Formlabs was established in the world of precision 3D printers in a few years due to the spectacular fundraising revenue they achieved on Kickstarter for the Form 1. Then they developed the Form1+, correcting the early defects of the first model, and now the Form2 is their flagship model.
I have tried this brand new model marketed as improving the print quality, the reliability of the process and simplifying the management on a daily basis. Being an owner of a Form1 and then a Form1+ since its beginnings, I will present this new printer but also the differences and evolutions between the two models for you to decide if it would be beneficial to switch to the new model. Do not hesitate to read the full hands-on Form1+ (in french).
Update on September 15th: English translation and update of the content after several months of use.
I use the printer to print figurines, scanned models and prototype-like models, with a slightly more focus on jewelry, product design and even functional parts. Above all, I care for the detail accuracy and the surface finish. That is why I have quickly turned to the Formlabs printer for the SLA and the Ultmaker 2+ Extended for the FDM.
The Form 2 tested was graciously on loan by Formlabs. Since then, I have bought my own printer. This post describes my use of the Form2 for several months.
Overview of SLA 3D printing and Formlabs printers
Without going into the details, it is important to understand some techniques and basic 3D printing jargon, especially if you are not an industry specialist.
There are two categories of affordable 3D “desktop” printing techniques: FDM, which consists of melting a plastic wire along a precise path, and SLA, which consists of curing a photosensitive resin by passing a laser beam along an even more precise path. The DLP is a variant of the SLA that uses a video projector instead of a laser to cure the resin.
FDM has the advantage of being permissive on 3D models and the 3D printing process with inexpensive consumables and affordable printers. On the other hand, the printing quality and most importantly, the precision can be quite different from those offered by the SLA.
SLA is a technique that often offers a very high precision and an excellent surface finish, but printers are more expensive, as are the consumables, and you have to be very meticulous about preparing your 3D model. These printers are less permissive on the preparation of models.
In the end, deciding of which printing technique to use depends on the purpose of your prints. If you want to get introduced to the world of 3D printing and print basic parts without breaking the bank, without too many constraints or print large (or very large!) parts, the FDM is perfect for you. However, if you want to achieve precise and quality finish surfaces despite all the difficulties, go for SLA.
The best choice is to learn to use both: FDM is perfect for making "draft" prints and SLA is rather suited to making final/production models (my choice).
Packaging and contents
The Form2 packaging is heavy and there is much more boxes than for the Form1. The cardboard is very thick with all the contents inside in order to protect the printer during transportation which is for me important as in France, delivery services don't really care of the packages.
The box contains all what you need to get started, namely:
- The printer.
- The printer.
- 1L of resin of the type chosen when ordering.
- The build platform.
- A resin tank.
- A support to hold the build platform while peeling the prints off.
- Cleaning baskets to clean the prints.
- Miscellaneous tools (spatula, precision pliers, cutting pliers and special spatula to peel prints off).
- Protective gloves.
- Pec-Pad and antistatic cloth to clean the optical section of the printer.
You will only need to buy IPA alcohol for cleaning and top price paper towels in large quantities. Think of buying IPA alcohol in advance as it is difficult to find in reasonable quantities and price depending of the country you are located, and the delivery time can block you from doing your first productions.
Keep your boxes where possible, you will need them in case of returns.
The Form2 is an evolution of the Form1+’s process and similar characteristics are found on paper. It is extremely important to think beyond these figures. You will therefore find some remarks added to some specifications.
- Build volume: 145mm horizontal x 145mm depth x 175mm length, it is bigger than the Form1+, but you will soon need bigger. However, I was able to print a part that is 190mm high by putting it at an angle. This increase in size is still significant, especially if you are accustomed to printing large parts.
- Laser: 250mW - twice as powerful as the Form 1+’s and the laser spot is more precise. This affects the final quality, which is noticeable.
- Power: 65W - Unlike the 3D printing using FDM that consumes power, the SLA is less demanding in terms of power.
- Resin: 1L cartridges with microchips - But not to worry, you can also use other compliant resins!
