Using Preform software in a Linux environment

Hi Everyone,

I just thought I would share my success in using the Preform software to print from a Linux/Ubuntu 64 bit system.  Ok, this is a bit misleading so let me clarify.   My  desktop system where my printer is located runs Ubuntu and is not set up to dual boot to Windows.  Instead I use VirtualBox to run a virtual machine I built that runs 32bit XP whenever I need a Windows environment.

At first I had trouble getting the Formlabs Preform software to install.  The trouble seemed to be that I was trying to install the software with the printer connected.   For some reason the driver installation timed out and caused the installation to fail.  To get around this I closed and restarted the virtual machine and tried reinstalling the software without the printer connected.   This time the installation finished successfully.

Next I tried to run the Preform software but it generated an error message that indicated that my virtual video display adapter was unsupported since it did not meet the minimum OpenGL requirement.  The fix for this was simple as well.  I shutdown the virtual machine again and went to the VirtualBox system settings and then to the display tab.  Within the display settings tab  there is a check box that will allow enabling of 3D acceleration and 2D acceleration.  I enabled both 3D and 2D acceleration and boosted the video memory to 96meg and clicked on OK to save my settings.  After enabling 3D acceleration and restarted the virtual machine the Preform software it started up just as it should.

At this point I needed to allow the driver to install so I attached the USB cable to the computer and enabled the Form1 device in the list of available USB devices VirtualBox could see.  (You must do this in order to see the device inside the virtual machine otherwise it will not see the device.)   On this attempt the device was recognized correctly and I was able to print out the ButterflyClip sample that comes with the preform installation.

Here is a quick list of the steps:

  1. Have VirtualBox installed and a VirtualMachine to run. (You may have to build one yourself.)
  2. If you have trouble getting VirtualBox to run check the Bios of your machine for a setting to enable Virtualization support.
  3. Make sure Guest Additions for VirtualBox is installed. (Must have this!)
  4. Check Display settings in VirtualBox and make sure 3D acceleration is enabled.
  5. Run virtual machine and install Preform. (Without the Form1 connected.)
  6. Attach Form1 to computer with USB cable.
  7. Enable the Form1 device within VirtualBox USB Devices to allow the virtual machine to see the device.
  8. Run Preform.  (Enabling USB while in the Preform software works too if you forget to do it before launching it.
  9. Check to make sure the FORM > button on the top right has turned orange indicating it sees the printer.
  10. Load a printable .stl file or .form file and layout the job to be printed.
  11. Print the job. (Once the file is uploaded to the printer it is safe to close out of Preform, shutdown the virtual machine and disconnect the USB cable, or not.

That’s all there is too it.  Now you can enjoy printing from your Linux machine until Formlabs creates a Linux native version of the Preform software.

(***Note to Formlabs: During installation lots of QT files scroll by so it should not be that big of a leap. ***)

*** Update***: Since submitting this post I have found a serious functionality problem with Preform in the VirtualBox environment I described.  While it is true that  a .form or .stl file can be loaded and printed, I have not found a way to select objects on the build plane.   What this means is that any function that requires at least one object to be selected to perform an operation will not work.  Scaling will not work because there is no way to grab the object.  Duplication will not work because the number of duplicates field remains greyed out if nothing is selected.  The rotate function faceplant and auto orient buttons will not click because nothing is selected.  Fortunately the build supports still work because there is a generate all option.  Hopefully this problem will get resolved with future releases.  (My fingers are crossed.)

Happy printing!


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I’ve had good luck personally running PreForm using VMWare instead of Virtualbox.  VMWare seems to do a better job providing for 3D accelerated graphics inside of the guest OS than Virtualbox.  VMWare Player is free for non-commercial usage, so it might be worth trying out on your system to see if that helps you with the selection problem you have run into.

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