In a departure from the widely used FDM technology found in the majority of consumer 3D printers, Formlabs jumps off the bandwagon to offer a small form factor desktop SLA printer at a fraction of the usual cost.
On the back of a tremendously successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that raised an eye-watering $3 million in the space of few months, the Form 1 and its updated version, the Form 1 +, strives to bring the precision-oriented SLA technique to the masses.
How does it rival the standard FDM design and has Formlabs succeed in its mission to bring professional-grade quality free of the variable quality of other low-cost 3D printers to the average maker? Let’s find out.
|Printing Area||125 mm x 125 mm x 165 mm|
|Layer Resolution||25, 50, and 100 microns|
|Supported Filament||Liquid Plastic Resin|
Design and Features
Most striking is the orange acrylic cover that sits above a glossy grey base with soft contours, an efficient closed look, and a definite nod towards Formlab investing considerable time and money into creating a visually enticing device. The Form 1 + is well constructed with an intelligent design from the placement of the different components, the latched removable inverted build plate, and functional resin reservoir.
It’s easy to forget that the Form 1 + is supposed to sit alongside entry-level pre-assembled 3D printers due to how good it looks. It oozes precision and professionalism with an almost otherworldly attraction that drew us inexplicably to this machine. The total weight of 18 lbs is worth noting as it ensures the printer stands firmly on any surface with a robust set of low-profile feet.
As mentioned above it uses SLA tech, or inverted stereolithography, which involves a UV laser that cures or hardens a light-sensitive liquid plastic resin layer by layer into a solid object. The galvanometer-directed UV laser effectively draws on the surface of the liquid resin causing it to harden. Delving a little deeper the process centers on a process called photopolymerization, whereby molecules are fused and solidified when in contact with light to create polymers.
As you can see, this is miles away from the, at times, slapdash FDM technique, where plastic is melted then extruded layer by layer to create a printed model. Consequently, SLA usually carries with it a non-negligible price tag, if only for the equipment itself, but also for the actual liquid resin.
But the jump in price is also synonymous with a massive leap in quality as well. The results are incomparable to standard FDM tech, and if you were to put two identical models made via each of the technologies alongside one another, you’d be amazed by how much better the SLA printer performed.
The benefits don’t stop there, SLA is all but silent and long are the days of abrasive mechanical ear sores emanating from an FDM printer three rooms away. Equally, it is arguably safer due to only reaching temperatures ranging from 18 to 28 degrees centigrade compared to the standard 100 + degrees recorded during the operation of conventional 3D printers.
Now, to jump back to the hinged orange casing mentioned previously, it serves a fundamental purposes as it blocks outside light from infiltrating the closed chamber and spoiling the resin as well as looking pretty cool.
The Form 1 + packs a decent build area of 125 mm x 125 mm x 165 mm that is somewhat constrained by the incremental cost of SLA printing. The build volume took a hit to make the printer cost-effective. It’s smaller than most similarly priced FDM equivalents, but the upside is much better precision and detail.
At this point in our review, we would usually dive into extruder specifics, but as the Form 1 + doesn’t have one we jump to layer resolutions that range from an ultra-precise 25 to 100 microns alongside a minimum feature size of 300 microns (i.e., features of a model).
As for the resin itself, it is made of acrylate-based materials with an NPCA HMIS health safety rating of 2 (read moderately hazardous) and is produced exclusively by Formlabs and is, as expected, pretty expensive at around $150 for 500 mL, but much cheaper than the resin used for professional-grade machines. The standard resin is engineered for high-resolution details as well as strength and durability. Formlabs offers a range of colors and finishes alongside castable and flexible resins. Third-party resins aren’t supported and unfortunately won’t work with the Form 1 +.
Formlabs believes in simplicity and no more so than in the controls on the Form 1 +, which is nothing more than a one-button control panel with monochromatic LCD.
Otherwise, connectivity is limited to USB-to-PC via Formlabs slicing/preparation software dubbed PreForm with inbuilt tools for orientation, rotation, scaling, duplication, support generation and placement, density and geometry options, monitoring and print time estimates, and STL/OBJ file support (pulled from any 3D CAD software) converted to FORM for the Form 1+ to read. PreForm is compatible with both Windows and MacOS.
