The Formlabs Form 3 SLA is a top of the line medium format resin 3D printer. We were very impressed with the Form 3’s fully automated calibration and operation, stellar print quality and excellent branded slicer software. We weren’t so thrilled at the Form 3’s extremely high price tag and expensive branded resins. Users should note that Formlabs may void their warranty if users are caught using 3rd party resins. At $3,499 retail, hobbyists can pick up 10 Elegoo Mars 2 Pros for the price of one Form 3, making the Form 3 only accessible by industrial and professional users.
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Back in 2012, Formlabs began as a successful Kickstarter to release an affordable SLA resin printer that was well below the $10,000+ that most SLA printers were going for at that time. Fast forward to 2019, Formlabs released their Form 3, a completely redesigned SLA resin printer packed with a brand new laser unit and an extensive amount of smart features added. Formlabs also heavily invested in their ecosystem of resins and PreForm slicer in hopes that the Form 3 would be a true plug-and-play printer that requires no tuning to get top-quality resin prints. At $3,499, this is not a machine aimed at hobbyists but rather created for production shops and industry professionals.
In this Formlabs Form 3 SLA resin printer review, we will take an extensive dive into its strengths and weaknesses and see if it is worth its premium over other resin 3D printers.
If you’re looking at the Formlabs Form 3 SLA Resin printer, you’re looking for the best print quality on the market (if you didn’t know that, surprise!). Form 3 uses precise laser technology to output the best detail as small as 25um. Everything from houses to the scales on a dragon, this printer can do it all with no sacrifice to quality.
Print speed is also important when looking for a great 3D printer. However, due to the amazing print quality of the Form 3, the speed was definitely sacrificed. Form 3 uses a laser to trace each layer instead of UV light curing an entire layer at once. We estimate a decline in the speed of around 75% compared to modern MLSA printers such as the Mars 2 Pro.
While print quality and speed definitely dictate the price, you also want to be cognizant of maintenance & replacement costs in the long run. The Form 3 uses proprietary parts for its 3D printers. If repairs are required, parts like the laser and vat can be taken out and replaced easily as they are self-contained units. However, these parts must be received directly from Formlabs or an authorized seller. Conversely, other 3D printers have more easily interchangeable parts. Additionally, access to the control board also requires Formlabs service, which is a pain in the butt for a hobbyist but not a more professional institution.
You can probably tell that due to its price and specialized audience/buyers, the community support is limited due to the barrier of entry to owning a printer like this. Another downside for the hobbyist such as ourselves who love connecting with fellow 3D printer aficionados to talk shop.
Ranked #9 of 10
The Formlabs Form 3 belongs to the professional medium-form-factor SLA resin 3d printer specializing in highly detailed prints for industrial use. These types of printers are known for their unmatched print quality, being ready to print out of the box and being well supported by the manufacturer.
With that said, we decided to stress test the Form 3 with multiple test prints, crawl through its community forums to see how active it is, carefully goes through all its special features, chatted with industrial users, and more. The Form 3 stands alone as a highly polished SLA resin printer; however, we pitched it against the Peopoly Moai 130 SLA printer and the Elegoo Saturn MSLA printer to see if the Form 3 is worth its high price tag.
This is a read that you would not want to miss. If you are in the market for a high-end, professional resin 3d printer, you came to the right place. You can avoid the headaches of technical issues, parts breaking down, failed prints and more if you select the right printer for your needs. Our careful research will make sure your 3D printer purchase is worth it.
The Formlabs Form 3 arrived in a very large box fully encased in a layer of foam to protect the resin 3D printer while in shipping. Compared to other resin printers, there was a lot more foam and tape attached to the laser unit and tray that must be removed before using, similar to the print head and ink cartridges that needed to be freed in a desktop inkjet printer. Formlabs includes an extensive manual outlining the protective foam and tape that must be removed before use.
