Christmas came early for me this year when a big box got dropped off on my doorstep a week ago. It was the Form 2 3D printer that Formlabs are nice enough to let me test out. First I got giddy, then I got busy... printing.
Now it is no secret we have worked closely with Formlabs throughout the years. That being said, I intend to give you my absolute, non-sugar-coated, honest-to-goodness opinion of my experiences with it so far. Hopefully I won't need to eat my own words in a month, but as of now, I believe that the Form 2 is going to change everything we demand from SLA 3D Printing.
You may ask "Is its predecessor - the Form 1+ - a bad printer?" No, not at all. Three years ago, the Form 1 was the spark that inspired Ed and I to create Mold3D in the first place. But it's clear that Formlabs had a vision that was bigger than simply improving the Form 1+. They made a whole different machine. I can sit here all day listing off specs on how this printer is better,faster,stronger, but I want focus on my artistic perspective on using the Form 2. My testing has gone on for a week straight, with non-stop printing. Simply put, I am in love with 3D Printing again.
Do I still have to deal with chemicals?
Lets get the basic downsides out of the way real quick. SLA is still messy post-print, we still have to deal with isopropanol baths and resin still slowly works itself around your work-space. You will still have some excess support material as waste. Lastly, you will still need to find a good place with moderate climate to place your Form 2 and not have cats slurping up resin. This kills the cat.**
Are there any negatives, or is this a fluff piece?
Yes, there are, but I am a bit surprised to be honest. I expected a much rockier start. It is a beta printer. Given that, I experienced very little trouble getting up and running with this printer. Going through a full Liter of resin in 5 days with a zero failure rate and only minor annoyances. But to be completely objective, I am disclosing any problems that I came across. Just remember the fact this is a Beta Printer with Beta Software so these issues may not be around when the printer hits the market,
- WiFi - It is a bit unstable at the moment, It worked flawlessly for my first few prints, but now seems to drop connection. Formlabs is aware of this issue and is putting out updates weekly.
- Noise - The printer is significantly louder than the Form1+. It is not nearly as bad as a FDM 3D Printer, but I still had problems working near the machine. I think the unit just needs some grease in the Z Axis rod and it will be only a touch louder than the Form 1+. Formlabs informs me that they are actively working on making the unit quieter overall, but when and how effective they will be with that is up in the air.
- Software - There were a few crashes, some of my models wouldn't generate supports automatically, some models wouldn't repair automatically. Many of these issues might be due to the software being in beta, as everything but the automatic repair seemed to be specific to the Beta Preform.
- Startup Time - Anyone moving from a Form 1+ to the Form 2 will notice a significant time increase to launch a print job. This is largely due to the resin heating up to a toasty 30 degrees C until it starts. Also, if your tray is brand new, and the printer is filling it for the first time, expect to wait a bit. Formlabs has mentioned that they are working on making this faster, but hey, if having this be a needed thing to ensure perfect prints, it is time well spent.
I guess the cool thing about being one of the first people to review the unit, I get to plug what my wishlist items are for the world to see. I know that my needs are very specific, but hey, this is my post dammit!
- Mobile App - I would love to get status updates on the go. An alert to when I need to replace a resin cartridge mid print, or an alert to let me know the print is nearly finished. Snap chatting with my Form 2 would be cool.
- More Support Control - I would like to have more control over start and stop points of internal supports. Along with reducing the diameter of the minimum support size. I know this printer can do support contact points at .2mm, let me have it!
- Dropbox / Cloud Access - I know this is a strange one, but I would love to just launch Preform Jobs directly from a shared Dropbox Folder / cloud drive. Having to upload the file from a computer on the same network to the printer network is nice, but not the future in my opinion.
- Peel System - The new sliding peel system is infinitely better then the previous one, but I still do hear popping sounds on larger prints. That said, I don't think this has had any significant effect on quality, or at least nothing I can pinpoint yet. Overall it is not something I like hearing.
Okay, now for the nitty-gritty.
