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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.