If you have unique object that you want to bring to life, the Formlabs Form 2 will take care of that. Here's CNET's full review.
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.
Read more: The best 3D printers in 2019 for beginners and budget creators
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 XYZprinting Nobel 1.0, 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.
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 XYZPrinting Nobel 1.0, 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.
|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|
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.
Getting the printer up and running is mostly a simple job, thanks to the large touch screen on the front.
The only tricky part, which is the one thing you have to do, is to get the printer leveled on its four adjustable feet, which is why it's tricky (it's easier to get a plane with three feet.) To help with this, the touchscreen includes a bubble level that visually shows how the printer is positioned. In the end, it took me just about five minutes to get the printer up and running out of the box.
The printer can be connected to a computer via its USB port on the back. It also supports network printing via a network port also on its rear side. Or you can use the touchscreen to connect it to a Wi-Fi network. Whichever way you decide to connect the printer, it's recognized right away on a computer after the software, called PreForm, is installed. You can download the software from FormLabs, which has two versions: one each for Windows and Mac.
The PreForm software is very similar to that of most other printers I've reviewed. It's straightforward and easy to use. Its interface consists of large and self-explanatory buttons that allow you to view and manipulate 3D model files. Once the print command is invoked, depending on the size and complexity of the 3D model, the software takes anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes to transfer the data to the printer. After that, you need to use the printer's touchscreen to select the job you want to print, then push the button to initialize the print process. Once that's done the printer will print on its own, without having to be connected to a computer.
The printer will retain the print jobs you've sent to it. You can always use the touchscreen to scroll between jobs to delete one or to print it again. As you pick a job, the screen even shows a preview image of the 3D object, making it very convenient to know what job you're selecting, in case you can't recognize it by name.
The Form 2 supports standard and popular 3D model files. There's a huge collection of free 3D object models at Thingiverse that you can use, or you can make your own using software, such as SketchUp or Autodesk 123D.
Like the XYZPriting Nobel 1.0, speed isn't the forte of the Form 2. The printer is quite slow, taking about an hour to print an iPhone 5 case, which is about the same as an FFF printer. However, if you print something with thick portions, such as a ball, or a model puppy, the Form 2 will be much slower than an FFF printer. This is because as an SLA printer, it can't hollow out the middle. Instead it prints everything as a solid form.
It's important to note that there will always be residual resin left in the tank after each job and that means if you don't print another job for a long time, you will likely waste that resin. And even if you print frequently, in order to save resin, you will need to get a separate tank for each type and color of resin because there's no way to pour the resin in the tank back into the cartridge.
The Form 2's strength, however, is in its consistency and quality. During a couple of weeks of testing, I never ran into a failed print. In fact, it was very hard to mess up a print job, even when I tried. Once I deliberately tilted the printer during a job; the printer paused the job immediately and prompted me via the touch screen to relevel it. Once the printer was releveled, the job automatically resumed and completed without a hitch.
The Form 2's print quality is superior to that of any 3D printers I've reviewed. Its printed objects look just like those you buy from a store, with a smooth surface and great details. And the fact that it supports special types of resin (tough, castable and flexible) means its prints that can be used in many real-life applications, instead of just something to look at.
Note that you need to clean the object with high-concentration solvent before you can use it, and make sure you use a pair of protective gloves for the job. Generally, using an SLA printer like the Form 2 can get quite messy, so don't use it in your living room but rather in a separate office or workshop.
At $3,500, the Form 2 is too expensive for most users, and the high cost for the resin means you can certainly buy ready-made items from the store for much less. If you've drawn up something unique that you want to make, however, the Form 2 is an excellent machine to literally turn that idea in to reality.
The truth is, until the price of 3D printing comes down, the only reason to get a 3D printer is because you have something specific to make; something you can't necessarily buy, such as a customized set of chess pieces or the logo of your own business. And among all 3D printers I've reviewed, the Form 2 is actually the first that shares the same level of reliability and consistency as most regular non-3D printers. On top of that, its print quality is unmatched by any other 3D printer in its price range. I've seen other printers that can print even higher quality objects, but they're also significantly more expensive.
That said, if you can live with print quality a notch lower, there are other 3D printers that also work quite well and don't dig a hole (or at least, will dig a smaller one) in your pocket, such as the Da Vinci Jr, the Da Vinci AiO 1.0 or the 3D System Cube 3. These FFF printers are much cheaper than the Form 2. And if an SLA printer is what you want, also consider Nobel 1.0. It's not as good, but it's also $2,000 cheaper than the Form 2.