With the release of the Form 2, Formlabs has taken all they have learned and released a machine that is set to keep them on top.
Today, Formlabs announced Form 2, a larger machine with a bigger build volume and new technical innovations. It’s not just an iteration, but a reimagining of the printer that brought stereolithography (SLA) printing to the desktop. It’s priced at $3499 and, unlike their initial release, will not be Kickstarted.
Make: magazine was invited to Formlabs’ headquarters earlier this month to test out a beta version of the Form 2; this is our full review of the brand new device from the upcoming Ultimate Guide to Desktop Manufacturing in our November issue of Make:.
LEADING THE PACK
Reading the updates to the Form 2 felt like someone had been spying on conversations I had had about issues with SLA printers. It’s rare that a next-generation product release looks at so many issues — not only those affecting their first generation, but the industry as a whole — and incorporates so many fixes without needless and unwanted extra features.
The most obvious change to the Form 2 is the increased build volume, growing from 125x125x165mm on the Form 1/1+ to 145×145×175mm. The team realized that, since many products we use on a daily basis are tactile and handheld, the new machine had to be able to produce hand-sized objects. While we will almost always want more build space, the new volume feels like a good compromise between that and having a machine you would have a hard time calling a “desktop” printer.
REFRESHED, UNTETHERED MECHANICS
The mechanics of the Form 2 have also been upgraded. A horizontal slide peel, combined with a vat wiper to remove debris, has replaced the original hinged peel (the method of separating new layers from the bottom of the resin vat). The Form 2 possesses a more powerful laser and new custom galvanometers for faster cure times and greater precision. It keeps these new components dust- and resin-free by placing a protective glass plate between the electronics, lasers, mirrors, and the outside world.
Earlier Formlabs machines forced users to connect their laptop to the printer via USB, upload a file, and then unplug the computer once the print has finished uploading. While this didn’t tie you to the machine permanently, it wasn’t optimal. The Form 2 is now connected to your network via either Ethernet or WiFi. (Don’t worry, USB is still there if you want it). Once files are uploaded to the printer via Formlabs PreForm software, the user can select the file they wish to print from the machine’s onboard library using the beautiful built-in touchscreen.
With its wireless functionality, the Form 2 can also connect to the web, and users can check the status of the printer from anywhere. With the ability to log print data, these web tools will surely become one of the machine’s most useful aspects for makerspaces where the Form 2 will be shared by multiple users.
The Formlabs team has also introduced a new resin system, bottles that slide into the back of the Form 2. The bottles, which range from $149 – $299 each, are chipped, so the printer can recognize what type of resin is being installed and keep track of how much is left in the bottle. The vat is then automatically filled with a unique mechanical system that leaves no moving parts or tubes in contact with the actual resin. Of course, because chipped proprietary materials can throw up red flags, Formlabs also includes an “open” mode. This won’t allow for auto filling of the vat, but a user can pour in any resin they want and get on with the print.
HIGH QUALITY, HANDS DOWN
While at the Formlabs offices, I ran a few copies of the SLA torture-test rook, as we’ve done on other resin-printing machines in the past. The print quality from the Form 2 is what we would expect from any Formlabs machine at this point: high-quality SLA prints that run circles around filament-based prints (although resin prints still show some level of artifacting from those made with more expensive laser sintering processes).
The machine I had a chance to play with was an early beta version; Formlabs is striving to make the print quality even better by the time it is in full production.
WHY TO BUY
The upgraded build volume, self-filling resin vat, and Wi-Fi printing keeps Formlabs on the top of the SLA pack.
When ordering alternative resin formulations, be sure to order extra vats too. This will prevent cross contamination and make swapping faster.
If you are looking to get into the SLA game, the Form 2 is the flagship product to get. You can definitely get started at a lower cost, but the feature list of the Form 2 is currently unbeatable and is especially powerful for collaborative environments.