixel density. What is pixel density? A quick reference to wikipedia:
"Pixels per inch (ppi) and pixels per centimetre (ppcm or pixels/cm) are measurements of the pixel density of an electronic image device, such as a computer monitor or television display, or image digitizing device such as a camera or image scanner. Horizontal and vertical density are usually the same, as most devices have square pixels, but differ on devices that have non-square pixels. Note that pixel density is not the same as resolution, where the former describes the amount of detail on a physical surface or device, while the latter resolution describes the amount of pixel information regardless of its scale. Considered in another way, a pixel has no inherent size or unit (a pixel is actually a sample), but when it is printed, displayed, or scanned, then the pixel has both a physical size (dimension) and a pixel density (ppi)."
- Wikipedia - Pixel Density
So essentially, what we really care about here is what is the screen resolution AND what is the size of the screen? This is where the most valuable metric comes in - XY Resolution / Density. The reason why I run most of my prints on my Phrozen Sonic Mini 4k is it's incredibly high XY Resolution. The higher the XY resolution, the smaller each pixel is, resulting in more detail, and less aliasing.
Here's a quick ranking of XY Resolution from the printers I've mentioned:
1. *Longer Orange 4k (6840 x 3840 pixels) - 31.5 µm X and 10.5 µm subpixel
2. Phrozen Soni Mini 4k (3840 x 2160 pixels) - 35 µm
2. Upcoming Elegoo Mars 3 (4098 x 2560 pixels) - 35 µm
3. Upcoming Phrozen Sonic Mega 8k (pixels not provided) - 43 µm
4. Tied - Anycubic Mono X (3840 x 2400 pixels) - 50 µm
4. Tied - Elegoo Saturn 4K (3840 x 2400 pixels) - 50 µm
As you can see, the Longer Orange 4k wins here. Longer is also advertising a 10.5 "subpixel" process which they are claiming should result in smoother prints. I really want to see this in action.
As you can see "4k" can mean a lot of things here. The amount of pixels here is not consistent, and screen size is also a very large factor. That's why you should always be prioritizing XY resolution when wanting the most detailed prints. If you want larger prints, then consider getting one of the medium sized printers, or if you want BIG prints, checkout the Phrozen Sonic Mega 8k.
The Big Problem - Chitu and Locked Down Printers
So, all of these printers may seem like a great buy, however as of the past 2 months, the resin printer board provider, Chitu, has been locking down all newly released printers. This means that they are forcing users to use the Chitubox slicing software. I personally do all of my resin prints with Lychee Slicer, a fantastic product. Chitu is giving all printers a 1 year free license to "chitubox pro" which will expire after a year and will be priced at $169 a year. This to me is insane. Currently Lychee Slicer has Lychee Pro which is a $30 / year. Lychee Slicer also has a free version, but I've found it worth the $30 to support the incredible dev team (that's actually transparent about their dev process!), and receive fantastic features. So, I am biased towards Lychee Slicer naturally. But I do not like being forced into using a (in my opinion) inferior software product in Chitubox. Chitubox is slow on my desktop and crashes fairly often and I can't even run it on my Mac Mini. Lychee is fast on my Desktop, reliable, and can also run on my Mac Mini.
Anyways, the real issue here is most of these new printers come with the chituboard so I cannot use Lychee slicer. Epax E10 5k owners were surprised to see their new resin printers were locked down upon receiving them. Chitu is practing some very hazardous business practices and I don't want any printer that uses a new Chitu board for this very reason. Chitu is saying that we can do our supports in Lychee and then export those as STL's... but that is a lot of additional work just to use an inferior product. I will continue to support Lychee Slicer's dev team, and my next resin printer will be one that can run Lychee Slicer.
So, here's a list of printers that are not locked down:
- Longer Orange 4k (Longerwarea / Lychee / Chitubox)
- Phrozen Sonic Mini 4k
- Elegoo Saturn
- Anycubic Mono X
The locked-to-chitubox printers:
- Phrozen Sonic Mega 8k
- Elegoo Mars 3
- upcoming Elegoo Jupiter
- Epax E10 5k
So, I want to continue to increase my store's print quality. I want to to be able to print larger models, like the centaur pictured above, but without the aliasing artifacts. Initially I was hoping to get the Phrozen Sonic Mega 8k and Elegoo Mars 3 to help fix this issue, but both are locked down to chitubox. My Phrozen Sonic Mini 4k is still holding up well and great for small prints, but I would love to keep that same XY resolution at a larger print size.
Call to Action
So please, if you are interested in any of these printers, reach out to the manufacturers, post of facebook, send emails asking why these boards are locked down. If the Elegoo Mars 3 was unlocked and available in Lychee Slicer today I would buy it immediately. Supposedly chitu is working on an SDK as we speak to let other slicers use this, but lets hold them accountable to that.
Also, shameless plug, but if you would like my to review your resin printer, send me a message! There's a lot of smaller resin printers out there that aren't getting much attention, hopefully we can spread the knowledge to find the best purchases for all of us.