FORMLABS - Past - Now - Future

As a long time Formlabs (machine) supporter and loyal customer it is time to reflect on Formlabs’ machines - past, now and future.

I jumped on the band-wagon when the Form 1+ came out - at the time for sure one of the best systems of its kind - going through a few machines there - It was a struggle and fight to get anything out of the Form 1+ that was a bit more complex. After many months (years) of trial and error I was ready to throw it against the wall, just when the Form2 was announced.

The Form2 was a true improvement on all levels. It was close to being brilliant compared to it’s predecessor.
It proved that Formlabs did not just rebuild a system with extras but was eager to actually improve on the old one.
Every change or addition would prove to be a real difference in reliability (the squeegee is up for debate). With the Form 2 the software - even though at the beginning it had some hiccups - developed into probably the best 3D machine software on the market. It is very well dialed in to its machines while powerful yet still lightweight and simple to use - the perfect scenario when it comes to software. A huge shout-out here to all the people who helped developing it.

After a while the Form 2’s small build volume slowly became a problem for my personal ideas and projects. Meanwhile the market started filling with different resin exposure units eliminating galvos and a laser. Just then Formlabs announced their new system in 2 different sizes - the Form 3 and Form 3L.
Claiming more accuracy and higher speeds. My first impulse was to go for the smaller version but quickly realized there was no open mode. One of the major draw backs with Formlabs is their unforgivably overpriced resins - of course with the Form 2 we had an easy fix with the open mode and 3rd party resins. Many of the 3rd party resin manufacturers rival Formlabs’ resins or are even better.

Talking to a sales person I was promised that open mode would eventually be incorporated. A few months passed and still no open mode. Of course there is little reason to ADD open mode later on when it can be put in from the beginning.
By then tests had come out that revealed that the new system was actually slower in most instances than the older Form 2. Still claims were made that the Form 3 could be made much faster and would be in the near future.
While I find the new system with it’s moving optical unit, taking care of the peeling thereby eliminating one galvo, quite clever (next to some new optical control systems) it also adds more wear and tear to the tank. Constant pressure to the Teflon layer and rubbing against it is a built-in stress factor. It’s likely that the laser exposure breaks down the Teflon sheet faster than the mechanical wear so it in reality might not be of any significance.
With everything else developing in that field the Form 3 began to lose it’s luster.

LCD screen machines and DLP machines had come on strong and while DLP are typically small build volume systems the LCD started taking off with new high resolution (4K) monochrome screens that would be able to rival the part surface quality of the laser machines. Some produce an even smoother surface that is flawless.
These systems - especially LCD - have only one moving part - the Z axis - no critical optical unit, just an array of UV lights, easily accessible. Machines with large build volumes and a fraction of the price of the Form 3L had hit the market.
One of the major advantages is the build speed. An LCD System is by far faster than any Laser machine. Due to its exposure unit - which exposes each layer at once and doesn’t have to “draw” it like a pen as the laser does and every FDM type machine - the bigger the parts and cross sections the longer it takes (Laser and FDM).
It also doesn’t matter if there are multiple parts on the build platform - the exposure time is exactly the same for 1 or 10 of the same part. The time to build something is only determined by the height of the model and the set exposure time per layer (+ the setting and resetting of the platform). Further the UV resins for these machines are a fraction of the price of Laser resins.

I obtained an LCD unit to test against the Form 2. I had each machine make the same model and was surprised to see a surface quality that was equal to the Laser machine’s. While details were a bit softer and rounder the surface was smoother (50 microns). Detail was still clear and defined.
I liked my Form 2 as it had done lots of good for my projects and with Formlabs’ AMAZING ONLINE SUPPORT - a huge shout out here to the US Formlabs Support people! Who ALWAYS helped me with any type of problem I had.
But with new demands and new systems that were more affordable and capable I finally let my Form 2 go as long as I could still get a bit of money back. Once the support for this machine is gone it’ll be tough to sell it for a decent price.

I am aware of Formlabs being proud to have built very good and capable laser units and possibly feel defined by such systems. However I strongly believe that within the next 10-15 years desktop laser units will have become obsolete.

For now I say good-bye to Formlabs and hope to see them in the near future again with a new system.



I agree with this.
I loved my form 2. Even with the limitations of “open mode”, the repeated failing tanks, and the overpriced resin I still held true.
What has broken me is about less than 1cm of copper. The freaking finger pins on the carrier tray. The LT tank I got to help with the history of failing tanks pressed too tightly and bent the pins. This has rendered my Form 2 broken. To quote all Form 2 servicing places I have tried “if the spring fingers on the tank carrier are damaged your machine is beyond repair”. How can this be? am I forced to now only use open mode? Risk prints that I need to be completed for work? I’m disgusted and disheartened. With the vast amounts of new printers out there and the outrageous price tags on Form 3 (that have the same pins by the way) I also will be moving away from Formlabs.
So long Formlabs.

I repaired several machines myself already. These spring fingers cost about 2$/2€ and you need to recalibrate the tank carrier. Can all be done within a day.

You can get a hint of where Formlabs are heading in this podcast with Jason Fullmer, the COO.

From what was said, I don’t think they are looking at more desktop printers.

