Word has it that the Formlab 2 3D printer tops the charts of the best SLA printers in the market. However, does it really deliver the expected results? Read on to find out.
Formlabs Form 2 Review: Introduction
In 3D printing, the Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) is an unrivaled technology. Machines that feature FFF, like the Prusas, the BCN3Ds, and the Ultimakers are excellent for 3D semi-pros and enthusiasts because of their creative tools. This explains why these machines are the big talks in 3D printing gatherings.
On the other hand, Stereo Lithography (SLA) is not talked about a lot in the 3D printing world. Most people don’t know about this technology it is mainly utilized in machines used in engineering spaces, universities, and professional labs. The technology is also expensive, which consequently makes SLA 3D printers expensive for most hobby 3D enthusiasts.
Formlabs is going after SLA printing technology with an aim of making it affordable. This is not to say the Form 2 3D printer is entirely cheap (check price at Amazon). However, the $3,500 / €3,925 price is just a fraction of the amount it would cost you to acquire a 3D Systems ProJet 6000 HD.
The Formlabs Form 2’s powerful optic engine needs mentioning. Considering it’s a desktop machine, the 250mW violet laser that’s guided by custom-built galvanometers produces excellent quality prints.
Difference Between FFF And SLA 3D Printers
FFF is the most famous desktop 3D printer technology. FFF printers are flexible and can extrude a variety of materials. These printers work by feeding the filament material (mostly plastic) into a heated extruder and print layers with the molten material. The biggest downside of FFF machines is their unpredictability.
Coming to SLA 3D printers, unpredictability is their upside. Unlike FFF printers that need their extrusion materials heated up, SLA printers use a laser technology to cure the printing material.
SLA printers like Formlabs Form 2 works by pointing a high-precision laser on a tray of liquid resin, making it solidify in a thin layer. This chemical reaction also results in creation of water-tight printed parts.
SLA printers are famous for being capable of printing high-detailed objects.
When it comes to 3D printing speeds, it’s only fair to compare the 2 machines based on the density and thickness of the material printed.
Building the Formlabs Form 2 Printer
The Formlabs Form 2 3D printer is easy to set-up. The printer is shipped in a secure package and the set up guide at Formlabs’ website is a great help. It took us less than 1 hour to setup the Form 2 and start test printing.
Here are the setup steps of the Formlab Form 2 printer.
1. Unbox the 35cm x 33cm x 52cm printer and place it on a flat, stable surface
2. Next, open the orange cover and attach the build platform. The Formlabs Form 2 build platform hangs upside down because the object is “drawn out” of the resin.
3. Put the resin tray in place and clicked in the tray wiper. The tray wiper is an upgrade from the Form 1 series. Its work is to make sure that the resin is equally spread on the tray each time a layer is finished and the print bed has moved up a little. This minimizes the number of misprints that occurs.
4. Slide the Form 2 resin tank into the printer, plug in the power cord and start the printer. The tray is automatically filled with resin and unlike in the Form 1 and 1+, does not require any calibration.
5. Finally, add the Formlabs Form 2 to your wireless network. You can also use the Ethernet or the USB port to transfer files.
Pros of the Formlabs Form 2
- Reliable performance
- A brilliant print quality
- Noticeably silent when in operation
- Excellent interplay of the software and the hardware
- Impressive user interface
- Setup and maintenance is relatively easy
- The software slicer is remarkably good
Cons of the Formlabs Form 2
- Expensive consumables (particularly the tank and the resin)
- The standard support structures are crowded
- All prints require post-processing
- Although changing resin is easier than with the Form 1+, it is not as simple
- It’s a bit slower than FFF 3D printers
Types of Resin Available
When most people hear that a printer uses resin, they want to know whether only one type of resin is available or a variety.
With Formlabs Form 2, there are several resin types that you can choose from. The resins mainly consist of photoinitiators, methacrylic acid esters, proprietary pigment, and other secret ingredients.
The Form 2’s cartridge system is proprietary. Therefore, using any other type of resin might be calling for trouble.
