Formlabs' Form 2 is all about bigger, better and simpler 3D printing

It's been more than a year since Formlabs debuted its Form 1+ 3D printer, but that was more of a slight revamp of the company's original 2013-era Form 1 printer, rather than a true successor. That honor goes to the new Form 2 printer, which features a similar design to its predecessor, but is far more capable. Its build volume is over 40 percent bigger than the Form 1+, allowing it to produce larger objects, and its laser is 50 percent more powerful for finer resolution printing. The Form 2 also resembles a traditional desktop printer even more now, with the addition of new resin cartridges (you can still manage resin manually, if you'd like). The downside? At $3,499, it's still something meant more for professionals than typical consumers. Existing Formlabs customers will get a slight discount, at least. Form 1 owners will get $400 off the new machine, and backers of the company's original Kickstarter campaign can get $600 off.

All of Formlabs' machines utilize stereolithography (SL) technology for 3D printing, which is something typically found in higher-end printers. Unlike the fused deposition modeling (FDM) tech used by competitors like Makerbot, which spits out plastic from an extruder, stereolithography paints layers of objects by passing a laser through resin. Basically, that means SL printers can print objects with much finer detail than FDM machines. When viewed side-by-side, complex models printed by the Form 2 looked like finished products that you could buy in a store -- the same models printed by a FDM printer feel like cheap toys, in comparison.

Maxim Lobovsky, Formlabs' co-founder and CEO, describes the Form 1 as "the most simplified machine" the company could make. The Form 2, on the other hand, is the sort of thing they wanted to build from the start. On top of the upgraded specs, it's also simply easier to use. For example, the company's software can now automatically build supports for models as they get printed, which means you don't have to worry about things toppling over in the middle of printing. Previously, you had to manually add support structures. Lobovsky claims the Form 2 should have fewer overall print failures than the Form 1+ and other printers (something 3D printing aficionados are probably used to).

The Form 2 also adds connected printing capabilities. You can manage your printer from a web interface, and perhaps most impressively, that dashboard also supports multiple Form 2 printers. So if you're in a design shop with several Form 2 units, you only have one place to go to monitor your print jobs.

"We're still pushing this sort of middle ground," Lobovsky said in an interview. "The first wave [of 3D printing] was big industrial machines ... that was the beginning in the 80's to mid 2000's. We've been pushing a third wave ... combining the accessibility of desktop machines with the use as of industrial machines."