While the Form 3 automatically levels the build plate, the user must level the resin printer to the table. This is achieved using 4 leveling knobs (located at the feet of the Form 3) and the onboard sensors, making the whole leveling process intuitive and precise.
The last step is to simply load the resin cartridge to complete the setup process. The complete unboxing and setup took us around 30 minutes which is a bit longer than the typical 20 minutes that we would normally spend. Most of the time was taken up by double checking we removed all the protective tape and foam and allowed the Form 3 to run self-diagnostics before the first prints. While the setup took longer, we prefer what Formlabs has done as it takes all the guesswork of leveling the printer.
Resin printers are capable of extremely detailed prints that FDM prints cannot hope to compete with. SLA printers, such as the Form 3, use a very precise laser to trace and cure each layer. It’s able to resolve details as small as 25um allowing the Form 3 printer to print just about any level of detail.
We have tested the Form 3 in 3 major areas: the ability to resolve detailed models, z height consistency and consistent laser exposure across the whole build plate.
To test the Form 3’s ability to print detailed models, we had it print several detailed figures, both large and small. First, we had it print a small and medium-sized fantasy figure. The printer had absolutely no issue printing details such as a thin sword and did a very good job at reproducing the scales and texture found on the dragon model. Next, we printed a much larger house model and robot figurine. One thing to note is since the Form 3 uses a laser instead of an LCD to cure a layer, it does not suffer from the slight pixelation from MSLA printers. This results in a nearly perfect reproduction of details and none of the pixelation textures on the flat surfaces on the robot figurine that users typically see with a MSLA printer.
Typically when a model uses supports, it will leave a small scar on the model when the support is removed. The Form 3’s light touch supports have almost entirely removed those support scars, resulting in models which need almost no sanding or cleanup when removing supports.
We then printed an Eiffel tower to test the Form 3’s ability to print tall objects and to exaggerate any issues related to the z stepper motor. We were really pleased with how well the Form 3 could reproduce the details of the tower and found no issues with z-layer alignment.
We finally printed a series of detailed tiles across the Form 3 to test how evenly the Form 3 prints across the build plate. Normally this test is useful for MSLA printers where it uses a UV light source that may be more intense in the middle compared to the edges. However, we wanted to see if the Form 3 could print consistently from edge to edge. We found there was no difference between the tiles found on the edge and those found in the middle.
Overall, we were extremely pleased with the print quality coming out of the Form 3 and found it produced the best prints in all resin printers we have tested so far.
The Form 3 produces the best quality prints out of all the resin printers we have used in our testing. However, there are a few issues that users should be aware of.
The Form 3 uses a 250mW laser to cure resin compared to a UV and LCD mask found in MSLA printers. While it does produce higher quality prints without the pixelation artifacts, it is far slower than MSLA printers. SLA printers, like the Form 3, must use a laser to trace each layer as opposed to UV light curing an entire layer at once, resulting in significantly slower print times. Compared to modern MLSA printers such as the Elegoo Mars 2 Pro, the Form 3 is anywhere between 50-200% slower.
Resin Costs and Ecosystem
MSLA printers use 405nm UV resin which is relatively inexpensive at $40-60/L due to lower production costs and scale. SLA curable resin from Formlabs starts at $109/L making it nearly two times the price. Additionally, Formlabs will void the warranty if it detects that a non-branded resin was used in its printers, forcing users to stay within Formlabs’ ecosystem of resin. Formlabs offers engineering and dental resins formulated specifically for certain engineering and healthcare use cases. In our testing, we used their standard grey resin and did not try their specialty resins.
Setting Up Prints
Formlabs uses PreForm, a proprietary slicer for the Formlabs Form series of printers. Although the user interface differs from common slicers such as Chitubox and Lychee, we found most of the functions to be the same and just as intuitive.
