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April 17, 2024

2024 seems to be the next big year for digital dentistry.

Many leading companies in the industry are releasing new products, and it may be the year for a 3D printing boom. 

Just in the past 3 months alone, iDD has covered the launches of the Asiga Ultra 3D Printer and Max 2, SHINING 3D Dental’s Accufab-CEL, the SOL Plus from Ackuretta, as well as complimentary units for 3D printing like SprintRay’s Nano Cure unit. Let alone the new intraoral scanners that have been coming out like iTero Lumina and teased Medit i900

Well, we just got more exciting news.

Formlabs just launched their latest 3D printer - the Form 4B.

I was in Boston 2 months ago just before Chicago Midwinter, and had the opportunity to visit Formlabs HQ and check out the new Form 4B. I must say, it's a big improvement over past Formlabs printers. Quite impressive in that regard.

So why exactly do I say that? What about the Form 4B stands out? Well, lets go down memory lane...

The Form 4B 3D printer by Formlabs

Formlabs dominated the 3D printing space early on in dentistry. Almost everyone had a Formlabs Form 2. However, the market has shifted dramatically as of late. It is a totally different 3D printing landscape that favors fast printing, efficient workflows and resin development. This is where Formlabs Dental faced stiff competition. 

While Formlabs Dental had a good lead to start, there were 2 main issues with their printers:

  • SLA printers are comparatively slow
  • It was a closed system with limited resin options

Anyone who has used Formlabs printers knows this. What they did do well, however, is ease of use and software.

The company seems to have addressed many of these concerns with their new Form 4B printer.

Formlabs Form 4B 3D Printer Printing Speed

For starters, the Form 4B is a much faster printer. Yup, one of the biggest improvements to this machine is speed.

Formlabs has developed a custom LCD technology inside its Low Force Display (LFD) print engine, which allows the Form 4B to print most dental indications in around 30-40 minutes. Given the large build platform, it also means that per appliance the print speeds can be as considered to be around 5-10 minutes if a build platform is filled up.

We finally have a much faster Formlabs Dental printer than previous models... this will be an interesting way to shake up the 3D printing market. 

While in Boston I did not get to print every indication but we did run a few test prints and its quite cool watching this thing go. All the mechanisms move very fast, including the resin wiper and built platform. So how fast is this thing? Well the company says its about 2-3x faster than most dental 3D printers we're using right now.

Bold claim and well, if they are right, they may be onto something...

Is the Formlabs Form 4B Accurate?

Okay, so fast printers are one thing... but does it work? Well, I think accuracy is kind of a given with most reputable 3D printers in dentistry but this what the company said in their launch event about the accuracy of the Form 4B:

  • 99.7% of printed surface within 100 μm of CAD model
  • 95% of printed surface within 50 μm of CAD model

The company says that their accuracy is comparable to ASIGA UV Max and better than ASIGA Pro4K - interesting that they use these as the printers to compare to. But yes, anyone who uses ASIGA printers know they are amazing in this regard.

Formlab's Low Force Display Technology

Formlabs says the Form 4B is powered by their Low Force Display (LFD) print engine. This uses a custom LCD and 17 other optical components, a patent pending release texture, and a composite film tank. The LFD engine features six custom hardware subsystems to improve speed and accuracy (seen below).

The company is making it clear it is not SLA printer anymore, nor is it just another LCD printer.
But if we wanted to put this into broad catogory, this is an LCD printer...

Furthermore, Formlabs says while their SLA printers are still good performers in the market, several other technologies have traded quality or reliability for speed.

  • Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) printers are fast but unreliable.
  • Digital Light Processing (DLP) printers are fast but expensive.
  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printers can be fast but generally produce lower accuracy prints.

Their LFD tech is trying to solve these issues by being a reliable and accurate LCD printer, but also fast.

The six hardware subsystems the company talks about can be seen in the image below:

The things I found most interesting about Formlabs Form 4B...

Without getting into the guts of some very technical 3D printing tech like the Backlight Unit which generates a projection of light using 60 LEDs and collimating lenses, or the the Light Processing Unit 4 that precisely masks light from the backlight unit into the shape of a printed layer...

Here are the things I found interesting and most clinically relevant about the Form 4B:

It still uses cartridges. 

