Formlabs Form 3 Plus 3D Printer Review: Complete Ecosystem Is too Pricey for Hobbyists
What the Form 3 Plus does, it does very well, but its overly technical system might put off the average user.
James BricknellSenior Editor
James has been writing about technology for years but has loved it since the early 90s. While his main areas of expertise are maker tools -- 3D printers, vinyl cutters, paper printers, and laser cutters -- he also loves to play board games and tabletop RPGs.
Expertise3D printers, maker tools such as Cricut style vinyl cutters and laser cutters, traditional paper printersCredentials
6 years working professionally in the 3D printing space / 4 years testing consumer electronics for large websites.
If you've only ever seen a 3D printer in the movies, the ones you've likely seen are made by Formlabs. Their striking orange top and futuristic look make them perfect for the big screen, though in fiction they often perform feats of engineering not possible in the modern world.
The real-world Form 3 Plus from Formlabs looks as impressive in real life, and while it can create major feats of awesomeness, those feats are better off in a business setting, rather than a hobbyist's home workshop.
Because the Form 3 Plus is a resin 3D printer it requires a lot of different hardware to make the final form safe, so setup is an entire procedure in and of itself. Aside from the 3D printer, you also need a way to wash and cure the prints as they come off the build area. 3D-printed resin is toxic when it comes off the printer and first must be washed in isopropyl alcohol and then cured in a UV chamber to make it stable.
The basic Form 3 Plus package comes with a simple wash station -- not much more than two plastic tubs on a stand -- but you would still need to buy a curing chamber. It's a better idea to buy the entire setup, which includes the company's Wash and Cure machines, as they're dialed in to work specifically with the Form resins. That makes the entire bundle a lot more expensive, but if you are using this for your business the investment is worth it.
Formlabs Form 3 Plus specs
Tough, elastic, standard UV
14.5 × 14.5 × 18.5 cm
40.5 × 37.5 × 53 cm
Flexible build plate
The bundle I was sent for review included the Wash and Cure machines, as well as a year's subscription to the Pro service plan. With the plan, I got a Zoom call from an exceptionally nice man who talked me through the components and asked if I needed help with setup. He gave me advice on how to get everything working and I was able to get the machines up and running fairly quickly.
That's not to say everything went smoothly. While all of the components on the Form 3 Plus feel premium -- as they should for the price -- they also feel over-engineered. The mixing arm, for example, connects via magnets to the resin vat and is designed to keep the resin mixed. However, the magnets are often too weak to hold when dealing with thick resins like elastic or rigid, causing them to pull away and break the part. This happened several times until I warmed the entire vat of resin to make it more viscous.
When it comes to quality, it's hard to beat the Formlabs Form 3 Plus. There is a reason Hasbro chose Formlabs to partner with when it created the selfie series of action figures. Having my head printed on a Form 3 Plus and seeing it on an action figure is still one of my favorite things. I used Fotis Mint's Cheyenne Elder bust to see how well the 3D printer captured fine details and while the print didn't quite succeed, the details were excellent. You can see the weave on the jacket and each wrinkle on his wise face. I also printed a miniature version of Minas Tirith from Lord of the Rings and it's detailed enough to see the white tree in the center of the plaza.
To test some of the other materials I printed an Optimus Primal head that was released by Paramount in Elastic 50A. Not only did the print complete perfectly, the elastic material makes it feel tough and durable. It's even bouncy and can be thrown around the room. I was impressed that it was able to print such a flexible material while still maintaining all the delicate details of Optimus Primal's face.
The recently added flexible build plate helps a lot with the removal of these more exotic resins. Just a few quick flexes and every model I tried popped off into the bucket of IPA. I did find the magnets to be incredibly strong, making it hard to release the plate, but you want it to be strong so it doesn't come off midprint. Just make sure you're wearing nitrile gloves to combat the resin splashes.
The amount of materials the Form 3 Plus is capable of using is a huge selling point for any business. From simple resins to rapidly prototype your product, all the way up to wax resins for jewelry and rigid materials for finished pieces, Formlabs has a mixture that's right for the job. And, because all of these resins are made by Formlabs, they're programmed into the Form 3 Plus, Wash and Cure machines so every time you print you have the best chance of getting the best result. Simply following the instructions makes it easier to get the right result every time.
Having proprietary materials is a double-edged sword. Although having everything set up exactly right for the material is great, once you've bought the machine, you are stuck with whatever the company decides to charge for materials from then on. When you compare the prices of resin for the Form 3 Plus to any of the best 3D printers on the market you'll notice a huge disparity. The best 3D-printing resin for a standard resin printer is around $30 a bottle, while Formlabs' most basic resin will set you back $150 for the same amount. Now it may be that Formlabs' resin is better than standard UV, and it certainly has to be different due to the way the Form 3 Plus prints, but five times better? I don't think so.
The entire Form 3 Plus ecosystem is made to give you the best experience start to finish, though the software needs to be updated. Preform -- the software in question -- doesn't let you hollow models or add drain holes, something that is a staple in resin 3D printing. Instead, you're asked to use an external app called Meshmixer. However, Meshmixer hasn't been in active development for years, and every other resin slicer software has that basic function built in.
There's no denying that the Form 3 Plus, along with the Wash and Cure stations, is a fantastic 3D printer. The quality of each model is amazing and with Formlabs' walled-garden approach, you can be sure every part of the process works in tandem. If you have a small-to-medium business trying to create a product that looks exactly the same every time, investing in the Form 3 Plus system makes sense.
For the average user though, who has the chance to own one or two 3D printers in their garage or workshop, it's just too big an expense to justify the extra quality you get.