Monday, June 10, 2013

A Little History

3D printing my models has long been an interest of mine. When I saw Major Chip Hazard and Archer emerge from vats of clear liquid in the opening of the movie Small Soldiers, I wondered if such technology actually existed and immediately started researching. My research led me to stereolithography, the process of using a laser to harden light-sensitive liquids layer by layer. Not surprisingly, the process was exaggerated and dramatized in the movie, but the portrayal was pretty accurate. Unfortunately, the machines were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, far out of my reach.

Not long afterward, I was sent on a business trip by my employer to GDC 2001 (or was it 2002? I can't remember). While there, I ran across a booth that had a bunch of small random objects on a table. They were printed via stereolithography! I inquired about the models and the process, as well as costs. As it turned out, printing a small figure, something perhaps 1:10 scale, would have cost about $120 to print through the company, or half that under the table. I gave it some serious thought, but I never actually got around to getting anything printed.

Years later, FDM printers started to come around. The first ones I had heard of were the MakerBot Cupcake and the RepRap. Prints from them seemed fairly crude, and the DIY nature of them didn't seem worth the time and money, especially after reading about peoples' trials and tribulations with them. I decided to wait. I didn't wait long.

It was only perhaps a couple years later that the B9Creator went live on Kickstarter. The resolution of the prints shown were far above those done on FDM printers. On top of that, it used liquid resin as the print material, just like stereolithography! I was extremely excited, and was so close to pulling the trigger to get one, but a friend talked me out of it. It was good that he did, because months later the Form 1, a desktop stereolithography printer, also turned up on Kickstarter.

The Form 1's print quality was at least as good as the B9Creator's, and definitely far above that of FDM (even the Ultimaker, which I had started looking into being talked out of the B9C). I researched the Form 1 a bit and kept my eye on it for a while. It was a lot of money to spend, and I'd need to borrow money to pay for it. The project was definitely going to be successfully funded, since it had already long-surpassed its original goal of $100,000.

I went for it. Months later I now have a stereolithography printer, and it is amazing. I've always watched technology grow from generation to generation, since most of the technologies that were growing were all around me. Cell phones, televisions, computers, game systems... they were always nearby. 3D printing at home, especially stereolithography, was something that was always out of reach till now, and it's like the Form 1 came straight from the future.

Thank you, Formlabs, for making my dream of owning a stereolithography printer come true!


  1. what are your thoughts on the Form1 printer compared to the B9C? I understand you don't own a B9C but I'm sure you looked into it before purchasing the Form1. I'm thinking of buying a printer for myself ^^

    1. Yup, I certainly did look into the B9C before I decided on the Form 1. ;)

      Personally, I think both are excellent "affordable" resin-based printers that have their own plusses and minuses.

      The B9C puts out some very nice prints, and I like the fact that it's open source. A lot of it looks like it could be upgraded if you had the know-how. The projector probably puts out a lot of heat, which is bad for me because I always have a constant battle with heat in my work room (typical summer days run into the low 90Fs). The bulb also probably needs to be replaced more often than a laser would. I looked at the peel mechanism as well, and I wondered if the left/right movement of the resin tray would damage or distort fine details. I really liked that Mike Joyce was very open, helpful, and connected with the community; that was a huge plus.

      The Form 1, on the other hand, is closed source, but more turn-key. The peel mechanism seemed more gentle (though after using it for a bit, maybe not as gentle as I thought), and the print samples looked smoother than the "pixelated" prints from the B9C. Plus, being stereolithograhy, it uses fricking lasers! :D This probably meant it ran cooler than a projector would. I think the Formlabs team could be a little more transparent regarding shipments of printers (a lot of eager backers are itching to get theirs), but I can't really judge them there; sometimes there are things that can't be talked about publicly for some reason or another. Regarding support, the team has been very helpful both via email and among the community, and always very friendly. In fact, their support has been among the best I've ever. They really want your prints to succeed, and it shows. :)

      Either way you go, I don't think you could go wrong. If you have enough time and interest to spare, I think the B9C might end up being more fun and useful if you like to experiment. If you need something that'll "just work" pretty much right out of the box, the Form 1 may be a better choice. Imo, both are excellent "affordable" resin-based printers with great support. ^_^)

  2. Love the info you have here on your blog! also love that Small Soldiers was an inspiration of yours as it was mine in more ways than one! keep up the good 3d printing adventures!