3d printing is something that has been really interesting to me, for a long time, but really just out of curiosity. I’ve honestly never had that thought of “oh wow, if only I had a 3d printer, I could…”. Part of the reason for that is because I’ve never been terribly impressed with the quality that comes out of the printers that I’ve seen up close.
Since FormLabs released their Form 1 SLA printer, it’s been at the top of my interest list for printers! The quality that it can produce is pretty amazing, and that has a lot to do with the fact that it’s not extrusion based, but instead, a stereolithography printer.
What does that mean? Well… I’m glad you asked.
Extrusion based printers use a plastic filament, fed into a heated metal “hot end”, where it is melted and squirted out through a tiny hole. The printer moves this hot end (or extruder) around in the X and Y planes (left, right, forward, back), making a single layer. Then the extruder moves slightly in the Z plane (up and down) and repeats the process for a new layer.
SLA printing uses a tray of photo sensitive liquid resin instead of plastic filament. A build plate is pushed down into the resin, and a laser draws out the shape of the print on a particular layer, curing the resin where the laser is shown. The build plate is raised up slightly, then another layer is drawn, and on and on.
The difference in these methods has a pretty huge impact on the potential detail in the prints, which you can see in the photos/video.
To test the machine, I downloaded a model of R2-D2 from Thingiverse, and dropped it into the supplied software, PreForm. I clicked one button to add supports to the model and hit “Send to printer”. There was no configuration, adjustment or setup. I literally took it out of the box and plugged it in.
The results blew my mind, and while this printer is a bit expensive (both the machine and the materials) it can produce a print quality that really took me by surprise.
Check out the video for more details and discussion about it.