Thanks for the link - just listened to it
Anyone who has some idea about manufacturing, quality-control, shipping, logistics , etc, will realize there is zero information in that podcast.
This was like listening to a car salesman turned politician.

And you might be right about desktop machines and Formlabs - even though their 2 largest machines are still desktop size (build volume). It would not surprise me Formlabs eventually dropping what made them - as different resin exposure systems have already outrun the laser systems.
Industrial machines with large build volumes would be a different story.

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My personal opinion is that it’s no longer worth it to support hobbyists from Formlabs perspective. They offer a pretty solid ecosystem with lots of good material support for engineering applications. It’s actually a smart move to go from B2C to B2B. B2C is always a race to the bottom/cheapest which doesn’t take advantage of the IP and knowledge they have over competitors.


Not only hobbyists but also small businesses in any filed. Essentially you have groups that have been using a more complex “manufacturing” system with Formlabs’ machines and have a good flow using Formlabs’ “ecosystem” as you call it and happily pay for it.

Some time back there was not much of a choice so people set up these systems, because Formlabs was at the forefront there. Always producing good quality.

The world outside has not particularly been sleeping - there are many Resin manufacturers who offer the exact same line of resins (I tested many) that are as good or even better than Formlabs’ materials and can be used for any type application whether in an engineering environment medical field, jewelry - no limits there. These resins are a fraction of the cost - a company - no matter what size who does not care about their expenses will keep paying for a convenience that now has been outpointed by new companies and systems. Every company should care about their expenses no matter how well they are doing. Additive manufacturing machines like the ones we get from Formlabs (wrongly called printers) typically are used in development and prototyping. Of course Formlabs’ has some very smart people at the top and are more than aware of all that.
With the Fuse1 they are already taking a step closer to actual production parts for industrial use.

Something that has always been part of their ideology. Not that apparent at the beginning with the Form 1 and 1+ but with the appearance of the soon to be obsolete Form2, it became quite apparent.
Form 2 a great machine, Form 3 as I said above very clever changes there but in the end not really helping with build speed as many tests showed the Form 2 is still faster. And speed will be the essence when it comes to competing in the industry, speed and pricing - of course.

Essentially you’re correct - Building small machines with limited build volumes will not be lucrative for Formlabs anymore in the near future. Not so much because of their customer base but because of the outside development of such systems and their far more competitive prices including resins, tank systems, post curing- and cleaning systems and at the same quality, are taking these customers or potential customers away.

The huge edge Formalbs has is their outstanding software, while there are many machines and resins equaling Formlabs products now - there is no software out there that comes close.

Interesting discussion. We too have been looking ahead few years out to supplant our production farm of Form 2 machines when they pass the point where they must be scrapped.

Which specific brand and model of LCD resin printer have you found that produces parts with surface quality equal to or better than the Form 2? We have seen some LCD printer sample parts but they all have aliasing artifacts.

Also curious which specific brand of resins you have found which are equal or better than Formlabs? We use mostly FL Grey V4 and haven’t found anything from 3rd parties that has the same properties. We were using for example ApplyLabWork Modeling Grey but this otherwise excellent resin despite allowing for smaller and stronger detail features unfortunately produces terribly warped parts.

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The huge edge Formalbs has is their outstanding software, while there are many machines and resins equaling Formlabs products now - there is no software out there that comes close.

While I agree that Peform was the one thing that sold me on Formlabs originally, I think that other software developers have made huge strides and are offering all the functionality AND much more than Preform.

Chitu Box, which has become the de-facto standard for LCD printers does everything that Preform does, ALMOST as elegantly as Preform, but it goes beyond it by offering functionality that Formlabs users have been literally begging for, for years.

If you’re the kind of user that likes to have their hand held through every step, and are easily put off by lots of options, maybe this isn’t for you, for for those of us that like having control over every aspect of the print, Preform no longer cuts it.

So from my perspective, the only edge that Formlabs still has over other printers, is their huge materials library. I can’t think of any other vendor that has such a large library. MSLA resins have a narrower range.

I too was in the same boat as your situation and glad that others are now speaking out about Formlabs. While they used to be good, I think the time has come for Formlabs to do something else that changes the way people use 3D printers. My experience with my last machine, the Form3 is less than stellar, it wouldn’t even work on day 1 bringing it back. Just like you, I’ve searched for other options and wished I did so sooner. We’ve had 6 replacements machines in the last 4 years and this last Form3 not working just forced me to look for something else. It won’t take the next 10 years for lasers to be obsolete, it’ll be sooner and if Formlabs doesn’t get their act together, I’ll be sooner. Other LCD options are getting so much better and faster. Prices of resins are a lot lower, many more options to play with.

In my opinion formlabs was there at the right time to potentially really crush it in this industry, But they got their doors blown off by the competition. They seem like one of those company’s that attracts huge amounts of cash, that is not profitable and is not nimble and efficient in what they design. The laser and the resin cartridges alone will kill them. They should have shot for owning the low end resin printer market. They initially promoted themselves as sort of like that. But it looks like over the years they morphed in to some sort of a Carbon 3d wanna be. By what they have done to date, and if you look back at what transpired with their machines on the ground, that’s most likely not going to happen. The Form 3l is already a dinosaur of the near future.