I also evaluated the Form 2 and the Solus, as well as other DLP systems. My final decision came down to flexibility and build platform size. I am printing and directly casting from Formlabs Castable V2 resin in sterling silver, using ZBrush for more organic modeling. I’m also using it to make pendants for enameling.
I had also seen prints from the Solus, and even got a sample sent. Yes, it is very smooth, and yes, it looks good. The main issues for me were that the Solus requires a dedicated computer to drive the system and the software was not native on a Mac and that the DLP projector had to be purchased separately. I used to teach tech support for Apple and I know that anytime you have technology from multiple sources, finger-pointing becomes a big problem with anything goes wrong. I was not comfortable with such new technology and having to navigate a support mess that comes along with that type of situation.
My other issue with the Solus and other DLP printers was the build platform is VERY small due to the nature of the technology. The Solus has two different print resolutions, a 25XY and 41XY, and the print size is different for each. At the lower resolution, the print size is only about 3.15 inches x 1.77 inches (80x45mm). At the higher 25XY resolution, the print size is smaller, at 1.89 inches by 1.06 inches (48x27mm). Both of those modes can produce models 80mm tall.
This is the same for the AutoCAD Ember (about $8,000), and other printers that cater to jewelry designers. I think the Ember’s build capability is only 1.5" by 2.5". Sure, they are supposed to print a little faster, but with my Form I can print 20 pendants or rings in three to four hours or so. If you look at the B9 site, they claim that the Formlabs Form 2 takes 8 hours to print 5 models. It’s simply not true. Sure, if you print with the 25 micron setting, it could, but the castable version 2 resin is fine-tuned to print well at 50 microns, which is much faster.
And yeah, I was skeptical…“I’m buying this printer because it CAN print 25 microns so by-golly I’m going to use that feature!!” But the engineers have done a great job of fine-tuning the settings, and 50 micron prints on a Form 2 are MUCH better in most cases with the type of jewelry I make. I am impressed that Formlabs has the resources to continually make improvements, and each update seems to bring better functionality. When I started back in July, the supports in Preform had 0.40 mm contacts as the minimum. I had done some experimentation and was able to print with 0.23 mm contacts, and had given that feedback on the forum. In one of the next updates, they changed the setting in Preform, and it is now much smaller. I am making my own supports now so I have much more control for cleanup, but I like that the option is there for me to bypass the PreForm supports feature if I want to.
I’ve gotten good results, but can tell you it can depend on the layout. If I printed the ring in the photo standing straight up, it might give that result. But if I’ve run into that kind of issue, angling the ring usually addresses the issue. I have also slightly altered designs to accommodate the technology…for example, in a pendant I made, not leaving the background with raised lettering smooth, instead adding a “pebbly” background. The “i love you so much” pendant was printed vertically (the right side of the pendant opposite of the jump ring was down and attached to the sprue), which makes the text nice and clean. It also uses minimal supports. But nice to have that immediate feedback and understand what works best (on that pendant, the text is supposed to look hand-drawn…it’s graffiti on a wall).
I have also figured out that when I photograph my castable models, blown up they don’t look as smooth as they do in real life. I would suggest looking at a sample of the Castable V2 resin (opaque blue instead of transparent) in person to make that call.
I did have a little learning curve in the beginning but the technology was solid. I’ve also found the forum to be a helpful and supportive place that really saves me time because if I have questions, others are ready to help. I’m casting my own pieces, and even had questions about casting to which others generously offered their expertise.
I also use my Form for creating other things…for example, last week I created frames with sprues for making ICE RTV molds. They were about five inches by three inches. Just switch out cartridges, and I like having that flexibility to make other things. I’ve also made some resin prints for sandcasting, and will be making some forming dies for my hydraulic press here shortly. I’ll print them as a shell and fill with standard resin to save printing costs.
I think that the person on the Solus forum cherry-picked a design and orientation that they might have a slight advantage on. I would like to see both printed at the same orientation for a true comparison.
So in conclusion, I think for overall value, the Form 2 is a well thought out, complete hardware and software solution, and I would recommend it.