SLA 3D Printing with a photopolymer is ridiculously messy. It sucks to handle, it smells and it gets everywhere. I hate working with loose materials because there are just too many variables. Loose resin is one of the main barriers to making many SLA 3D Printers consumer friendly. With the new cartridge system (no, this is nothing like your HP printer), you pay the same price in material as its predecessor and drop it into the back slot. You then open the vent hole in the top of the resin cartridge and the Form 2 will begin to fill the resin vat with only the resin it needs -never overfilling. It will also continuously fill resin vat as it is printing - eliminating the need to check in on the print. If the machine does run out of resin mid print, it will pause and then you simply pop in a new cartridge to continue the job. With the old cartridges, you simply recycle them. I think with this system you will end up wasting much less material - and spilling less. You will no longer be meticulously filling materials and somehow still dripping resin inside of your printer. Even more importantly, you will no longer go to bed worried that your printer will run out of resin mid-print (yes, that happens to me on many occasions) This system just works and I could not be happier.
Failures happen. That said, I have yet to have one with the Form 2. That is not to say that it won't happen. But what is amazing is this new wiper/peel system makes prints almost always recover even if they do fail in an un-supported area. With most (even the Form1+) SLA printers, if there are any pieces of resin or any debris left in or on the resin tank bottom before the next layer cures. It will block the subsequent layer from printing, and so on. This effect will result in entire missing portions of a 3D Print.
The past week I have been 3D Printing some very complicated, large and detailed things. Prints that, on paper, technically shouldn’t print. Looking back, printing on my Form1+ always caused me stress. I never really trusted that my print would succeed. Many times, the machine would work flawlessly, but then I would have streaks of failures or quality issues with the part. With having this printer a week and using up 1L of resin and counting, I have had a 100% success rate, and that impresses the hell out of me. These are not curated models, these are real, models right out of ZBrush from myself and some friends/collaborators. This thing just does not stop printing which is amazing in my book. My fear of 3D Printing due to so many failures (I have had a LOT) is gone (for now...).
Some Un-Touched 3D Prints from the past week.
From the moment you open the box, launch the software and kick off your first 3D Print, the Form 2 feels professional and most importantly, predictable (even as a Beta Product). The Wi-Fi printing (when working), multiple printer support, smarter and more accurate automatic supports (which use MUCH less material), touchscreen panel are all elements that make this far from a typical incremental upgrade. In short, this is not your typical technology refresh that you would get for things like iPhones. From beginning to end, the process and experience is not only more streamlined, it is much more reliable than what it was.
Okay, fine. I will talk about the details. What can I say, it is SLA 3D Printing! It has 25 micron blah blah. We should know by now it is the standard for great looking 3D Prints. My observation is that you can expect slightly better edge detail and overall sharper print detail from the Form 2. It has a smaller laser spot size, so your cross sectional silhouette detail will be improved. It won't be DLP good, but this printer can print large and retain the detail objects at the same time (unlike a typical DLP 3D Printer). The question everyone is asking though, can you still see the layer lines? The short answer is yes. But to be fair, even on $50,000 3D Printers you can see the layer lines. It is just part of the current technology. But I will say, that this printer is significantly more consistent with the layer lines and that is very important. It makes the surface cleanup much easier. You won't be fighting random print errors or gaps nearly as much which really makes me enjoy working with the resin surface again. Check out the macro photos below.
These are all un-touched photographic macro photos of a 50 μm print.
To be real, we all would like to have 3D Prints come out perfect with absolutely no layer lines and no support artifacts. As you may notice, regardless of how good the print quality is, I always finish my prints with some sort of post-process. It is all about the end product and I enjoy working with sanding tools and primers to produce a piece that I can be proud of and show well. That said, I have had the good fortune to compare the raw surfaces output of many printers that cost tens-of-thousands. Although not a $50,000 machine, I would consider the reliability and consistently high-quality output of the Form 2 to be vastly superior to others in its own class/price tier. Consistently producing fully cured, bubble free, high-quality surfaces from top to bottom, regardless of print size makes life in the post-process a breeze. In short, what you do once you have the print is, in my opinion, equally important. Resin is a great material to work with. You can sand it, buff it, paint it, carve it and patch it, and in the worst case, re-print it!
In closing, this is how SLA 3D printing should be. The Form 2 is the first truly consumer-ready desktop SLA 3D Printer.
-Robert Vignone, @Polysculpture
**no cats where harmed during the 3D printing process,