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The standard resin comes in black, white, gray and clear and are available in two flavors. Formlabs Form 2 also offers functional resins that come in a variety of flavors.
Choosing the right type of resin to use can be very challenging; especially if you are a newbie with the SLA printer. Here are quick pointers to help you:
- Flexible resin is compressible and bendable
- Dental resin is Class 1 biocompatible. It has been created to directly print pilot drill or surgical guides. If you are not in this type of business or printing, then you most probably will never have to buy this.
- Tough Resin is specially designed to print resilient and durable prototypes. Since the standard resin is not rigid enough and has tendency to easily break, this is the ideal resin type to order for someone building functional parts.
- Created to address the special needs of jewelers, Caster resin will burn out without leaving behind any residue or ash.
Before choosing a resin type, consider other consumables you may also need. For instance, there the resin tank, which Formlabs recommends that you should switch after every 2 liters of resin. The tank also comes with a wiper.
If you are working in an intensive-use case scenario and would want to speed up the workflow, you could buy a second build platform.
Formlabs Form 2 Software Review
The interplay between Formlabs 2 hardware and software is great. In 3D printing, one needs a software slicer to instruct the 3D printer on what to do. The slicer version in Formlabs is a tool called Formlabs Form 2. This tool acts in the same way like traditional 3D slicers and will let you import STL files that be placed on the printbed and displayed in the software. The PreForm tool also functions as a fixer for broke meshes.
There’s also a “Once Click Print” button that is ideal for most print cases except for rare prints where a 3D object fails to fit the printer. In these rare circumstances, you may have to place several parts of the objet onto the build plate for them to be printed together at once since it’s really not practical to adjust the size.
We also loved the customizable strength and density supports feature on Preform. The support structure is found on the build plate and has been created to prevent accidental scratching when you’re removing your print object; something you may always want to avoid. With Formlabs Form 2 3D printer, the support structure is cleverly built upwards. Therefore, you won’t cringe every time your object has finished printing. Moreover, you don’t have to manually find ways of removing the printed item without incurring scratches.
When printing with the Formlabs printer, its software will automatically rotate the object and add support structures where necessary. If you are happy with the projected result, the software will calculate the layers and indicate the estimated number of the layers that will be printed and the quantity of resin that will be required.
After the setup is complete and you have confirmed that everything is like you want it to, your print will be wirelessly transferred to the 3D printer. To initiate printing, you will have to press a button that’s directly on the printer.
The amount of time that the whole process of calculating and transferring will take will generally depend on the size and the complexity of your model. Unfortunately, with Preform, there is no easy way of knowing the estimated printed time. To know the time, you will have to click on the specific field for this.
The Preform 3D software supports a minimum wall thickness of 0.4mm for 3D printed objects. The unsupported wall thickness is 0.6mm. The software can alert you by mail on completion of your print.
Check Formlabs website for the complete design guide for your reference.
Formlabs Form 2 can store data of most 3D prints that you will make. This is convenient since it enable you to start a new print without going back to the computer. These are definitely the luxurious features that you can only dream of when printing on a FFF 3D printer.
My Verdict of the Formlabs Form 2 Printer
The Formlabs Form 2 SLA 3D printer is an excellent prototyping machine. It can therefore be used in a jewelry designer’s shop, an engineer’s office, or a dental lab. The printer can be used in manufacturing very small batches.
The SLA printer is consistent when it comes to print quality. Unlike FFF printers that require you to constantly monitor the balance of the parameters, filaments, extruders and temperatures, you can be sure to attain consistent quality prints with the Formlabs 2 without keeping a close check on any of these.
Limitations of the Formlabs Form 2 3D Printer
First off, the demerits of this printer are not entirely due to the SLA technology that it uses. The post-processing problem is because the printer uses resin, and resins tend to produce prints that that have to be post-processed. To reduce the overburdening that results from this, Formlabs also sells a post-production kit for the Form 2.
Another downside of this printer is the price for the consumables. For example, 1 liter of resin costs about $150. However, neither the resins nor the printer are a steal.
