Stereolithography (or SLA) is a process where liquid resin is zapped into a solid form using a laser by Formlabs. A printer like this one is ideal for people who do a lot of printing but don’t want to worry about much maintenance.
Although Form 3 prints are high quality, they are not cheap – they start at $3499. A price this high may seem unreasonable, as cheaper SLA brands like the Peopoly Moai are available for a lower cost. Nevertheless, budget SLA printers need a lot of maintenance and experimentation to produce quality prints. There is no need for either: The form is simple to use. This makes Form 3 one of the best 3D printers you can purchase right now.
Reviewers tested a $4,999 kit that includes the Form 3 printer, Form Wash cleaning, and finishing devices, and Form Cure finishing devices.
Form 3 3D printer review: Design
As with Formlabs’ previous models, the Form 3’s print area is covered in an orange plastic hood and its base is black plastic. Additionally, the UV-blocking orange plastic allows you to clearly see print progress without being obstructed by other lights. The hood shows two main components of Form 3: resin tank and print platform.
Its print area is about 237 cubic inches, slightly larger than that of the previous Form printer. The volume is 1,230 cubic inches. Form 3L features 11.8 x 13.2 x 7.9-inch dimensions. It’s still a bit steep, though, as the Form 3L will set you back $9,999 when it’s released later this year.
As part of the printing process, liquid resin is contained in a removable reservoir. The base of the tank is covered with a thin layer of clear plastic. This base layer is lowered slightly so that the liquid resin can be trapped beneath the build platform as each layer is created. Liquids are transformed into the resin by UV lasers, which adhere to the build platform once they have been zapped.
Thereafter, the platform is raised, allowing the resin to be removed. A new layer of resin is trapped in the platform as it lowers, and the process is repeated. In this method, layers are printed one on top of the other at a layer height of 0.1mm to 0.025mm.
The bottom layer of Form 3 is flexible, allowing the top layers to be taken up with fewer forces, due to the hardened layers on top. Besides being more reliable, this is known as Low Force Stereolithography by Formlabs. Formlabs uses this method, as do other printer makers (such as Peopoly Moai). In our Form 3 tests, none of the printers failed.
The Form 3’s laser and optics are located in a sealed package called the Light Processing Unit (LPU). Thus, Formlabs says the printer is more reliable since dust cannot enter to block the laser. Additionally, replacing the whole unit makes it easier to replace the LPU.
Resin cartridges are located in the rear of Form 3. Because the printer automatically fills the resin tank, you never have to worry about doing it yourself. Since resin can be smelly and unpleasant, this is a great feature. The resin tank and the cartridge can be removed from the printer so that they can be changed without the printer being removed.
It is possible to clean and reuse the tanks, but not the resin cartridges. The manufacturer warns, however, that third-party resin may void the warranty of the printer if a cartridge is filled with it. In order to prevent the print tank from hardening, Formlabs recommends removing the print tank from the printer if you plan on not using it for a few days.
Form 3 3D printer review: Controls
Form 3 can be controlled directly through the touch screen, allowing you to access all the features or to start and stop the printer. Most users will use PreForm software and the online printing dashboard to use Form 3.
With this program, you can load 3D models (STL and Wavefront . OBJ formats are supported) and slice them for printing. The preForm, a free download for Mac and Windows, allows you to create print-ready files, create the supports for printing, and send them to the printer all at once. It’s possible to rotate, scale, move, and otherwise manipulate 3D models using PreForm, as well as plate several models simultaneously (a process known as plating).
Using the Printing Dashboard, Form 3 can be managed online. A Form printer is usually shared among a few users or several users who operate multiple Form printers. This dashboard allows you to monitor progress, customize queues, pause or cancel printing, and manage queues and schedules. As well as alerting you when a printer has finished printing or has a problem, it also indicates when maintenance is necessary.
Due to the lack of a camera inside Form 3, you won’t know if a print failed until it is completed unless you check while it is printing. Although Form 3 is not unique in this regard, the large print platform on this machine obscures the print area, making it impossible to see how the print is progressing.
Form 3 3D printer review: Performance
Form 3 produces excellent quality prints even when printing at its fastest speed, with fine detail and smooth, organic curves and surfaces. We observed very little evidence of layering, with smooth, even detail.
We scanned Rodin’s statue of The Thinker for our first model. It was a very good print. It is curved on the shoulders and arms and adorned with excellent detail on the face.
The layering of the print barely showed up when printed at 25 microns. The Thinker’s shoulders could hardly be seen after layering at 0.025mm.
As a second test, we created complex planetary gears to determine how well the printer could produce interlocking parts. Likewise, Form 3 handles intricate details such as screw threads and gear teeth extremely well. All parts fit tightly into each other, and the gears aligned perfectly.
We then test the printer’s ability to reproduce sharp points and edges using a geometric sculpture. Our results were excellent again here, with clean, smooth edges, and sharply pointed edges that almost appear like they could be cut.
Form 3 3D printer review: Speed
It takes the Form 3 between ten and seventeen hours and twenty-one minutes to print a standard 4.5-inch Thinker print, depending on the layer height. Form 3 prints in this manner too, which is usual among SLA printers. Similar prints can also be achieved by other SLA printers, such as the Peopoly Moai, which takes between seven hours and twenty minutes to 18 hours to complete a similar print.
Even though our tests were conducted with Form’s gray and clear resins, there is a special version called Draft Resin that can be printed in layers of 0.3mm thickness. There would be faster printing, but it would be of lower quality. Our test of the resin was not successful.
Form 3 3D printer review: Print materials
Form 3 is the only product that Formlabs manufactures and supplies. Resin tanks and cartridges have to be purchased from the printer manufacturer. In order to create molds by artists and jewelers, you’ll need a resin tank for $149, a resin cartridge for $175, and castable wax resin for $299.
In order to avoid voiding the warranty of Form 3 by using third-party resin, Formlabs does not recommend filling its cartridges with third-party resin. Our prints cost about $21 each based on the fact that we were able to get about seven decently sized prints from a cartridge of gray resin.
|Support for multiple users and printers||Expensive|
|Provide support for the Formlabs material range|
|The best printing possible|
With the Form 3, you can simply plug it in and start printing. Form 3 connected to the computer, was loaded, and we were able to start printing right away. Our experience was that the process was clean and hassle-free, which is much different from typical SLA printers, which require a lot of tweaking, calibration, and other fiddlings to get good results. There are no problems with Form 3.
In addition, the Form 3 is also one of the most expensive 3D printers that we have tested, as well as one of the most expensive to operate. Professional and home 3D printers will not encounter this problem. However, the ease of printing provided by Form 3 will make it worth the initial cost. With just a little effort, you can get the same results from a much cheaper printer, such as the $1,999 Peopoly Phenom.