Affordable precision 3D printing for pros

June 3, 2014

Formlabs’ Form 1 3-D printer and PreForm software (credit: Formlabs)

The team at Formlabs, a MIT Media Lab spinout, has invented a high-resolution 3-D laser printer, called the Form 1, that’s viewed as an affordable option (about $3,300) for professional users.

The desktop printer — standing about a foot high and weighing about 20 pounds — runs on stereolithography, a fabrication technique usually reserved for massive machines that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In the Form 1, a violet laser moves around a bath of light-sensitive polymers, or resin, tracing a predetermined pattern. After each layer is cured, a mechanical platform lifts the object upward, where the layer is rapidly dried and another melded to it. This process is repeated layer-by-layer, taking several hours and delivering layers as thin as 25 microns — much more finely detailed than other low-cost 3-D printer

By continuously advancing the software, the long-term goal, Lobovsky says, is to achieve “one-click printing,” where a user can design a model, press “print,” and set the printer to churning out a model rapidly.