- Interface: Touch Panel- With large, very nice and intuitive color screen.
- Connectivity: USB, Ethernet and Wi-Fi - You can also manage several printers through the software. A delight.
- Printer management software: PreForm. Proprietary, very intuitive and ergonomic solution that is used on all Formlabs printers.
At a glance
The Form2 is massive compared to its little sister, but it fits onto a desk, next to a computer without clashing. Its little sister, Form1+, already offered an exemplary finish, but here there is a strong feeling that Formlabs learned a lot from the past and that we have on hands the fruit of several years of experience. It all gives a breath of confidence and strength.
Placed next to the Form1+, the latter looks very small and "simple". Caution, the Form2 is not "complicated", but the addition of the touch screen and the different layer change system give the look of a professional product. In addition, this professional look is what impresses me most, especially that I have the old model, and the difference is noticeable even in the cleaning kit which is very well engineered.
Before plugging in your printer, it is necessary to determine a location for its installation. It is recommended not to move your machine too often. Front access is also needed to replace the resin cartridges, replace the tanks and remove your prints. However, the Form2 does not require a large space and a corner on the desktop would be quite enough, although a dedicated location is preferred. Note that the resin has a slight odor that is not disturbing, but a ventilated place is highly recommended.
Now it is time to plug in the printer and connect it to the computer. Unlike the little sister, no transformer is needed and a regular power cord is enough.
Another important step before your first print is to upgrade the machine. Since the printer handles liquid, the machine should be level. The procedure is again very easy: a horizontal line appears on the screen, you simply need to turn the feet with a dedicated accessory so that the spot representing the zero is positioned at the center of a circle.
You can connect to a computer in three different ways: via USB, Wi-Fi and Ethernet. First, you need to install the PreForm software, available for download on the Formlabs website. The software will install the printer drivers. Once this is done, connect the printer and the software in USB will automatically detect it.
To connect via Wi-Fi, simply add the network to the printer and enter the password. The touch screen of the machine is a big plus and the operation takes only a few moments. The PreForm software also recognizes the printer connected to the network. I have really been impressed with the simplicity of the process compared to other devices.
Now that the printer is connected and recognized by the software, simply insert the resin tank, its "squeegee" (the wiper) and the resin cartridge.
To insert the tank, drag and snap it into place. This action requires a lot of force and is quite challenging, and given the price of the printer, we are always afraid of breaking something. Removing the tank is just as difficult and requires as much force...
A squeegee (wiper) is provided with the tank. It is a moving part that can be used to mix the resin, aerate the silicone at the bottom and remove small bits of prints leftovers from the silicone section. The placement is again tricky because you also have to apply force to insert, and my first squeegee did not work really well without passing it repeatedly. The tank insertion and the squeegee are some of the weak points of the printer because these tasks can be very challenging for some people. With use, you get used to it and everything goes smoothly, but it always requires a lot of attention.
Finally, for the resin, simply remove the protective cover, open the flap on the cartridge cap, and slide it to the back of the printer cover. You do not have to fill the tank with resin manually, as the machine will do it automatically.
Also, note that the printer offers a system to detect the resin tank and the resin cartridge, so you know which one is loaded. This allows you to monitor resin usage and avoid choosing a wrong cartridge with a wrong resin tank.
Before starting the first print, it may be necessary to update the firmware of the printer. This can be done via the printer if it is connected via Wi-Fi or by downloading the file and then uploading it to the machine. Nothing fancy!
Resin cartridges and compliant resins
Proprietary consumables are quite angering for a large number of people. I have also been surprised when the printer was announced because I use several resin brands with my Form1+ (MadeSolid, etc...). With proprietary resin cartridges, goodbye the other resins... However, that is not true!
Formlabs allows you to unlock some features of the printer to let you fill the resin tank manually. This also enables the user to use alternative resins. After many years of use, I have switched to the official resins despite their higher price as they offer better results (reliability, quality, access to the support, etc.)
It is important to note that when using the printer in "Open Mode", i.e. without the original cartridges, the squeegee is deactivated and the resin is not being heated. It is sad because I had to switch to this mode to use resins of my Form1+, so official, that were not available as cartridges.
