Tag Archives: form 1

Episode 2 : Form1 calibration strikes back

[March 11th edit : these calibrations issues were enough to convince me to sell my Form1 printer, for details see this post]

In a previous post I was showing my Form1 was not really well calibrated and circles were turned into ellipses. After filling a bug report to Formlabs, their answer was on the line of “thanks for your concern we are working on it…”

I’m confident they will find a solution, but I started to wonder how a user could calibrate his printer himself. This is important as the warranty on the printer is only valid for 3 months and as any mechanical machine, I’m expecting the printer will require some calibration from time to time. Last but not least, this will be only possible if Formalbs is actually giving us access to more parameters than the currently closed/dumb down version of PreForm we have (Hint! Hint!).

Laser+Galvo based printer calibration challenge

A normal user has limited resources and not access to complex measure instrument, so the procedure should match these requirements:

  • Simple steps: if possible it should be as simple as print test objects, measure them, compute the corrective factors (Excel Spreadsheet/integrated to PreForm), enter the new parameters and re-print the test objects to validate the calibration.
  • Not too long and costly: printed test object should be small, we don’t want to waste time and resin
  • No expensive measure instruments: I’ll be only using a digital caliper available for less than $50 on Ebay/Amazon

My main assumption for this exercise is that the calibration required is only affecting linear parameters. I will not go into galvanometer fine tuning. We will see at the end of the article that unfortunately non-linearity are present and will limit your end result quality.

The main challenge with laser base printer is that it’s difficult to measure precisely the position of a moving dot at the bottom of the vat (absolute measurements). So one solution is to do relative measurements of printed object features. We will use a digital caliper to get a good number of data points to build a robust average estimation of the calibration.

In the graph under, you can see that the laser spot is covering each each slices of the object using two kind of paths. The perimeter/skin-paths are tracing the outline of the object, they will be responsible for the smooth finish. The In-fill paths are straight and parallel paths to cure the inside of each slice. Using simple shapes like circles and square will let us measure independently the performances of both X and Y axis galvanometers.


The final dimension of the Slice is affected by both the axis amplification (deflection angle range) and the size/shape of the laser spot. When tracing the measures VS the theory graphs, the amplification correction is measured by the slope of the curve, while the shape of the laser spot is creating a constant offset.


As PreForm software is not open source, I cannot be sure how to use these correction factors. For the amplification, it will probably mean the angles transmitted to the printer will need to be multiplied by the correction alpha found (different on each axis) . The offset is a consequence of the spot size mismatch. PreForm must use a boundary offset to draw the perimeter/skin paths. A positive offset means that the diameter of the spot need to be reduced by half of the value. Also if the laser spot is not exactly round it might be trickier to program…

Calibration object and Procedure proposal

The shape I used for my calibration is a simple series of square and circle extrusions of various small size and one large for the base. Each instance of the object provides 20 points of measures:
– Circles: [1, 2, 3, 4, 23] mm diameters, X and Y axis
– Square: [3, 4, 5, 6, 25] mm side length, X and Y axis


To know where each object was printed on the platform, I’ve added a number engraved. That could be useful later if we are tracking non linearity issue depending on the location of the objects.

[STL & Inventor files for all squareCylinders Test] [5x .form file] [9x .form file]

I’ve used the 5 duplications file as it’s already providing 100 measure points. The base of the object is 3mm thick as I was hoping I could print it without supports to save time and resin. It turn out the Form1 is curing multiple times the slices in the first 2mm for the base. It creates an adhesion issue for the next layers, and I ended up with unusable objects with holes so I’m now generating support structures.


Here are my measures, with the 5x file, transparent 100micron material profile and default supports configuration. My first prints were done with the 0.8.1 software but reading that the 0.8.2 is supposed to have an improved laser tracking I decided to reprint everything. (Un?)fortunately the measures are consistent and the 0.8.2 didn’t improve the calibration…


The full spreadsheets with regression formulas are here [0.8.1] and [0.8.2].


From the regressions results we can see that the calibration required is consistent in both PreForm version. My printer has a 1.4% error in X axis and 0.35% error in Y. The laser spot diameter is also off by 0.2 mm.

For some reason the PreForm 0.8.2 is less consistent than the 0.8.1, the calibration is only reducing the overall error by a factor of 4 while it was reduced by 5 in the previous version…

Ain’t you doing anything about outliers?

When doing a root cause analysis on anything, you have to solve the first order issues that are dominating your calibration errors before looking at the rest. My Form1 is displaying non linearity on the X axis on geometries close to the back of the platform (2 = back-right and 5 = back-left).


