The Formlabs Form 1+ 3D printer ($3,299) is elegant in its simplicity, and more capable of producing accurate models with detailed intricacy than any other 3D printer I've reviewed.
This printer also received some of the highest ratings for desktops on 3DHubs, a user site that rates 3D printers based on more than 2,200 reviews.
So why shouldn't anyone interested in a desktop 3D printer run right out and buy this one? Because along with being accurate, the Form 1+ is pricy, messy and has an optical system that is finicky by design.
Unlike more popular fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D desktop printers that melt and extrude layers of polymer filament, the Form 1+ employs stereolithography (SLA). The printer uses a highly accurate, 405nm-beam violet laser to draw a pattern in a basin of photosensitive polymer resin. As the laser strikes the pool it hardens layer by layer, and the object is lifted out of the pool on an inverted platform.
Yeah, the cool factor runs high with this machine.
The result of using a laser and resin is the ability to create remarkably smooth surfaces -- so smooth you can't even feel the layers as you always can with FFF 3D printing.
The laser also allows for mind-blowingly intricate detail.
The Form 1+ 3D printer is wonderfully small and light. It's 26 x 20 x 19 in. and weighs just 28 lb. I've lugged 70-lb. machines around and it's not fun.
The printer has a build area of about 5 x 5 x 6.5 in. By comparison, MakerBot's popular Replicator FFF 3D printer, which sells for $2,899, has a build area of 9.9 x 7.8 x 5.9 in.
The look of the Form 1+ is minimalist: A gray, solid cube on the bottom contains the optics, electronics and mechanics, while a hinged, transparent orange cube hood on the top protects the print platform and square resin tank. The hood is colored orange to protect the light-sensitive resin.
On the front of the machine is a small green LED screen with an on/off button that also acts as a menu option selector. That's it. One button controls the power and prints, including the ability to pause prints and cancel them by holding the button down until a three-second countdown tells you the job is about to end. It's a really smart design.
The Form 1+ is also the quietest machine I've reviewed, because instead of a mechanical print head and print platform moving back and forth through gears and pulleys on multiple axes, there's just a silent laser. The only movement comes from the resin tank, which tips back and forth, and the print platform, which moves up and down.
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