Preparing the first print - The PreForm software
For your first print job, I strongly advise you to pick a model that is easy to print without much detail, especially if you are new to SLA. You may get seriously disappointed if your first print fails. First, you need to get your 3D file perfectly prepared: with a great topology, a good size management, and empty it if necessary to save resin.
Now simply send your 3D model to the printer management software, PreForm. This software is developed by Formlabs and is not an open-source solution. Since its development, the software has always evolved in the right direction with many improvements and regular updates, and is now at the stage of maturity. It is obvious to Formlabs that the software aspect is as important as the hardware aspect and that is what also makes the success of their printers.When loading the 3D file into PreForm, your model is scanned and if any topology issues are detected, a repair will be attempted. As a rule, the result has no faults. Otherwise, your model may have serious structural issues and you should go back to the 3D software to fix that. Note that the repair tool is based on NetFabb, a leader in the industry.
When loading the 3D file into PreForm, your model is scanned and if any topology issues are detected, a repair will be attempted. As a rule, the result has no faults. Otherwise, your model may have serious structural issues and you should go back to the 3D software to fix that. Note that the repair tool is based on NetFabb, a leader in the industry.
The next step is to orient the model and then generate the supports. These "pillars" will be used to support the 3D print (to counteract gravity) and make the printing process more reliable. Supports are always tricky to handle, because if misplaced, they can leave unsightly marks on your surfaces or simply cause the print to fail.
Supports handling is the most challenging part of the 3D printing process and even more the SLA, which is, due to its precision, a less permissive technology. However, I (strongly) prefer to handle supports in SLA rather than FDM prints, simply because the SLA is less sensitive to overhang areas. SLA has also the advantage of small contact area of the supports, which makes them easier to rework in post-production.PreForm features tools that help you optimize your model and automatically generate supports. In many cases, this works well, but for a highly detailed and precise model like the ones generated with ZBrush, it may be important to orient the model and control all the supports yourself. Preform offers very convenient tools to check individual layers, add and remove supports and resize the contact points. I strongly advise you to verify - before each print - all the layers individually. Better to lose 30 min of verification than to lose a print.
PreForm features tools that help you optimize your model and automatically generate supports. In many cases, this works well, but for a highly detailed and precise model like the ones generated with ZBrush, it may be important to orient the model and control all the supports yourself. Preform offers very convenient tools to check individual layers, add and remove supports and resize the contact points. I strongly advise you to verify - before each print - all the layers individually. Better to lose 30 min of verification than to lose a print.
Once supports are in place, the model is positioned on the virtual build platform. Simply click on the print button, choose the printer if you have more than one and let the software send the file to the machine. Once the transfer is complete, the printer will do the rest.
Now that the 3D file is ready, the printer is level, the build platform, the resin cartridge and tank are ready, you can start the printing process. The printer notifies you when the model is loaded and you simply need to confirm by pressing the single button to start.
Now, we have to wait. The start of the first print was (very) long because the printer heats the printing environment and the resin to 31°C and this takes a lot of time. In addition, the filling of the tank by the automatic system is very (very) slow. It all took at least 30 minutes. A recent firmware update makes this process faster by detecting the use of the printer and therefore, launching the preheat sooner.
I also had notifications from the printer that there was a problem with the refill. It was due to the resin cartridge valve not opening enough. Therefore, without this valve issue, the initial fill of the tank is a little faster and if your tank is already filled, the process takes only the heating time. If you are in a hurry, it is possible to start printing even if the resin has not reached the optimum temperature (31°C).
I have experienced this small issue of the resin not flowing enough or not flowing at all in the tank with all cartridges. Therefore, it is necessary to turn the cartridge and pinch the valve to release the flow of resin... without having resin everywhere. Having this in mind, it is not a big problem, but when you first use it, one starts wondering. In addition, once the resin is loaded and heated to the proper temperature, the squeegee makes a few runs to mix it well, the build platform goes down into the tank, and the laser begins to cure the resin.