When you look at the measures table, both objects are very different from the rest. I have no explanation yet for that phenomenon, but I hope that once I will be able to correct the offset and scale in PreForm I can build a new test to tackle this issue.

Until then, if you have a Form1 I would be glad to ear if your printer has the same calibration issue as mine. More reports will help Formlabs building a great printer!

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Extract STL from Preform project files

The Form1 printer is supposed to be a click and print easy consumer solution. You get a sleek hardware (that still needs some tuning) and a polished software (Preform) that does not let you tweak a lot’s of options. So if for some reason the auto-generated supports are not working or you want to use a non-official polymer, then you are locked by the closed nature of the product.

When I’ve discussed with Formlabs during the SF Maker Fair, they confirmed they had no intention to release the USB protocol and the .FORM file format specification. The result is that if you want to use a Linux OS or another slicer, you are restricted (ex: generate internal supports function does not exist in Preform yet). These limitations do not exist with the B9 printer, as they decided to release everything as open source.

So what can be done? Well we are limited to reverse-engineer the FORM file or the USB protocol. It’s tedious and random: the end result is not guarantied but by doing so You can learn things about the Form1 and maybe fix some short-coming. A few stuff that open protocol/file could do:

  • enable other OS (no need to use visualization in Linux for ex)
  • custom slicer to fine control the supports, generated path, calibratio
  • Compatibility with different resin/polymer by adjusting the curing parameters
  • new cool features like the vat-fogging map

Anyway, with this post let’s start simple by extracting the STL meshes embedded in the .FORM files.

Extracting STL Mesh data from the .FORM

Using  something like Frhed free HEX editor let you peak at the file content, and a little bit a search gives this 80 characters string with “stl” inside… Yes this is, if you remember the STL file format the first field of a binary format file.


And when you duplicate the same object, or add another STL, you can see that each STL instance is stored in the .FORM file. More interesting is the fact that preform keeps the STL in its original dimension and orientation. So you can see that even if I scaled and rotated one of the pieces (from here), the extracted STL shows the supports scaled and with an angle.


This is telling us, that somewhere in the meta data of the .FORM file you have the position, rotation and scale information. This is stored in binary (not text) format and thus is more complex to extract. I might try to find where it is stored in a later version of my STL extraction program.

The Utility to extract STL mesh data from .FORM files is coded in plain C, so you should be able to recompile it on anything without much issues. The current EXE was compiled using Visual Studio Express 2010 x86, so you might need to install the VS 2010 redistribuable package before using it.

Utility usage is: extractSTL xxx.form
This will extract the STL meshes and save them in “xxx.form_meshN.stl”

The EXE, source code and VS project files are available here.

Happy forming!

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Evaluation of Preform 0.8.1

As I was explaining in my previous post, the form1 printer software is still a work in progress. Some bugs have been squashed with the 0.8.1, but some remains and I’d like to go though the some of the current challenges that a fellow formers might encounter. The first ones are the most critical in my opinions…

Object skin is not always sticking to the filling

[I’ve submitted this bug #1123 to the community board]

I’ve chosen the impossible heart brain teaser available in Thingiverse to see how very simple and smooth pieces would print… First it was not a brilliant idea to print it without supports. I had to use a clamp to pry apart the pieces from the platform and in the process damaged a bit the puzzle surface.


But the real issue was, as some of the Reuleaux spheres in my previous post, the perimeters on some of the pieces didn’t stuck and I ended-up with a ugly result. What you see behind are the back and forth inside filling profiles. My hunch is, depending on the pealing direction, the perimeters might not be completely merged with the filling leaving a weak spot in the structure…


If I was Formlabs, I would try to extend the filling paths so that it overlap at least the last perimeter to make sure everything is correctly glued together.


[.form file]

25 microns prints non sticking to the platform…

This point a a bit a hit or miss. I’ve followed the advice in the community forum that using the “grey 25 microns” material profile was increasing the chance of sticking and so far I had 2 out of 3 prints working. The sticking might be affected by the location of the print on the plate and the orientation of the base platform. If you have a long platform, turn it so that the peeling starts on a small side.

To solve this it would be great to have more control on the laser, like being able to set the speed of the scan, the number of repetitions, the number of perimeters. That would open quite a few possibilities and for the most advanced users it could be a great way to experiment.