A critical missing component was the built-in model hollowing function found on Lychee and Chitubox. This feature removes the majority of the model’s interior to reduce resin usage, weight and suction force applied to the build plate, which resulted in cheaper prints and poor print reliability. Formlabs suggests that users use 3rd party programs such as Meshmixer to hollow out models before importing them into PreForm. We were very disappointed that this feature is missing on PreForm, especially since the Form 3 cannot use 3rd party slicers such as Lychee or Chitubox.
The PreForm is a highly polished piece of software with a few unique features despite missing model hollowing. We found the user interface intuitive, responsive and automatically connected and reported on the resin status before use. Additionally, we found its auto support feature the most reliable of all resin slicers we have used. In our tests below, the new light touch auto supports are both reliable and create very clean prints where users can barely see where the supports have touched the model. Finally, PreForm has a one-click button to automatically orient and support the model, removing one of the most difficult steps in resin printing.
Prints are sent either through a USB connection, wired ethernet or wirelessly to the Form 3. This makes getting prints to the Form 3 extremely convenient and simple compared to most resin printers that only accept prints via a USB flash drive. Additionally, the Form 3’s web interface is very polished compared to Anycubic’s very rough app interface.
The Formlabs Form 3 is a large desktop resin printer with an overall dimensions of 405mm (l) x 370mm (w) x 530mm (h), a build volume of 145mm (l) x 145mm (w) x 185mm (h) and weighs in at 17.5kg. It is constructed primarily out of brushed metal with an acrylic gull wing door which grants easy access to the build plate. Overall, the Form 3 feels like a premium product.
Compared to its closest competitor, the Peoploy Moai, the Form 3 features a larger build volume, larger overall dimensions and weight. However, the Form 3 is a much more polished machine, likely because the Moai is aimed at hobbyists and enthusiasts instead of production shops.
Compared to the latest generation of MSLA resin printers, the Form 3 is also much larger and heavier than both the Anycubic Mono X and the Elegoo Saturn. However, both of these resin printers feature slightly longer and taller build volumes of 192mm (l) x 120mm (w) x 200mm (h).
SLA resin printers are electrically safe compared to filament-based FDM 3D printers. Resin printers need very little power to drive a laser system, with 1 stepper motor versus high-power heaters used to melt filament and heated beds found in FDM printers. As a result, SLA resin printers, like the Formlabs Form 3, do not have the risk of electrical fires associated with FDM 3D printers.
Resin Health Concerns
The laser curable resin does have a number of health hazard risks, however. Laser curable resin is extremely toxic if ingested and can cause allergic reactions if it comes in contact with bare skin. Several precautions should be taken when handling laser curable resin, including wearing Nitrile gloves when handling resin. Despite its premium price tag, Formlabs did not include any nitrile gloves within its Form 3 package. We would have liked to see at least one disposable pair included, as nearly all other resin manufacturers include at least one pair.
Laser Safety Concerns
Unlike MSLA printers, the Formlabs Form 3 uses a high-powered laser to cure resin into solid prints. This presents an additional safety concern as lasers can be extremely damaging to the eyes. Fortunately, the Formlabs Form 3 has installed a sensor within the acrylic lid that automatically powers down the laser if it detects that the lid has been opened.
Automatic Resin Handling
Unlike its more affordable competitors, Formlabs uses a resin cartridge system to load resin into the Form 3. Apart from the obvious convenience of simply slotting a new cartridge, this has the added benefit of users never needing to expose their hands or clothes to resin when refilling the Form 3. Additionally, if users purchase Formlabs’ Wash + Cure system to process their resin prints, users would significantly reduce their chance of handling any uncured resin.
Finding Replacement Parts
The Form 3 uses completely proprietary parts for its resin 3D printers. If servicing is required, parts like the laser unit and resin vat can be removed and replaced very easily as they are self-contained units. However, replacements must be sourced directly from Formlabs or an authorized seller. Formlabs offers an extended warranty service that will replace parts when needed to reduce downtime of the Form 3.
