How 3-D Printing Startups Are Shaping the Future

A desktop-sized 3-D printer with professional-level output that doesn't break the bank.

While desktop 3-D printers like the Makerbot Replicator have made plenty of headlines over the last two years, the technology is still evolving and the printers leave something to be desired. There's still a large gap in the kind of quality that larger, floor-sitting printers output and what desktop-perched models make.

Cambridge, Mass.-based Formlabs has a head start, with a high-quality, low cost 3-D printer aimed at putting professional quality right on the desktop. Founded in 2009 by three MIT students frustrated by the prototyping options they found outside their space in the MIT Media Lab, the company raised $2.94 million last October in a Kickstarter campaign for its first product, the Form 1 Printer. They began shipping the product this May. Having filled all their crowd funding orders, the device is available to the public for $3,299.

The Form 1 uses lasers to trace out shapes in special resin engineered by Formlabs, a 3-D printing technique known as "stereo lithography." The machine can form layers as thin as 25 microns, which is thinner than most human hairs, and has a total a build volume of 4.9 by 4.9 by 6.5 inches.

But the company makes more than just hardware. The printer comes with PreForm, a software that streamlines the 3-D printing process and is compatible with any computer aided design (CAD) file, and a finishing kit that helps refines output objects.

"We believe in the now, and are making tools for people who need them, but have no access to them right now," says Natan Linder, a Formlabs co-founder. Linder estimates there are around 10 million professional 3-D CAD users. "If you look at the numbers, it's a pretty clear way to think about the market opportunity for us."

Based in Portland, Ore., John Patrick Pullen covers travel, business and tech for Men's Journal, Fortune and others.

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