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Review: Formlabs Form 1+ 3D printer offers mind-blowing precision

Lucas Mearian | May 20, 2015
This incredibly accurate 3D printer can reproduce intricate models -- but is also costly and slow.

I will note that there's a slightly annoying intermittent beeping sound that, while not loud, is somewhat shrill. However, after your first print job, you can tune it out.

One of the pluses of this machine is onboard memory. Once an .STL file is uploaded from a computer to the printer, you can disconnect the Form 1+ and it will go on its merry way printing.

Setting up the 3D printer is simple. You remove some protective Styrofoam, plug in a power cord and connect a USB cable to your computer. Next you fill the clear acrylic tank with photopolymer resin.

After downloading Formlabs' PreForm CAD/management software from its website, you're ready to print.

The PreForm software allows for a generous amount of CAD object manipulation. You can inspect every layer of an object before it's printed, or select from several layering thicknesses: 25 microns (.025mm), 50 microns (.05mm), 100 microns (.1mm) and 200 microns (.2mm).

To put that in perspective, 100 microns is about the thickness of a sheet of paper or a human hair; 7 microns is about the diameter of a red blood cell. So, we're talking small.

Printing detailed objects

The first object I printed with the Form 1+ was a paper clip in the shape of company's butterfly logo. I downloaded it from the company's pre-approved .STL model website.

I discovered then that this isn't a fast machine. The clip consisted of 579 layers, and it took one hour, 55 minutes to complete using a 1mm (100 micron) layer thickness. A model similar to this clip's size and shape would likely take less than an hour on a decent FFF 3D printer.

Additionally, the butterfly clip had a lot of excess support material that required a great deal of snipping to remove, and it left behind some jagged edges that needed additional post-print smoothing.

What I did find impressive about the Form 1+ were file load times. An .STL file of an iPhone 6 case with 1,407 layers (printed top to bottom vertically) took about a minute to load; even better, the print job started before the entire model had been uploaded. The iPhone case, however, took four hours to build.

I built a similar case with the Lulzbot Mini 3D printer in about one and a half hours.

Another drawback of this machine is that models can be really hard to remove from the detachable print platform. While the platform is well thought out in that it easily detaches with one simple lever, you're left with a resin-covered platform that you then have to scrape with a spatula to pry the model off.

 

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