Accessing the Control Board
The Form 3’s control board is sealed away and requires that Formlabs service the Form 3 if required. This level of service is good for institutions and workplaces that need a resin printer working with little to no user intervention, however, hobbyists and users who enjoy fixing machines will find this extremely frustrating.
Fully Automatic Calibration
Formlabs packed the Form 3 with several smart features. The first thing you’ll notice is its fully automatic calibration routine. When powered on, the Form 3 will automatically level its build plate so users can print reliably right away. This is an extremely useful feature as the biggest source of failures for resin printing is an unlevel bed. Nearly all MSLA and SLA printers require the user to level the build plate before first use with the exception of the EPAX X1, which comes leveled from the factory. However, the EPAX X1 must be releveled manually if it even loses a level. The Form 3, however, will always check that it is leveled correctly before printing.
The laser unit, motion system and resin tanks are all fitted with sensors and NFC tags to monitor and alert users if a major component is failing. This takes the guesswork out of any repair if the Form 3 ever breaks down.
Wireless Connectivity and Print Management
A feature unique to Formlabs is their wireless connectivity and print management software. Very few resin 3D printers have the ability to wirelessly transfer and start prints, and certainly, none can do it with Formlabs’ level of polish. More impressively is Formlabs’ print management software. This allows multiple users to schedule and monitor prints, allowing other users to see when and how long the Form 3 is in use and if it can handle more in any given time frame. Schools and workplaces would benefit most from this feature.
Resin Cartridge System
Formlabs uses a cartridge system for loading and unloading resin. When a user loads a Formlabs’ branded resin cartridge into the Form 3, the resin printer will scan the NFC tag on the cartridge and load the appropriate resin profile into the Form 3. It also automatically loads and refills the resin vat with the appropriate amount, ensuring that prints will always have enough resin to complete the print job.
The Form 3 takes care of unloading the resin from the vat back into the cartridge when users want to switch out the resin cartridge. This allows switching between resins to be incredibly quick and seamless. Formlabs claims it can be done in seconds! We greatly appreciate this feature, as with any other resin printer, since we would need to manually empty and clean the resin vat before adding a new resin. This is messy, time-consuming and potentially exposes skin and clothing to uncured resin.
Low Force Stereolithography (LFS)
LFS is Formlabs’ flagship feature for the Form 3 resin printer. Traditional SLA printers use a rigid acrylic resin vat and generate a tremendous amount of suction force when the build plate lifts off after each layer is cured. While rare, this could lead to prints failing due to the suction force breaking the print off the build plate. The Form 3 uses a flexible layer at the bottom of the vat, similar to the FEP film found on MSLA printers. Combined with a moving laser unit, the two components gently release the cure resin prints off when the build plate moves. This results in a far lower suction force applied to the resin prints, which increases print reliability.
As of the time of this writing, Formlabs does not offer any upgrades to the Form 3 SLA resin printer.
Formlabs has considerable brand awareness. However, due to its cost, it suffers from having a very small community. There are a few groups that users can access for tips and solutions to issues they are facing. Formlabs does recommend that users reach out and contact them for support.
The Formlabs Form 3 is unique in the resin 3D printer space due to its SLA technology, compared to MSLA technology found in the majority of other resin 3D printers. The Form 3 boasts having the best print quality and the most polished and best user experience in any resin 3D printer. However, this comes at a significant price. At $3,499, users can buy over 10 Elegoo Mars 2 Pros or any other combination of MSLA printers by other manufacturers.
With its branded resins costing nearly two times more than MSLA resins, it makes the Form 3 an incredibly expensive machine to purchase and run. This resin printer is not targeting the hobbyist market but rather is aimed at healthcare and engineering institutions that need extremely high-resolution prints with little to no user intervention. We would recommend the Form 3 to users fitting those requirements.
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1. Formlabs.com, “Formlabs” Accessed July 26, 2022.