You can switch out the ink in your fancy photo printer, and now you can switch out the resin in your 3-D printer. Want something a little more heavy duty than your standard 3-D printed object? FormLabs’ Tough Resin is a new printer material for making objects suited to high-stress uses.
If you ever handled a part printed in a 3-D printer, you’ll know that they’re somewhat brittle and scratchy. They remind me a little of sugar cubes, only made from plastic. FormLabs offers a range of replacement resins that are designed to exhibit different properties, and they’re helpfully named for these properties–Flexible, Castable, Standard, and now, Tough.
Castable comes out clean when released from a mould, and with a high resolution. Flexible is just that–“pliant and impact resistant”–and good for things like gadget cases. And now Tough brings an ABS-like material to your printer. The video below shows it in action in a Rube-Goldberg-style machine, taking whacks and bumps and generally being as bad-ass as a resin with a notched izod score of 51.1 (this is quite strong) can be.
When you think about it, the need for different types of resins seems obvious. 3-D printing with just one material is like 2-D printing in black and white, on regular office printer paper. All of the 3-D printed objects I’ve handled have been prototypes for gadgets, usually from Kickstarter projects. They’re great for getting an idea of how something will work, but they’re not so good long term. Even if they last, the rough finish is unpleasant.
The sample objects on the site show the range of uses. A chain that can suspend a concrete block, cogs for machines, and snap-closing latches like you find on the straps of bags. The only downside, which you may already have noticed, is that Tough only comes in one color right now. And sadly it’s not black.
Tough resin, along with its Flexible and Castable sisters and brothers, lets us better use 3-D printing to make actual objects, not just prototypes, although you might not want to operate your own 3-D printer just yet. One liter (just over a quart) of Tough resin costs about $150. Fine if you’re printing on bulk, but pricey for one-offs.