Good news everyone! Formlabs has just announced their next gen SLA printer, the Form 2 and it's an improvement on the Form 1+ in almost every way. Formlabs developed one of the first affordable SLA resin printers that gave pro results--check out the Print the Legend documentary on Netflix for a fascinating look at how they got started. I had a lot of fun last year testing the Form 1+, but there were a few bumps along the way. Here's how I wrapped up the review:
"So would I buy a Form 1+? As much as I like the prints, I personally would like to wait for their next gen machine which I hope would address some of the issues I had. I would also like to see them come out with a material that hits that sweet spot between their standard material and the flexible - something that is rigid with just a bit of give. Despite any problems I ran into, I really liked the Form 1+ and look forward to what Formlabs will do next."
What they're doing next looks pretty good. I was recently invited to meet with Formlabs co-founder Max Lobovsky and chief marketing officer, Colin Raney to take a look at the new Form 2, and guess what: they addressed every concern I had and then some. The Form 2 looks to be the machine I would buy for myself.
Here's what's new: the Form 2 has a bigger print volume, a more powerful laser for faster and finer prints, a new resin cartridge system among many other updates. I was very pleased with the prints off the Form 1+ and it was relatively easy to use, but there were a number of things that I felt needed addressed--let's take a look at each of the changes individually. (I'm not going into detail about how the SLA printing process works, as on a base level, it has not changed. Take a look at my Form 1+ review for an in-depth explanation.)
Print Volume - The volume has been increased over 40% from 125 x 125 x 165mm (4.9" x 4.9" x 6.5") to 145 x 145 x 175mm (5.7" x 5.7" x 6.9").
Resolution - The layer (z) resolution
stays the same, ranging from 25-200 microns (.025mm - .2mm) (at time of printing, this was true, has since been updated to 25-100 microns) but the feature resolution (how small a detail it can accurately reproduce) has been improved from 300 to 200 microns, or about twice the width of an average human hair.
Laser - The laser is 50% more powerful, allowing for faster prints and the finer detail resolution. Even more exciting is a completely sealed optics chamber. This was one of my major concerns with the Form 1+ as dirt and resin could easily fall inside onto the optics - it's great to see this feature. Max said that they tested the new optics in a chamber full of swirling talcum powder and it remained spotless. Awesome.
Print Trays - The trays have the same optically clear, soft, silicone bottom as the Form 1+, but have been completely redesigned otherwise. Aside from the obvious size difference, the plastic is stronger (I had problems with the Form 1+ trays cracking in the corner), they are easier to install and are now heated! This is to address concerns with the resin being too cold and viscous to print properly (for Makers working in the garage). The heating mechanism is mounted in the machine, under the tray. You should still have a dedicated tray for each material and they will need replaced after so many prints (Formlabs recommends after 2 bottles of resin). A monitoring system for the trays is supposed to be implemented at a later date, I assume via firmware update.
Peel Mechanism - This has been completely updated from the From 1+. Rather than rocking down to peel each layer, the Form 2 slides the tray side to side. With the Form 1+, large surface areas were hard to print, as the peeling process would often fail (see Winterfell in Form 1+ review). The new method allows for much larger surface areas to be printed successfully. Even more exciting is the addition of a wiping mechanism that cleans the bottom of the tank after each layer. This reduces little boogers and blemishes but can also save prints from failing. A common way for prints to fail is when a portion of the layer doesn't peel and sticks to the bottom of the tank. Once that happens, the stuck piece will prevent the laser from making any new layers in that area, typically wrecking the whole print. With the wiper, that failed portion should get scraped off the bottom allowing the laser to continue. So rather than a failed print, you may only have a small blemish. Nice.
Resin - New to the Form 2 are resin cartridges--yay! Simply drop it in the back and it feeds into the tank. This should cut down on mess, but even better - no refilling tank part way through a print! The cartridges are chipped which instantly made me frown, but no DRM is involved. The chips communicate what the cartridges are filled with and tracks how much material is used so it can warn user if there's not enough for a given print. Tanks are refillable and there is also the option to fill the tank manually like the Form 1+. Since my last review, Formlabs has also introduced Castable, Flexible and Tough resins. I'm particularly excited about the Tough resin as it has properties similar to ABS.
Interface - Rather than the one-button-does-all of the Form 1+, the Form 2 has a large, full color touch screen. There is now 4G of on-board storage for print files and the machine is wi-fi and ethernet enabled.
Software - I didn't get to play with the new PreForm software, but a major improvement which was already implemented is improved support structures that use a lot less material and should be easier to remove.
Cleaning - Even the cleaning station got an upgrade. Looking to make things easier and reduce mess, it's been completely redesigned with easy to open containers (one-handed), a work surface to remove prints on and a nifty handle that attaches to the print platform for a better grip.
All around a major upgrade
I love to see companies actually listen to feedback. As for the cost, at $3499 the Form 2 is only slightly more expensive than the Form 1+ was ($3299) and a discount will be offered to existing owners. With the release of the Form 2, the Form 1+ will be priced at $2799. The resin ($149-$175) and trays ($59) remain at the same price as before. The Form 2 is available for order now and scheduled to start shipping the third week of October. We are excited to be testing a Form 2 soon; stay tuned for an in-depth review!