Formlabs, a start-up led by MIT researchers, has created a desktop 3D printer that uses stereolithography (SLA) technology normally reserved for costly high-end printers. While other at-home 3D printers use a process where ABS plastic is melted and extruded in thin strips, SLA uses lasers to cure liquid resin in microscopic layers. The Form 1 3D printer, which is described as the first "prosumer" 3D printer, accomplishes this using the same type of laser found in your Blu-ray player.
The Form 1 3D printer produces layers of just 25 microns, about ten microns thicker than some of the most advanced (and expensive) printers on the market today. And it will do this in your home for less than US$3,000. For comparison, the Makerbot Replicator 2 prints parts with a layer resolution of 100 microns.
The resin material used by the printer will cost about $150 a liter, and will eventually be offered in a variety of colors, transparencies, and even elasticities. The included Form software imports .STL files and automatically generates the support structures required to print parts with overhangs.
One of the drawbacks of the technology is the finishing that parts require after printing (such as the removal of said support structures). To help you get the job done, the package includes the Form Finish Kit which packs a variety of accessories.
Another issue is the build volume, which determines how big a part can be. The Form 1 printer has a smaller build volume (4.9 x 4.9 x 6.5 in / 125 x 125 x 165 mm) compared to the Replicator 2 (11.2 x 6.0 x 6.1 in / 285 x 153 x 155 mm). However, this may not be a deal breaker, given the visible difference in quality of the printed parts.
Last year, the company raised $500,000 to develop the printer from investors that included Eric Schmidt, Google's chairman. As of this writing they have already quadrupled their funding goal on the project's Kickstarter page.
You can hear from the company's founders and see the printer in action in the video below.
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