The system uses a powerful 405-nanometer violet laser and steerable mirrors to selectively cure a liquid photopolymer raw material into a solid structure. Its spot size of 140 microns allows the Form 2 to create layers of 25-, 50- or 100-micron thickness at a resolution of 25 microns. That should be more than enough for making prototypes, tools and jigs as well as most small products.
FormLabs sells 17 different photoreactive materials for the Form 2 that create methacrylate polymers with a variety of properties. In addition to draft resins for quick prototyping, the Form 2 can make items that are translucent, clear, gray or black. While none of FormLabs' materials are brightly colored, the company sells a $175 kit that lets you mix your own. The kit comes with white base resin, along with black, white, yellow, cyan and magenta pigments and syringes, to precisely measure and mix a rainbow of shades.
The Form 2 can use specialty resins for toughened parts, flexible and elastic ones, as well as resins designed to take high temperatures, and those used for dental prosthetics and jewelry. On the downside, not all of the resins work with the Form 2's three thickness levels.
The latest addition is a silica-filled ceramic material that, after firing, is chemically inert and an insulator. It can withstand temperatures of up to about 1,800 Fahrenheit for functional parts that can stand up to abuse.
The resins come in cartridges with a shelf life of at least a year, and sell for between $150 and $400 a liter. Each container has enough raw material to make three complete chess sets with intricate pieces that are about 2 inches tall. It takes about 45 minutes to print each piece at the Form 2's top speed of 1 to 3 centimeters an hour of build height.
Ease of Use
Loading new raw material couldn't be easier. It takes a minute to open the printer's cover, open the resin cartridge's vent cap, slide it into place and get the job going. In fact, it's cleaner than changing the ink on many printers.
Rather than being out in the open, like extrusion designs, the Form 2 has an orange cover that prevents ordinary daylight from prematurely hardening the resin. It doesn't need to operate in an inert atmosphere that industrial sintering designs require.
Because its output is smooth with sharp edges and accurate dimensions, every day thousands of companies use the Form 2 to create everything from custom orthodontics to elaborate earrings to prototype parts. Pankl Racing uses the device to make the tooling, jigs and manufacturing fixtures needed for the consistent production of custom race car parts. Using the Form 2, instead of traditional materials and techniques, shortens the time and cost of the completed product by as much as 90%, according to the company.
The biggest compromise with the Form 2 is size. Its build volume of 6.9 x 5.7 x 5.7 inches adds up to a maximum item of 3.7 liters, one-tenth the size of things the Nyomo Makyn 6 can produce. On the other hand, the Form 2 costs one-third that of the Makyn 6.
Still, at 20.5 x 13.5 x 13 inches and weighing 28.5 pounds, the Form 2 is one of the smallest and lightest 3D printers of its type. It can easily be stashed in the corner of a desk, on a shelf or moved to where it's needed on a wheeled cart. The company doesn't sell a stand.
To get inside, slide up the orange cover, and you're looking at the machine's build stage with the resin cartridge in the back and the system's 4.3-inch color touchscreen up front. In addition to showing that the job is underway and its progress, the screen displays how long it's going to take to finish. You can pause or stop the job at any point with a tap of a finger.
When the Form 2 has finished printing, the part might not be quite ready for use. It needs to be washed to remove unreacted resin with isopropyl alcohol for at least 10 minutes. Then the part needs to be cured at 170 degrees Fahrenheit while rotating until it attains its full hardness. FormLabs sells a pair of similarly sized Form Wash and Form Cure chambers to do this post-processing. They sell for $500 and $700, or you get the printer and the two post-processing stations for under $5,000. FormLabs is phasing out the Form 2 printer in favor of the Form 3 model that uses a new stereolithography process. In the meantime, they have reconditioned units for $2,850 (with a one-year warranty).
The printer comes with FormLabs's PreForm software for prepping the model. It starts with a standard .STL or .OBJ file and outputs the .FORM format that the printer uses. It has all the manufacturing information embedded, including slice thickness, supports and orientation. The app is available for Windows (version 7 or newer) and Macs (OSX 10.7 or newer), but not Linux systems. While the company lacks full apps for setting up print jobs with a phone or a tablet, you can remotely monitor progress.
Recent updates have increased the unit's build speed while including the ability to have several PreForm windows open at once. The Form 2 printer can now also use the Tough 1500 (at the 50- and 100-micron setting) and surgical resin (at the 50-micron level).
While the Form 2 can be left on its own to build its parts without supervision, there's no webcam to remotely monitor its progress. You can get the Form 2 online with either wired Ethernet or Wi-Fi networking, or use the included USB cable with a dedicated workstation. There's a USB outlet for inserting a flash drive with the part's file for quick prints.
In addition to changing the raw material cartridge as it empties, you'll need to occasionally clean the antireflective surface below the resin tank. Every 1,000 or so layers that are created, the tank will need to be cleaned or replaced; a new one costs $59. FormLabs's new longer life LT resin tray costs $99 but should last 10 to 20 times longer.
FormLabs includes a one-year warranty with the Form 2. A two-year warranty extension costs $899. If you're new to stereolithography printing, get the $499 Pro Service Plan, which includes a half-hour of online personalized training and rapid response to questions or problems.
While the Form 2 lacks a comprehensive manual, the support site is the go-to place with startup guides, videos and help with error messages. The company's technicians are available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., ET, Monday through Friday, but FormLabs lacks 24/7 response.