You want a great 3D printer? First off, make sure you have a good specific reason for one, like the need to make something that you can't buy. Secondly, be prepared to spend a lot of cash.
The Formlabs Form 2 is a prime example of an all-around good 3D printer. At $3,500 or £2,449, this is quite an investment. (Formlabs will ship to Australia from its international store, where the Form 2 costs the equivalent of AU$5,740.) On top of that, the print material, a liquid called resin, starts at $149 per one-liter cartridge (about 1kg or 2 pounds) and isn't cheap. In addition, as a stereolithography (SLA) printer, the Form 2 can only print solid forms with no ability to hollow out the thick parts of prints. This means it uses more material compared with the more popular and affordable fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printers. So yeah, it's costly.
In return, the printer worked well in my tests and was consistently reliable. It was also flexible -- supporting USB, wired network and Wi-Fi -- and easy to use with a large, helpful touchscreen. What's more, it includes a Finish Kit that comes in handy when cleaning the printed objects. (All SLA prints need to be cleaned before use.)
Despite its cost, the Forms 2 is easily one of the best 3D printers I've used, with excellent performance -- albeit a bit slow -- and stellar print quality. Sure, you can find cheaper 3D printers, such as the XYZprinting da Vinci Jr. or the , but you'll also have to deal with a downgrade in the quality of the prints. The Form 2 consistently delivers high-quality prints. Just make sure you really have a specific need for it. For more options, check out this article on other 3D printers we've reviewed.
Stereolithography 3D printing technology
The FormLabs Form 2 is the second SLA 3D printer I've worked with. Though it's a big step up from the first, the, it shares the same 3D printing technology called stereolithography (SLA). This technology is completely different from another popular 3D printing technique, called fused filament fabrication (FFF).
With FFF, the printer builds an object layer by layer from the bottom up on the print platform, similarly to icing a cake or using caulking. With SLA, however, the printer's print platform dips itself into a container full of liquid resin and slowly pulls up a solid 3D object, upside down. More specifically, as the print platform lowers itself into the resin glass tank, an ultraviolet laser light, from underneath the see-through tank, shines on it. (For this reason, SLA is sometimes called the laser 3D-printing technology.) Exposed to the laser light, the resin cures, solidifies and sticks to the platform. As more resin is exposed to the laser light, the pattern is created and joins the layer above. As more and more layers are being created, the build platform slowly -- very slowly -- moves upward, finally pulling the entire object out of the tank as the print process is finished.
Another big difference between FFF and SLA 3D printing is that, while FFF produces a lot of heat during a print job (which is required to melt the plastic filament), SLA remains cool the whole time. Instead, you have to deal with the sticky resin, which can be messy. Also, while an FFF 3D object is ready to be used as soon as it's through printing, an SLA 3D object needs to be washed with strong solvent (75 percent or higher alcohol) afterwards; otherwise, it will remain wet (and sticky) for weeks.
To help with the cleanup, the Form 2 is bundled with a Finish Kit that includes enough tools for the job.
Formlabs Form2 3D printer specs
|Technique:||SLA (Stereolithography Apparatus)|
|Printer dimensions:||13.5 × 13 × 20.5 inches (35 × 33 × 52 cm)|
|Weight:||13 pounds (28kg)|
|Light source:||EN 60825-1:2007 certified Class 1, 405nm, 250mW violet laser|
|Connectivity:||USB wire, Ethernet, Wi-Fi|
|Build size:||5.7 × 5.7 × 6.9 inches (145 × 145 × 175 mm)|
|Power requirements:||100–240 V|
|Layer thickness:||0.001, 0.002, 0.004, 0.008 inches (25, 50, 100, 200 microns)|
|Print material:||Photopolymer resin|
|Resin cartridge capacity:||1 liter|
|Operating system:||Windows 7 or later, Mac OS X 10.7 or later|
|File types:||STL, OBJ, FORM|
Excellent design, expensive resin
The Form 2 comes mostly preassembled and looks like a rectangle box standing upward. Like most SLA 3D printers, it has a large see-through orange plastic hood on top that keeps its resin tank from the the outside world during a print job. This hood is attached to the printer, but you can easily open it up to access the inside.
Out of the box, you just need to open the hood, install the included print platform, resin tank (which is directly under the print platform) and resin cartridge; the printer is now complete. The Form2 is well-designed; all of its parts snap into its body quite easily. During a print job, the printer automatically detects the type of resin and draws it from the cartridge to fill the resin tank before the print platform lowers itself into the tank as the base for the resin to adhere to.
The printer includes one print platform, one resin tank and one resin cartridge. If you just want to print one type of resin, there's no need to get an extra resin tank. However, if you plan to print multiple types of resin, or resin of different colors, it's a better idea to get an extra resin tank (and even an extra print platform) for each resin type/color. This is because you don't want to mix resin types and colors together (which would lead to undesirable print results) and since the resin is very sticky, it takes a long time to clean the parts. Not only that, but cleaning the tank is not recommended since you might accidentally scratch its bottom which will interfere with the laser beam during a print job.
Formlabs sells extra resin tanks for $60 each and the resin cartridges costs between $150 and $300 each, depending on the type, be it regular, tough, castable or flexible. Considering each cartridge contain 1 liter of resin (about 2 pounds, or 1kg, worth of material), in addition to the high initial cost, the Form 2 is also quite expensive to use over time.