The creation of the first layer takes a lot of time, mainly to improve the grip on the platform. This is a critical part of the process that is well known to 3D printer users. Once the layer is finished, the resin tank performs a lateral movement to peel the freshly printed silicone layer located at the bottom of the tank off, then a vertical movement of the build platform allowing the passage of the squeegee. This step is called “peeling”.
The squeegee plays a very important role: besides mixing the resin, it allows to remove any residues at the bottom of the tank, which often causes prints to fail (on the Form1 +), but also to aerate the silicone material. This step is special and important as it makes it possible to improve the printing reliability and quality.
While peeling layer off and passing the squeegee, the printer produces a noise. The sound is not disturbing, but when you have 3000+ layers to print, this becomes quickly noticeable. A background music may conceal it. Compared to an FDM printer, the Form2 is much quieter and does not bother if you are communicating over the internet... With the Ultimaker2+, my colleagues thought I was passing a vacuum in the office!
You can monitor the printing via the touch screen, which gives you some information like the number of remaining layers, the estimated total time before the end of the process and the progress of the current layer. You can also pause the machine, for example to change the resin cartridge.
Once the printing process is complete, all you have to do is to remove the build platform and move on to the cleaning stage. The resin tank remains inside the printer and once the prints are removed from the build platform, which is then reinserted into the machine, you can start a new print.
Formlabs offers a dedicated dashboard for your printer in the cloud, enabling real-time tracking of your prints and resin usage. This tool is useful when you are not next to your Form2. You can have a look on your cell phone to follow the progress of your printing job.
New services have been added, especially a map showing the areas of wear of your tanks. This is particularly important, as it is always difficult to identify the points of wear of your silicone. However, it would be more useful to have this information in PreForm so you can place your objects at the less worn locations.
Cleaning and finishing the print
This step is an integral part of the printing process and Formlabs is aware of this. In fact, once the printing is finished, liquid resin is still present on the model and the build platform, as these parts bathe in the resin tank. Therefore, it is necessary to remove the printed models from the build platform before cleaning them.
For the first step, Formlabs has included two new tools to their printer: a supporting tool to hold the build platform in place, and a spatula to peel off prints. Everything works great and peeling the parts off, which are often securely hooked, takes only a few seconds, although you must pay attention not to force in order to prevent breaking the print. Gently but securely! Believe me; compared to the beginnings of the Form1, this step becomes a treat!
IPA alcohol rinsing
For the second step, you need to fill the two tanks with IPA alcohol. The first tank will roughen the cleaning and the second will finalize it. This double system also saves alcohol since you mainly change the first tank and keep the second for a longer period. Well, we consume alcohol.
This tailor-made system is very functional and easy to store. The Form1+ had an alcohol bath while here; the system kept very clean. On top of that, high quality, reusable gloves are also provided. This might seem to be a detail but finding such "disposable" gloves is not that easy. Unfortunately, Formlabs do not sell them separately.
In some cases, I had to change my mind about making prints on the Form1+ only because of the messy cleaning process. With the Form2, this is no longer a problem and I no longer think twice before starting a print.
Formlabs also offers two optional accessories, Form Wash and Form Cure, which are two machines that automatically clean your parts using IPA alcohol, and then cure them using UV light. These accessories are primarily intended for professionals, especially those who use special resins. I will not test these two accessories out because my application does not require to. In addition, 1400€ for both is very expensive when you are not a professional, but if you are and use special printing, it's worth purchasing it.
Once the IPA cleaning is complete, there are still a few steps, apart from the drying: it is necessary to remove the supports with cutting pliers (supplied) and this task can be very challenging depending on the model. These supports are welded to the 3D model, which means that they must be cut to the nearest surface to minimize sanding. Attempting to remove them from the beginning, as shown on some older Formlabs videos can be risky as it can leave small holes, or even micro breaks that are harder to fix (putty, etc.). Another important thing is that the resins become brittle once cured, especially if your IPA alcohol bath took a lot of time. So here again, take your time, better spend 5 more minutes than to break your print.
