It’s always an exciting day when a new printer shows up in the shop, and we were very surprised to see the new Form 3 arrive! Kudos to Formlabs for almost simultaneously providing an email with some nicely produced setup videos which helped us get through the first steps. We have worked a lot with the Form 2 and know many of the strengths and weaknesses of that printer so we were very quick to purchase the new Form 3 when it was announced. Since information regarding new Formlabs machines is always scarce we will endeavor to provide our first impressions and update the thread as we learn more about the Form 3.
Spoiler, we are currently stuck attempting to update firmware so there will be no beautiful pictures of first prints until we can work through that.
It should also be stated that opinions are my own and Formlabs has not endorsed, or sponsored us in any way.
We did upgrade a couple of our Form 2 machines and we still have a few remaining $500 referral codes if anyone needs one, (Please feel free to send a DM.)
Update! It has now been over 24 hours and we have yet to receive any response from Formlabs Support.on our open ticket. We did manage to get the firmware update through much trial and error. Details will be added below!
Now on to the fun part!
Seeing the Form 3 in person for the first time, its almost shocking to see how much it has changed from its predecessors. The esthetics seem very familiar but it is also immediately clear that virtually every component has been re-thought. The packaging is larger, with thicker foam to absorb impacts. The case includes a much larger molded back section with thoughtful recesses for power, Ethernet and USB cables. First impression is that it will be easier to work on, though we all truly hope that we don’t have to!
We were very pleased that the new hinges were able to hold the cover partially open. This was a training point for our Form 2s as a cover not fully opened would often shift slowly before gravity took hold and it would slam down with great force.
Here are a few glimpses into the interior where we also found a clever locking mechanism for the Light Processing Unit (LPU).
The quick start guide strongly warns about the importance of removing the latch. It was easy to loosen the thumb screws and retract the latch but the screws didn’t want to come out… After re-reading the instructions multiple times to convince ourselves that the thumb screws SHOULD come out, we proceeded to loosen them with a bit more force that we were comfortable with. The screws did yield and further inspection showed a still sticky substance on the last few threads. It appears some coating was applied to the interior wall of the LPU which coated the protruding threads and made them difficult to remove.
Hopefully the coating getting stuck to the threads will be resolved in later units as I assume we received a very early build.
The next fun surprise was the completely redesigned resin tank. Much talk has surrounded the flexible film on the bottom of the tank but we were delighted to see a float based resin level sensor hiding under the cover. Our Form 2s suffered a couple of unfortunate incidents where the contents of a resin cartridge found their way inside the machine and it looks like Formlabs has been proactive about a solution on these new machines.
The new resin tank is much larger and has a more thoughtful design. It feels substantial in the hands and provides much more room to catch splashes or failed prints. We also LOVED the new housings that keep the cartridges protected while they are not in the printer.
We had heard concerns about durability surrounding the new flexible tank and it clearly looks robust in person. The “film” is very thick and nothing like what we have seen on some other low cost machines. It is wrapped around metal rods on each end to hold it in tension and there is a secondary seal on the interior or the tank.
Only time will tell, but initial impressions are very encouraging!
Not everything is a welcome change though, the exterior plastics lack gaskets to help guard from dust and the somewhat larger cover feels a bit less sturdy. There is a new fan which may be related to heated chamber that is quite noticeable on first power up but seems to settle down shortly after. The noise won’t be an issue for us but may be more noticeable in an office environment. The same bite valve remains on the resin cartridges and the contacts on both the resin tank and tray are still likely to cause problems at some point. Lastly, there is no reference to Open Mode and though we hadn’t heard of it being discussed we were hoping it would make an appearance in the Form 3.
Initial Setup and First Print
Initial setup went quickly but we ran into a couple of snags. As is common on modern electronics, Formlabs ships the printers with firmware that is not quite ready for prime time and the user must update the machine before first use.
WiFi Setup Issues:
Walking through the setup or “onboarding” screens, we could see some local WiFi access points but the only button that would move us forward was “Skip” and there was no way to join a wireless network…
Sorry for the terrible picture!
Update After many failed attempts to update the firmware over USB and with no response from Support, we went back to the drawing board and decided to try the WiFi connection again. We speculated that possibly, the early version of software didn’t support encrypted networks (EVERYONE should use the strongest encryption you can on a wireless network!!!) We set up an unencrypted network using an iPhone and sure enough we were able to join! Fingers crossed, we joined with a laptop and were pretty disappointed when we still couldn’t add the machine in Preform…
A quick ping test revealed that we could ping our other printers but we could not ping this one. One more reboot and our new Form 3 re-joined the network and this time we could not only ping it but we were able to add it in Preform!!! We clicked on the firmware update button and an update was promptly downloaded and sent to the machine! Following the instructions on the screen we are (FINALLY) running software version 1.0 which is still designated with “rc” indicating that this is a Release Candidate and not fully vetted software.
With the 1.0 release installed, we are now able to join the encrypted WiFi in our shop and we are able to send prints to the machine! It should be noted that we have already had a few disconnects and the printer will indicate that the network is disconnected. Clicking on the network causes it to reconnect without prompting for a password so not sure exactly whats going on but we will keep an eye on it and update you here.
USB Connection Issues:
The Getting Started Guide talked about the need to update firmware over USB and so we went for that next. We installed the latest version of Preform (3.0.2 as of this writing), plugged in the cable and waited until the Form 3 was installed and ready to use. Preform could see the printer but reported it was already in use and I was unable to add it or update firmware. No combination of rebooting, unplugging and re-installing resolved the issue.
We have opened a support ticket with Formlabs and are waiting for further instruction.
Don’t damage the resin tank! We heard this a lot in the instructions and have more than a few scars from working with the Form 2s. Continuing to follow the guide we preped our new resin tank and went to install it, but the next instruction tells us to remove the film from the bottom of the tank!
After inspecting the tank again, it seems that our tank must have been shipped without this protective film but it is also obvious that the tank is not clear, as expected, but instead is a translucent white color. A separate note was sent to Formlabs and hopefully we will get clarification (no pun intended) on our tank!
Lastly, the instructions mention installing the resin mixer in the bottom of the tank but they are not clear on how to do this. The instructions mention that it connects with magnets and should be pushed to the far left so here is how we think the mixer should be installed.
Overall, the care and thought in the design of the Form 3 is impressive and we are eager to update our review with first prints and long term durability results. Sadly, those will have to wait until we get some of the new product gremlins worked out!