The term "3D printing" might evoke images of MakerBot's colorful Replicator or wooden Thing-O-Matic in your mind — if it evokes anything at all. But a small company from Massachusetts called Formlabs has spent the last few years quietly (to most of the world) making one of the best desktop printers on the market, balancing high quality with relatively low cost. Now it's time for a new one: the Form 2.
Formlabs printers work differently than most other desktop 3D printers that you might have seen at fairs or in stores. Instead of building objects by applying small amounts of plastic layer by layer, Formlabs' printers use a process called stereolithography, during which a laser gets shined into a bath of liquid photopolymer, or resin, curing it into a solid object bit by bit.
The Form 2 isn't exactly cheap, but it packs a powerful punch
The Form 2, available today for $3,499, offers significant improvements on this process. The laser inside the printer is now 50 percent more powerful than the one found in its predecessor, the Form 1+, and the company says the Form 2 can build objects that are 40 percent bigger as well. The Form 2 can also use cartridges to refill the printer's resin tank while it's printing, which helps solve one of the biggest problems in desktop 3D printing: losing a print because the printing process stopped part of the way through.
The Form 2 is a desktop printer capable of extremely high resolution prints.
The Form 2 also comes with a few features that can already be found on 3D printers that are aimed more squarely at general consumers and hobbyists. It's Wi-Fi enabled, so you can control your prints from anywhere, without needing to plug something into the machine. It has more internal memory (8GB), one-click printing, and an improved touchscreen display.
Formlabs' resolution gets even better with the Form 2, but it's also playing a bit of catch-up
While the Form 2 certainly isn't explicitly built for the casual user, or even your eight-year-old, these are the kinds of improvements the company needed to make to keep pace with where the industry is at right now. The approachability of 3D printing might be increasing at what feels like a snail's pace, but dozens of startups were showcasing printers half the price or cheaper than what Formlabs offers at CES this year.
When Formlabs co-founder Max Lobovsky showed us the original Form 1 at CES in 2013, he called it "the first professional-quality machine that's below $10,000." The Form 1 was capable of printing objects at four times the resolution of conventional desktop printers of that era for tens of thousands of dollars less. The company's debut printer raised nearly $3 million on Kickstarter, but suffered widely-documented shipping delays (which were a major focus of the Netflix documentary, Print the Legend).
Consumer-level 3D printing is still in its infancy, and one of the missing links is bringing more of those industrial capabilities to the desktop. (Software and 3D design education are others.) Formlabs has been trying to forge this link for a few years now, and the Form 2 looks like the company's best effort yet.