I personally use several tools such as high-end cutting pliers, thin and long scissors (bought in Japan!) and some cutting tools close to the cutter.
UV light bath
Out of the printer, the resin is partially cured and it may be necessary to expose your prints to UV light to make them stronger. You can use nail polish hardening devices or a simple sunbath. Make sure to use a machine with a 405nm UV wavelength. Personally, I not expose my prints made of gray resin V3 to the UV light as they are cured enough right out of the Form2.
This is where Form Cure, this UV machine can help by optimizing the part’s parameters for the resin used, giving an optimal result.
We leave the printer now, but as mentioned before, the supports leave marks and the sanding is useful. Sandpaper with different grains is required, with first a medium grain paper of 320 to switch to a fine grain of 500, then use a 1000 to polish the surface. You can do that under water to limit the resin dust. I also use sanding sponges of different sizes. Unfortunately, this "tool" is hard to find, I buy mine from Japan.
Cutters and fine cutting tools can also help you make micro cutouts or blow up bigger support pieces. Here again, I use Japanese tools that are very convenient.
A primer coat (Tamiya L Gray Finish) on your model will fill the small irregularities and highlight the areas that require correction, and with a new sanding pass with a 1000 grain, you will obtain a perfect surface.
We get to the most interesting question: is the quality good? Yes! I always proclaimed on the web and social media that the Form1+ was a very precise printer, but the Form2 has set the bar well above. The layer effect produced by each layer is well controlled from 50 microns and even more in 25 microns. Depending on the resin used, even at 100 microns, you can obtain marvelous prints, especially with the gray resin V3. To be honest, the prints will be suitable for many applications and as I said in the beginning, it is ideal for the highly detailed models designed in ZBrush.
See the pictures below for a proof of that. Do not hesitate to read the related comments and click to enlarge the pictures.
The different resins
Formlabs printers support a wide range of resins, covering numerous use cases, whether it is for character or precision printing, such as flexible resin, high resistant, castable for jewelers, dental, high temperature, etc. See the list on Formlabs Website.
Here are some pictures showing the resins tested with Form2. Although having on hand the transparent and high resistance resins for Form1+, I have not tested them with the Form2. Do not hesitate to read the comments and click on the pictures to enlarge them.
Form2 vs Form1+ and Ultimaker 2+
I will not compare the technical specifications here because we are already in front of two different worlds of 3D printing, and the Form1+ is still the little sister of the Form2. We will only focus on use and results.
The main advantage the Form2 has over the Form1+ is the homogeneity of the results across the whole model with a few apparent defects, while the Form1+ sometimes reveals layers that are more visible than others, or some parts with slightly less definition. Most importantly, the main difference is again the higher print quality, but also the reliability of the Form2 with no failed prints. With the squeegee system, the machine is a little more permissive if your model is not properly prepared, while the Form1+ is not as permissive with bad or failed prints as a result. I would like, however, to temper my remarks, as the Form1’s approach was very constructive for me, although difficult. I prepare my files very carefully before printing them!
Finally, the Form2 offers a lot of extras such as a larger volume, Wi-Fi / Ethernet, resin heating, touch interface, which is equally important.
As far as FDM and Ultimaker printing are concerned, they are more difficult to compare to the Form2. The Form2 can print highly detailed models with a really impressive quality with ABS, but we then start to worry for adhesion, warping and supports that look like a wound (I cannot think of any other term) specific to the FDM. However, the Ultimaker has the advantage of printing very large (23 x 23 x 30 cm in my case) for a fraction of the price per cm3, which is quite less than what the Form2 offers.
I often use the Ultimaker to print a draft of the object in order to validate it and then turn to the Formlabs printer. Alternatively, I use it to print objects with a low level of detail, but that can become quickly massive.
Support is an often neglected, as is the community around a product.
It is important to keep in mind that 3D printing is a "recent" industry, with a large number of different machines. Several printer brands offer tempting products, but in case of issues, you can quickly find yourself alone... with your machine sitting around and not being used for a long period. I can tell you a lot about that from my own experience...