PreForm is easy to use, intuitive, and definitely among the best proprietary forced usage software we’ve come across in our years of 3D printing.
The Form 1 + comes amply protected in a package of suspended cardboard inserts holding the printer in place, edge protectors, and protective tape. Unpacking involves removing the printer while being careful not to damage the packaging as it is designed for reuse when transporting the Form 1 +.
The package includes the Form 1 +, USB cable, power cord, power adapter, official documentation, quick start guide, safety guide, a 1L bottle of resin, and a Form Finishing Kit (setup guide, rinse bucket, rinse basket, tray, scraper, squeeze bottle, tweezers, absorbent pad, and disposable nitrile gloves).
The Form 1 + comes pre-assembled, and we mean genuinely, pre-assembled. No messing around fitting extruders, build plates, or filament spools. Due to the SLA tech, there’s no bed leveling or calibration either. It is functional straight out of the box.
Setup couldn’t be easier: remove the plastic protective layer from the resin tank paying attention not to smudge the bottom or top, plug in the power cord to the adapter and socket, connect the USB cable to the printer then PC, and finally switch on the Form 1 + via the button next to the display screen.
Print preparation is limited to filling the resin tank with liquid resin up to the marked line. Gloves are recommended which is a slight inconvenience, but otherwise, the process couldn’t be more straightforward.
For someone accustomed to FDM printers, the Form 1 + was a revelation. The quality of the prints can only be described as outstanding to the point that we’re genuinely dreading going back to FDM models.
The quality of the precision allows finite details on models to be abundantly apparent and not merely a blotched mesh of vaguely resembling filament that is so often the case with FDM. Every model we printed came out great with more detail than we are accustomed to seeing for consumer/prosumer 3D prints.
The whole setup, slicing, and print initiation setup was also a pleasure and a world away from the overly complicated procedure usually associated with SLA style 3D printing. We did not once encounter any issues or failed prints at all.
The printer is also reasonably rapid, and the revised Form 1 + is up to 50 times faster due to an improved UV laser and optics.
The finishing kit is also excellently designed with brackets to fit the detached build plate while you scrape off the model and an efficient rinse basket. The supports were easy enough to remove with a little force; a sure sign they were doing their job during the printing process.
The one real issue we had with the Form 1 +, but that comes with the SLA territory, was how meticulous we had to be in keeping the device clean. Any stray finger marks or blemishes on the resin tank meant cleaning it from top to bottom or risk ruining the curing process due to the precision of the optics, mirrors, and UV laser.
Although Formlabs has technically stopped producing the Form 1 + in favor of the Form 2, they remain committed to providing expert after-sales support as well as a free one-year warranty, manning a repairs and servicing team, and providing educational resources from articles to videos by way of webinars and troubleshooting guides on its website.
The Form 1 + takes the precision and quality of professional SLA printers, miniaturizes it, simplifies the printing process, and produces high-resolution prints with a near perfect finish. If you want something different to the standard FDM design, then the Form 1 + offers the ideal all-in-one package to get your feet wet.
Although the ongoing cost of resupplying the resin tank can prove costly overtime, the Form 1 + uses resin sparingly, and we were surprised by how many models we were able to pump out with the stock 1L bottle. The long term cost is worth keeping in mind, but not a deal breaker in our book.
The cost of the resin means you won’t use it to create and experiment with test models. We see it more as finishing tool for low tolerance prototyping and models for casting.
The price tag hovers around the $3000 mark so this printer isn’t necessarily within the realm of the novice or first-time buyer, but veterans on the lookout for a new addition to their collection will find a lot of joy in the Form 1 +.
Form 1+ 3D Printer Review
Overall - 9.2/10
The Form 1 + brings SLA tech printing to the masses and does so in style with ease of use that belies the power hidden inside. The quality of the prints is outstanding. The cost of the resin is a negative and the new Form 2 may be a better investment, but otherwise, this printer is a win all around.
Writer and Product Reviewer
Thomas is a journalist based in the United Kingdom with a huge passion for gaming and technology. He uses his deep research skills and experience to review 3D printers here at 3DBeginners.