The world of 3D printing is at times a tangled web of technologies, materials, and new processes and capabilities and that can make navigating the 3D printing ecosystem difficult. 3D printing doesn’t refer to one kind of manufacturing or technological process and therefore a well-rounded understanding requires an in-depth look into all available 3D printing systems.
3D printing refers to any manufacturing process which additively builds or forms 3D parts in layers from CAD data. The technology is significant because it offers direct manufacturing, meaning a design goes directly from you to the physical product through a computer and a printer.
3D printing starts with a digital file derived from computer-aided design (CAD) software. Once a design is completed, it must then be exported as a standard tessellation language (STL) file, meaning the file is translated into triangulated surfaces and vertices. The STL file then has to be sliced into hundreds, sometimes thousands, of 2D layers. A 3D printer then reads the 2D layers as building blocks which it layers one over the other, thus forming a 3D object.
All design files, regardless of the 3D printing technology, are sliced into layers before printing. Layer thickness – the size of each individual layer of the sliced design – is determined partly by technology, partly by material, and partly by desired resolution and your project timeline; thicker layers equate to faster builds, thinner layers equate to finer resolution, less visible layer lines and therefore less intensive post-processing work. After a part is sliced, it is oriented for the build.
The Formlabs Form 2 is a prime example of an all-around good 3D printer. It is being advertised as the most advanced desktop 3D printer by its manufacturers. The print material, a liquid called resin, starts at $149 per one-liter cartridge (about 1kg or 2 pounds) and isn’t cheap. In addition, as a stereolithography (SLA) printer, the Form 2 can only print solid forms with no ability to hollow out the thick parts of prints. This means it uses more material compared with the more popular and affordable fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printers. So yeah, it’s costly.
It is also flexible as it supports USB, a wired network, and Wi-Fi and is easy to use with a large, helpful touchscreen. What’s more, it includes a Finish Kit that comes in handy when cleaning the printed objects.
Despite its cost, the Form 2 is easily one of the best 3D printers. Cheaper 3D printers are available in the market, such as the XYZ printing da Vinci Jr. or the XYZ printing Nobel 1.0, but you’ll also have to deal with a downgrade in the quality of the prints. Formlabs Form 2 consistently delivers high-quality prints.
The Form 2 comes mostly preassembled and looks like a rectangle box standing upward. Like most SLA 3D printers, it has a large see-through orange plastic hood on top that keeps its resin tank from the outside world during a print job. This hood is attached to the printer, but you can easily open it to access the inside.
Out of the box, you just need to open the hood, install the included print platform, resin tank (which is directly under the print platform) and resin cartridge; the printer is now complete. The Form 2 is well-designed; all of its parts snap into its body quite easily. During a print job, the printer automatically detects the type of resin and draws it from the cartridge to fill the resin tank before the print platform lowers itself into the tank as the base for the resin to adhere to.
The printer includes one print platform, one resin tank, and one resin cartridge. If you just want to print one type of resin, there’s no need to get an extra resin tank. However, if you plan to print multiple types of resin, or resin of different colors, it’s a better idea to get an extra resin tank (and even an extra print platform) for each resin type/color. This is because you don’t want to mix resin types and colors together (which would lead to undesirable print results) and since the resin is very sticky, it takes a long time to clean the parts. Not only that but cleaning the tank is not recommended since you might accidentally scratch its bottom which will interfere with the laser beam during a print job.
- Technique: SLA (Stereolithography Apparatus)
- Printer dimensions: 13.5 × 13 × 20.5 inches (35 × 33 × 52 cm)
- Weight: 13 pounds (28kg)
- Display: Interactive touchscreen
- Light source: EN 60825-1:2007 certified Class 1, 405nm, 250mW violet laser
- Connectivity: USB wire, Ethernet, Wi-Fi
- Build size: 7 × 5.7 × 6.9 inches (145 × 145 × 175 mm)
- Power requirements: 100–240 V
- Layer thickness: 001, 0.002, 0.004, 0.008 inches (25, 50, 100, 200 microns)
- Print material: Photopolymer resin
- Resin supply: Auto-refilling
- Resin cartridge capacity: 1 liter
- Software: Formlabs Preform
- Operating system: Windows 7 or later, Mac OS X 10.7 or later
- File types: STL, OBJ, FORM
The LulzBot Mini is an easy-to-use, small form factor 3D printer that is more than capable of producing almost any object you can think up. Though tiny, this 3D printer is mighty! The LulzBot Mini provides you with the same wide range of features of the Taz 4 and facilitates the consistent, higher quality prints that you know and expect. The LulzBot Mini features a self-balancing 152mm x 152mm x 158mm (6in x 6in x 6.2in) print area with a controllable heat bed that can print small to medium sized items.
LulzBot users have many filament options beyond common plastics like PLA, ABS, and HIPS. Exotic filament options like wood and bronze/copper filled filament materials can also be used with this 3D printer!
All LulzBot products are Libre/Open Source Hardware, meaning you can adopt the latest and greatest technology being developed across the 3D printing market. From experimental filament materials and the modeling software of your choice to new accessories like hot ends and print surfaces, experience the joy of user freedom. LulzBot’s Libre and open philosophy empowers you to download and print upgrades and replacement parts for your 3D printer, and make whatever modifications you want!
At this current point in time printing, NinjaFlex and other flexible filaments are not possible with the LulzBot Mini. The LulzBot Mini does NOT include filament beyond the 1-meter HIPS sample.
- Materials: ABS, PLA, HIPS, PVA, wood filled filaments, Polyester (Tritan), PETT, bronze, and copper filled filaments, Polycarbonate, Nylon, PETG, conductive PLA and ABS, UV luminescent filaments, PCTPE, PC-ABS.
- Consumable standard: Open, non-proprietary filament formats
- Software: Cura LulzBot Edition (included). Also compatible with OctoPrint, BotQueue, Slic3r, Printrun, MatterControl and more
- Print platform: 152mm x 152mm x 158mm (6in x 6in x 6.2in). Heated borosilicate glass surface covered with PEI film.
- Max print volume: 3,650 cm3
- Print speed: 275mm/sec (10.8in/sec) at 0.18 layer height
- Layer Thickness: From 0.05mm to 0.50mm (0.002in – 0.020in)
- Max nozzle temperature: 300°C (572°F)
- Max build plate temperature: 120°C (248°F)
- Overall Dimensions: 435mm x 340mm x 385mm (17.1in x 13.4in x 15.2in)
- Weight : 8.55kg (18.85lbs)
It is predicted by some additive manufacturing advocates that this technological development will change the nature of commerce because end users will be able to do much of their own manufacturing rather than engaging in trade to buy products from other people and corporations. Some are touting this invention as the basis of a new industrial revolution.
3D printers capable of outputting in color and multiple materials already exist and will continue to improve to a point where functional products will be able to be manufactured. With effects on energy use, waste reduction, customization, product availability, medicine, art, construction and sciences, 3D printing will change the manufacturing world as we know it.