Formlabs has been able to create an active community through its forum, which makes it possible to quickly find solutions to the most frequent issues, along with online blog posts. However, for more serious or urgent problems, you can contact technical support. The response time varies for the "classic" customer, but for people using the Form2/1+ in production, there is a paid option for a "Pro Support". For 599€/year, you have access to priority support including on the phone and most importantly, a brand new replacement printer in case of defect. Of course, the option is expensive for an individual/passionate, but it is highly recommended for pros. I had many communications with the support that really impressed me with screenshots showing concerns in my models or files edited to bring me solutions or optimizations to my processes, all taking place in less than 24 hours.
This section could be included in the conclusion but I'd like to highlight some facts. The printer costs 3960€ (including taxes, excluding postage). Compared to some FDM printers, it appears to be somewhat expensive. It is important to consider the purpose of the printer and the desired quality level, as well as the personal budget.
I am often asked which printer to buy and for what uses. For the FDM, I strongly recommend Ultimaker. The new model costs 3590€ (including taxes). This seems like comparing apples to oranges, but the price difference is low compared to the Form2. So for extra 400€, you can move into the world of SLA. Next, you also have to compare the cost per print, which can be different.If you are printing for production, or if you seek a proven,
If you are printing for production, or if you seek a proven, high quality technology that is supported by an active community, you might want to consider a meticulous model that "works". There are many examples of cheap printers "that do not work” out there, which some colleagues and I have already tested. You should be very careful about that, especially of your business relies on it.
In short, the price of the printer looks right to me, even when adding the consumables that increase the expense over time, given the quality of the machine and the prints.
On the other hand, I think that the price of the Form Cure and the Form Wash is prohibitive. They are certainly parts of the ecosystem and are handy, but cheaper alternatives exist and the cleaning kit system provided with the printer is largely enough.
Polysculpt recommends this printer to all those who print characters or other parts that require a high level of detail, for example created with ZBrush. This printer encouraged me to create and then print my models. It is reliable, intuitive, and most importantly, mature. One would always demand a bigger size and faster results, but the solution offered by Form2 works well. The printing quality is comparable to what some industrial printers offer for a fraction of the price.
As for reliability, I had only one failed print since I have bought the machine and it was due to a software problem that was corrected since. Although I know everything about preparing the models, unlike the Form1+, I start my prints without worrying about failure and this is a big plus of the printer.
Although the price is prohibitive, given the quality achieved and the printer management on a daily basis, it is right. Of course, for enthusiasts like me who cannot make this machine profitable, we take a closer look at the tanks being worn too fast and just as much as resin is consumed, which in the long term represents a significant expense. You can always use cheaper resins or try to redo the silicone layers on your own, but after testing both, I have changed my mind.
For a professional, this printer is really a must-have.
It has very few weak points apart from being a little slower than its little sister. Another problem to consider is the important use of chemicals that requires gloves, a ventilated space, although with the Form2, these problems are limited. This chemical aspect is related to the SLA technology, not to the printer. Compared to the Form1+, the chemical factor is minimized thanks to the new cleaning tools.
Formlabs has developed a perfect printer for all those who like me love printing figurines, and given the wide range of available resins, I am quite sure that many other industries will enjoy this machine as well.
Mes conseils divers
- I strongly recommend the use of an inverter (APC): nothing worse than missing a 40h print because of a micro power shortage. I have a powerful inverter, which allows the Form1 to run about 20-30 min in battery mode. You may opt for an entry-level model to handle micro-breaks, but a larger inverter will allow you to plug on your computer. In my case, the three printers are plugged in.• I strongly recommend the use of an inverter: nothing worse than missing a 40h print because of a micro power shortage. I have a powerful inverter, which allows the Form1 to run about 20-30 min in battery mode. You may opt for an entry-level model to handle micro-breaks, but a larger inverter will allow you to plug on your computer. In my case, the three printers are plugged in.
- Buy large quantities of IPA alcohol if possible. Better to change it too often than not enough. When the latter is saturated with resin, its solvent potential decreases considerably. Approx. 6L of IPA are needed to fill both tanks.
Here are some complementary pictures with comments.