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Formlabs preps first home stereolithic 3D printer

Laser tech makes for higher-res objects

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3D printing geeks have become very excited about Formlabs' Form 1, the first home-oriented stereolithography 3D printer. While affordable 3D printers are becoming more widespread, what makes the Form 1 special is that instead of piping resin through an extruder, it uses lasers to heat and harden a point within a bath of liquid resin.

This form of 3D printing has been around for some time, but until the arrival of the Form 1 has been fantastically expensive. The Form 1 was designed by a team of MIT engineers on the established principal of building the device they themselves wanted to use. The initial price is around $2000 (£1238).

FormLabs Form 1

The greatest advantage of a stereolithography printer is that it has a very much higher resolution than an extruder. The new extruder-based Makerbot 2 prints at 100 micros while Form 1 claims 25 microns.

It’s also much more reliable and repeatable. Getting the temperature right with extruders can be hit and miss - what’s fine for some models causes others to crack. Stereolithography doesn’t have these problems.

There is clearly a huge pent-up demand for high quality 3D printing. Form 1 raised over a $1 million in its first week on crowdsourced funding site Kickstarter. This is ten times the target Formlabs set.

FormLabs Form 1 output examples

Formlabs is claiming much friendlier printing software than previous solutions, although in fairness that’s not hard. The printing might be friendlier but the chemicals are not. The liquid resin has to be handled with care, it’s typically much more expensive – think three times the price for a model – and only available from Formlabs.

Initially, it will be a matte grey, with other colours to come. The higher priced powder-based systems can print in full colour while home extruder systems can print in two colours.

Shipments are due to start in February 2013 with European shipments following in March. ®

Simon Rockman blogs about phones for older users at FussFreePhones

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