Interesting move by the company as I am sure they would have considered moving to bottle resins like the majority of the market. However in saying that, the cartridge system does enable quick and hassle free material switching and you never have to add more resin during a print (assuming your cartridge has resin in it). I personally found cartridge systems easier to delegate to new staff aswell. 

The cartirdges are different looking however to previous Formlabs printers. The company says they redesigned the system:

  • 5-10 times faster resin filling
  • 63% less plastic waste
  • 30% smaller form factor

It has an inbuilt camera in the printer that points towards the build platform.

This enables remote monitoring and troubleshooting. It also takes a picture after every print apparently. Cool idea.

It is still a closed printer.

In saying that, Formlabs says they will always stand behind validating resins for their systems.  

In their line up they currently have:

  • A bunch of different model resins
    • Fast Model Resin, Grey Model Resin, White Model Resin, Precision Model Resin
  • The new Dental LT Comfort Resin for splints
  • A decent surgical guide resin
  • IBT Flex for indirect bonding trays
  • Good tooth resin options via the new BEGO TriniQ and 'Premium' tooth resin made by Formlabs
  • A new denture base resin coming later

So they are trying to provide option for all indications - still no KeySplint soft however... and this is the part were other printers may still edge out Formlabs - by offering a wider range of resin options. E.g Rodin resins etc.

But there is hope. Last year Formlabs unveiled their Open Platform for Form 3B+ printers. They're promising to bring the same capabilities to Form 4B at some point in the future. Time will tell.

The resin trays are much better designed

No more clicking the resin tray down and then inwards like older Formlabs printers that would often result in eventually damaging a little chip at the bottom of the tray enabling the printer to read it.

Now you just simply insert them into the printer, and there are 2 latches on either side to secure the tray. Much better.

The resin tray wiper is also better designed

Similar to above, a pain point with the previous generation wiper is that it was held by a weak magnet. It could be kind of annoying to put it into place and know if it was correctly positioned

Now it is all inserted by a secure latch. 

Conequently, now that it is so secured, it seems to move a lot faster than before during the printing process.

The quick-release Build Platform is back 

Called the Build Platform 2 for the Form 3B+, it is now called the Build Platform Flex. Looks like a better design than prior and basically this build platform allows you to quickly and easily remove prints from the Build Platform without tools in seconds.

Form Wash (2nd Generation) was also released

The company says it features:

  • Improved agitation - 3x more agitation with impeller for optimal part cleaning
  • Adaptable Build Platforms - to allow easy switching between Build Platforms
  • Optimize Solvent Volume - adjust solvent volume to the size and quantity of your parts
  • Improved longevity - wash 67% more parts before replacing solvent

An entire efficient workflow

It seems like the company had a game plan. 

They have been working hard on their software for years, releasing PreForm Dental with a lot of automations.

Next they released the FastCure (an OEM) - that can cure every dental indication within 6 minutes.

And now, finally, Formlabs Dental have a faster printer. The Form 4B.

Exciting times for the industry. Competition is truly he fuel that ignites innovation.

How Much Does the Formlabs Form 4B 3D Printer Cost?

Now, I don't want to give away all the surprises Formlabs has in store, but if you've been hoping for a 3D printer that can give you both speed and ease of use, the Form 4B seems like it may be a solid investment.

As for pricing, the Form 4B itself is going to be sold for $4,967 USD.

If you want the whole package which includes the 3D printer along with the Form Wash, Form Cure, Finish Kit, resin tank, build platform, and one year service, it will cost $7,899 USD.

Final Thoughts on Form 4B 3D Printer

All in all, the Form 4B looks like it could be a disruptive addition to the increasingly competitive dental 3D printing market. It will be interesting to see how it can "make dentistry easier" and if providing a faster printer is enough to shakes things up in 2024 and beyond.

Let us know in the comments below what you think of Formlab’s latest release!

About the author 

Dr Ahmad Al-Hassiny

Dr Ahmad is a global leader in digital dentistry and intraoral scanners, carrying out lectures as a KOL for many companies and industry. He is one of the few in the world who owns and has tested all mainstream scanners and CAD/CAM systems in his clinic. Dr Ahmad Al-Hassiny is a full-time private dentist in New Zealand and the Director of The Institute of Digital Dentistry (iDD), a world-leading digital dentistry education provider. iDD offers live courses, masterclasses, and an online training platform, with a mission to ensure dentists globally have easy and affordable access to the best digital dentistry training possible.

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