There is also a complaint with the 145mm x 145mm x 175mm print dimensions. This size restricts the 3D printing to people who do single prints. If you need a printer to help you prototype in bigger dimensions, the Form 2 printer is not ideal.
Printing on the Formlabs Form 2
You should work with the Formlabs Form 2 printer in a somewhat moderate climate. At the right temperature, the build plate will lower itself into the resin-filled tray since the resin is also in the correct temperatures. It will take the Form 2 a noticeable amount of time to heat up the resin tray to 30 degrees Celsius or 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
The printer’s build space is comparable to that of FFF machines in terms of layer density and thickness. This is about 1-3cm/hour along the Z axis when printing at 100 microns. This printer is capable of printing 3D in 25, 50 and 100 microns.
You can connect this computer to you smartphone to keep check of your print or follow on your computer’s touchscreen. A ring that looks like a progress bar is what will be indicated. The outer ring is for the layers while the inner one is for the progress of the current layer. A time estimate of remaining print time is also indicated.
The printer has an excellent graphical user interface that is easy to understand, clear, and useful. The responsive and bright LCD touch screen is also a beauty. The menu is displays the right choices at the right time; it’s not just over baggage with information.
The Formlabs Form 2 printer has one button that serves as both a power switch and a button for confirming actions.
Post-Production with the Formlabs Form 2
The post-production step is where the biggest difference between FFF and SLA printing emerge. FFF printing does not normally require post-production. When your object has completed printing, you simply remove it from the build plate and you are happy with it.
With SLA 3D printers, printing is not this simple.
With Form 2, your printing material is liquid resin. Therefore, after your object has completed printing, you will need to remove it from the plate and then dip it in chemicals to smoothen and toughen it up and then finally remove the supports. This can take a good amount of time.
Formlabs has provided a finishing kit to help you with post-processing.
The printer has a rinse station with two buckets that you fill halfway with isopropyl alcohol (IPA). But let’s start this process from the very top.
Although working with rein is said to be safe, cases of allergic reactions and skin irritations have been reported by some individuals. There are precautionary measures that should be taken before you start post-processing. These include:
- Put on eye protection regalia and protective gloves
- Since the “goo” in the build plate will tend to withhold some amount of liquid resin, be careful when removing it.
- Use the removal tool to slide the build plate under the “quick release” tabs generated by the PreForm software. Larger prints require a more firm pry from the build platform.
- Rinse your print and leave it in the tank for about 20 minutes. The rinse bottle provided is for cleaning any internal channels of your print.
- Leave your sticky print to dry for several hours
- Use the pair of “flush” cutters to remove the support structures. You might find this activity somewhat tasking seeing that the PreForm software sometimes make the supports a little stronger than needed to provide a good print.
- Post cure your print in UV light boxes or spraying them with acrylic paint. These steps are option
- Avoid breathing in the resins or any other chemicals spray, mist, vapors or gas
- Thoroughly wash your hands and skin after completing the post-processing steps
When printing with Formlabs Form 2, we discovered that too many supports may result into ugly spots on the final print. For best results, experiment with different support structure settings and clean the print object after removing the supports.
Delicate prints can be challenging to handle as it can be difficult to remove the supports that lie in the inner structures.
If you are not careful with your delicate print, you might end up breaking some pieces (check picture above). For more information on how to prime prints from Formlabs, click here.
Conclusion and Recommendation
The Formlabs Form 2 SLA 3D printer is an excellent machine that delivers premium quality results. It is ideal for people in need of a versatile, reliable, high-quality and professional SLA 3D printer.
However, the machine has some few downsides, the biggest being it’s price. It’s great for a small budget but there are competitor brands that sell from 5000$. The cheapest rival for the Form 2 is XYZ Printing’s Nobel 1.0. Although this delivers a slightly lesser quality than Form 2, it’s more affordable.
Still on price, the cost of consumables that you will need for this printer (resin, trays) is quite high. This printer is therefore not worth buying if you won’t be using it on a regular basis.