The Form + 1 Stereolithographic Printer

In the spring of 2015, I applied for and received $7,500.00 from Jacksonville University’s EPIC program with the intent of revitalizing our Computer Animation curriculum by acquiring, learning and incorporating 3D printing technology. After researching 3D printers in the course of writing the grant application, I settled on 2 printers using different methods to create their prints. One of the printers was the Lulzbot TAZ 5, which I describe in another post.

The other printer is a Stereolithographic, resin-based and laser cured printer called the Form +1 available from Formlabs Inc. I want to describe my experience with this printer in this post.

First, set up and installation for this printer are a breeze. Unpack the printer and resin tank, plug the printer into the USB port on your computer or hub, install the software and fill the resin tank with resin and you are ready to print. The printer ships with no real manual, but you can visit formlabs.com to view the very extensive and well-done documentation. Follow it an all will be well.

The printer is tethered, meaning it must be connected to the printer to load a print from the Preform software, but it does so quickly and the printer is reliable enough that reloading has never been an issue.

The Preform software is very easy to use and has gotten easier since I got the printer. The newest version (as of this writing) has a one press print button that automatically orients your print and builds support structures for your model. Or, you can scale up your print, place it on the bed, orient it and build support structures manually. BUT, until you get a lot of experience with printing, I strongly suggest you use the default settings for orienting and building support structures.

The procedure for using the Form +1 software is as follows:

  1. Open the software and specify your resin type and detail level

  2. Import your model (obj or stl work great).

  3. Scale it to the size you want using the top button.

  4. Either press the One-Click Print button or press the Orient button and choose Orient selected.

  5. Click on the Supports button and choose Generate Selected.

  6. Press the Layout button to orient the model from the top view.

  7. Press print and it will send the job to the printer after prompting you to fill the tank and inspect it to make sure no cured resin is in it.

Once done, the fun begins. Below is a print of different pieces of the airplane I created for this online tutorial with Pluralsight/Digital Tutors:

https://www.pluralsight.com/courses/building-toy-plane-3d-printing-maya-mudbox-2284

This first image shows the print raised out of the tank. That is one of the cool things about this printer. The model raises up out of the resin/goop!

This is me, recording the moment of beginning to scrape the model off of the build plate using the supplied paint scraper, although I’ve found a bladed paint scraper to work a little better.

After scraping it off, into the Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) it goes for a 2 minute oscillation and a 10 minute soak. I’ve found leaving it longer (30 minutes-2 hours doesn’t hurt the print and makes it dry less sticky.)

Then you must cut off the support structure using the supplied snips. Sanding and finishing are optional, but recommended.

Pros and Cons about this printer and material:

Pros:

  • The surface details possible are AMAZING! Look at the images below and see. These prints are roughly 5-7 inches tall and you can see every wrinkle and detail.

  • The resin is dense and relatively heavy.

  • The resin is very solvent proof.

  • The printer is quiet relative to the TAZ.

  • It is surprisingly fast for the level of surface detail.

  • The Preform software accurately predicts the time and amount of resin you will need.

  • The Preform software is very easy to use.

  • Changing resin types is simple (if you have spare tanks).

  • It has a variety of resins available like Black, Gray, Clear, Strong, Flexible and Castable.

  • The printer is very reliable. I’ve only had two prints fail, both were because I fiddled with the Support settings. Don’t fiddle with the support settings!

  • No fumes.

Cons (and many of these cons have to do with the resin-media NOT the printer):

  • The printer is more expensive.

  • It is tethered to the computer.

  • The resin process is messy compared to FDM. You must clean up the build plate and any resin that gets on your hands using IPA. (Although baby wipes dipped in the IPA work surprisingly well for your hands.)

  • The toughness of the resin makes finish sanding and support removal difficult.

  • The resin is proprietary.

  • The resin is expensive. This makes having to print the support structures feel like you are wasting money.

  • The only way to glue pieces together is to use Epoxy or activated superglue.

  • The gray resin is very brittle, making thin parts easy to break off.

  • Even after washing, the resin needs a little more curing time in the light.

  • Models are solid which uses more resin.

Here are some prints made with the Form +1:

Left: iBrau Maya character model printed in two pieces 7" tall

Right: Munny Doll character model printed four pieces 4" tall.

Left: Marat the Mime Maya Character model 5" tall

Right: Marie the Mime Maya character model 5" tall see how I created her here.

The Munny Doll disassembled.

One HUGE tip: Do NOT put flat surfaces flat on the build plate, let the software orient your model and build the supports around it. This is counter intuitive, but necessary as resin that is cured flat on the plate tends to not cure properly.

The TAZ and the Form +1 are completely different printers that serve completely different niches in 3D printing. For high-detail but small work, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Form +1. For anything larger scale, I would go with the TAZ 5.

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