Overlapping supports are creating pockets of uncured resin

[I’ve submitted this bug #448 to the community board, and it’s marked as closed]

That one is strange but apparently it’s already fixed for the next revision. The problem arise when the software decides to place 2 supports so close that they are overlapping. In this case the internal filling back and forth of the laser is missing at the intersection. That will create a hole of uncured resin and I it’s safe to assume the support strength is gone…
[.form file to test]


Peripheral loops are overlapping on very thin walls

[I’ve submitted this bug #1124 to the community board]

Preform is drawing 3 loops around perimeters. These loops are continuous and when the geometry has a very thin wall, these perimeters will get inverted and even create filling outside of the geometry… (Yes I know it’s not clear, just look a the picture to understand the issue…)
[.form file to test]


That’s all for today 🙂 If you have any comment or extra bug to report on this release please comment I’ll investigate them!

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First steps with the Form 1 Printer

So here it is after many months of waiting the Form1 Stereo printer is sent to backers! and I received a few days ago my puppy, and now the 3D touch has some serious competition.

More on that later, but I’m thinking on selling my 3D touch printer with ~15 filament spools of various colors/materials. So If you are interested mail me, free training included if you are in the bay area 🙂

I will not do a full tear down of the printer, but if you are interested to see the guts of the form1 Bunnie’s blog has an interesting post.


The cardboard boxes are massive and Formlabs decided to avoid foam or bubble wrap to lock the printer in place. The printer was held by 2 plastic films, but you can see in the picture under that during transport it shifted out of the slot. Nothing serious in my case but I have already read some reports of people complaining they received their printer damaged. I’m not exactly sure if this packing method is completely fool proof, especially if the box are rotated during transport/handling.


The unpacking was really easy, just a few tape pieces to remove… But dang, that’s a sharp looking printer! I’m especially impressed by the build quality. As you can see in the following pictures, they didn’t try to cut on the details. The only small remark I’ve is that the printer detect when the orange hood is closed using a hall sensor and from time to time the magnet is not completely aligned so you need to fiddle/move a bit the hood to get it detected.

Form1ReadyToOperate form1BuildQuality

Now let’s move onto the printing. The samples I’ve seen during the Maker Fair were great but I have to say I feel the Preform software (V0.8.1 at the moment of writing) is still somehow limited and you need to practice a bit to understand how to get the best out of your printer.

My first test was a 25 microns print of one of the Cyvasse game piece but for some reason the support (surface of ~ 2 * 1cm) was not sticking to the platform and the cured resin ended up floating in the tank… So after 2 tries and a fishing party to retrieve the layers, I decided to start with something easier and stick with the default 50 microns layers for the moment.

My first success was with a pocket monster figurine by Andreas. I’ve scaled it down to 50% (.form file) and the result is quite stunning when you are used to the FDM quality. Once cleaned from the resin with alcohol and dry the pieces are a bit cloudy and not very shinny (left picture). I used a Varathane Gloss polyurethane water based spray (interior / Heavy Use Formula) to get a great shine (right picture). With one layer, the details are not lost and you really have the impression that it’s made of crystal.PocketMonster

After that, I was ready to test the limits of the printer. So I tried the simplest structure I could find on George Hart math page. When processed by Preform, the Goldberg polyhedron (.form file) had a large red/unsupported ring area but I decided to print it anyway…goldbergSphereError

It didn’t worked out and I could just  clean up the mess after. golbergFailOnTheTray

As you can see the resin is rather flexible and not fully cured after print. I couldn’t remove the remaining of the sphere from the support without tearing the sphere in half. So lesson 1 is: don’t pull 1mm thick walls… Maybe I should have tried to wash the result and wait until dry?golbergFailFlexibleResin

I was surprised to see how flexible the resin is after print, so I’ve put some of my failed pieces outside in the sun to see how the resin age. As you can see under, after the prints, the parts are white, but just 2 days outside (gyroid – top right) and the resin is much harder/cured but with a yellowish tint. After 4 days (sphere – top left) the tint is even stronger and  all the flex is gone, the cured resin is actually very stiff.form1_aging_resin

Now let’s have a look at print defects that you can get with the form1…

I’d like like to stress that Formlabs team is making progress and the new Preform software revision (0.8.1) is actually solving one of the issues, each layers had a visible seam but the new cleared that point.


Visible seams in Preform 0.8 (Releaux spheres print in 50 microns)

These seams were visible but you couldn’t feel them on the surface so it was more a cosmetic defects. The real issue comes when some parts of the print are not cured properly. In this case the end result is rather ugly on some sides…


Reuleaux Spheres printed with 0-8-1 (50 microns, default generated supports)

To conclude this post, I have to say the form1 is an impressive printer, the details of the parts are great and the build quality is stellar. That said, I know being an early adopters has its disadvantage and even if the printing process is not yet “plug-and-print”, I have high hopes for the future!

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