Below are my overall impressions of five printers I own (or have owned). They are listed in the order that I bought them. I've included thoughts about the customer support I received from the companies that produce them since, in some cases, customer support is a very important variable:
- CubeX Duo around March 2013- This printer was complete junk and their proprietary filament was way overpriced. I could barely get one functional print out of 10 from this machine. Cubify had ONE technical support person for the entire operation and he was only able to respond to emails about a week after he received them. The hardware was junk and the firmware was even worse. The printer was down for two of the three months that I had it even though they sent me two replacements in that timeframe. It eventually went back to where it came from and I was very happy to see it leave.
- Lulzbot TAZ (the original TAZ) around July 2013- I've not had very good luck getting good prints from this printer. It seems that others may have had better luck. Lulzbot customer support was very responsive but they never resolved the problems and I got tired of messing with it considering how frustrating such a high fail rate became. My particular printer has around a 50% fail rate so I never use it anymore. I haven't sold it because if I ever need to print something large (up to 12"x12"x12") I'll try upgrading it with the latest components and see if it does any better. The Lulzbot forum community was okay but not nearly as interactive or deep as the MakerGear group for some reason.
- MakerGear M2 around October 2013- A very good printer and very good customer service. Its not as plug and play as the Zortrax and print quality isn't as good but I was so happy when I saw I could get less than 25% fail rates and the print quality was so much better than the TAZ. The MakerGear community is by far the most involved and knowledgeable that I've experienced so far. There are some very high end users on their forum which allowed me to gather enough information to redesign my printer with a larger build volume and a heated build chamber. There forum community is a huge asset due to the high level of interaction and the depth of knowledge.
- Form1+ around October 2015- This printer has excellent print quality and resolution for the most part. SLA printing is totally different than FDM so its difficult to compare them. I thought I was in heaven after the first few prints off of the Form1+. The print resolution is slightly better than the Zortrax when the Zortrax is set on its highest resolution.
However the honeymoon didn't last very long. The resin trays wear out over a relatively short period of time (think 0.5 to 1 kg of filament) but you never know when they are done until you start getting failed parts. Even then you can't be sure fails are due to the tray. I just replace the $65 resin tray after every half liter of resin if I can't afford the time lost due to a print failure. Also, parts get very brittle and, with some exceptions, aren't as strong as most FDM prints. Apples to apples, Form1 parts cost about 4x as much to print as FDM prints. For reference, think of 1 liter of resin as the equivalent of 1 kg or filament. 1 liter of resin = $150 plus 1 build tray at $65 = $215 per liter. $280 per liter if you only get a half liter from a tray. Would anyone pay $215 per kg of filament even if the print quality was better? Most people don't realize the costs or don't factor that math into their decisions. The good news is that competitors are offering good resin for a lot less and its possible to refurbish your own trays for around $15 per tray if you have the knowledge and skills to do so.
The Form1+ prints often (not always) have a nearly perfect surface finish (except the surfaces closest to the build platform) so there's definitely a solid market for the printer. It handles very small parts better than FDM for the most part without any special adjustments. I will continue to use it for some types of prints.
The Form1+ has a couple of nice advantages. It is ultra quiet and there aren't a lot of settings to mess with so prints usually print well. Given the same layer settings its about 4x as fast as the Zortrax, however, the Zortrax lets you print at 380 microns which helps speed when you need it.
I never really realized how much I value quiet operation until I used the Form1+. I love the nearly silent operation. It has no fans and only one stepper motor that you can hear and that motor only runs for short durations so its close to silent. For an office situation that could be a major benefit since most people could easily work with it 2 ft away without being distracted or annoyed.
I haven't needed customer service since I bought the Form1+ but they bent over backwards to serve me when I was considering the printer. My impression is that they have a great company and great support. I would say the Form1+ is a high quality product except for the tray issue which really hurts its value.
- Zortrax M200 March 2015- I have around 100 hours of printing on the machine so far on which to judge the system and all the prints except one have been excellent quality and with no hassle. I have a LOT of FDM printing experience so I don't need a lot of time on this machine to realize it's designers have focused on almost all of the right areas to deliver a good printing experience. The prints were are all way beyond my expectations for a FDM printer in terms of appearance and strength. The supports come off easily compared to the other FDM machines I've used. I have a feeling my Form1+ may get lonely if the Zortrax proves to be this reliable and produces this high quality of prints on a consistent basis. With just a little bit of vapor polishing the Zortrax prints will look as good or better than even the best Form1 prints.
The only negatives I've seen with the Zorax so far are the number of iterations required to level the bed (which I don't believe are truly necessary. I covered that in another post), the bottom side of curved surfaces don't always print well and it takes a REALLY long time to heat up to print (on the order of 10-20 minutes. I'm not sure why it varies that much when ambient temps are relatively constant and there are no drafts in the area). I have also seen some warping and delamination on large, tall prints even with side covers on.
I don't know how the Zortrax forum community compares to the MakerGear community but I hope this community is similar. I hope to be a valuable contributor myself as I learn the limits of this printer.
I haven't needed to use Zortrax customer service so I can't say anything good or bad. However, while trying to decide between the Ultimaker2 and the Zortrax M200 I called a couple of the US distributors to try to figure more info. I talked to one Zortrax dealer and the sales person said he had a lot of experience with printers but when I started asking him detailed questions he couldn't answer any of them beyond generic info. Somehow magically got "disconnected" after the last hard question I asked him. I then called iMakr in New York hoping for better results. I talked to Maki and he was able to answer most of my questions and he was very pleasant to talk to. He didn't really sway me toward one printer or the other but I could tell he really uses 3D printers himself and he gave me enough information to help me decide that the Zortrax M200 would probably fit my needs the best. I chose the Zortrax ultimately for print quality with less tinkering/adjustments required. I also think Bowden extruders are going to have limitations with flex material that a carriage mounted extruder won't. A little while after my conversation with Maki, the owner of iMakr in NY called me to see if my experience was satisfactory. I had a very pleasant conversation with him. My overall experience with iMakr left a great impression.
After the first several prints on the Zortrax I'm very pleased and I'm confident that I made the right choice.
- This printer comes very close to the resolution of my Form1+ when using the highest resolution and the resolution is much better than any other FDM printer I've used.
- It has 3x the build volume of the Form1+ although less than then M2 or the TAZ. However, 75% of my prints will fit within the Zortrax print volume.
- Prints cost 1/5th as much as Form1+ parts. Zortrax filament is priced very reasonably. I'm willing to pay a little extra to ensure continuity and quality control. Filament quality often affects print quality as much as hardware and firmware.
- The printer costs almost half the price of the Form1+, less than the TAZ and quite a bit more than the MakerGear M2.
- There's no messy post processing compared to the Form1+. The supports come off of Zortrax prints much more easily and cleanly than they do from other FDM printers I've used.
I'm generally very hard to please but my expectations were greatly exceeded by both iMakr NY and the Zortrax M200 print quality. I'm a fan.