At last: a low-cost, professional-grade light-based 3D printer

September 27, 2012

Form 1 (credit: Formlabs)

Formlabs’ new Form 1 3D printer could bring professional-grade 3-D prints to the home workshop.

Desktop 3-D printing has largely been the domain of extrusion-based machines like MakerBot’s Replicator and homebrew RepRap designs.

These lag behind the capabilities of pricier, professional stereolithography devices, where UV light cures incredibly thin layers of resin to create objects on par with manufactured goods.

Developing this type of printer at a consumer price point has been an elusive goal until now.

The Form 1 is a desktop-sized machine that creates professional-grade, light-cured 3-D prints, Wired reports.

Their prototype units are fully functional and Formlabs will finance manufacturing via a Kickstarter campaign that broke their $100,000 target in 2.5 hours.

Initial backers will be able to pre-order the Form 1 for $2,299 (only 25 will be available at this price); additional units are priced at $2499 and $2699, based on order of contribution. Actual market pricing has not yet been released.

How it works

Form 1 output (credit: Formlabs)

Plastic isn’t deposited on a build platform; instead, parts are extracted from a gooey pool of resin. In addition to its higher accuracy, this process also makes translucent parts and complex geometries possible. It can print objects 4.9 by 4.9 by 6.5 inches with layers that are just 25 microns (0.001 inches) thick.

To put this in perspective, the Form 1 resolution is four times higher than the new MakerBot Replicator 2 (100-micron layer thickness), and is on par with professional grade systems. With tolerances this tight, designers will be able to produce high quality presentation models suitable for painting, small runs of production parts, and models with enough detail to be used in jewelry casting.

The Form 1 may be the first low-cost 3-D printer that allows people to focus on developing their product, instead of fussing over the production process.