The V Flash thread

I got to see the new, much anticipated V Flash 3D printer last night. I was very impressed, although disappointed by some points.

The good:

Very clean machine. Everything is very modular and designed for an office. The material change is done by replacing a big self-contained cartridge. The part cleaning is done by a chemical process and curing in a UV oven. Very hands-off.

Apparently 3D Systems has designed the V Flash to be close to maintenance free. The software includes a diagnostic program that will analyze the printer, send the results to 3D Systems where a technician will contact the end user to suggest what part needs to be replaced. The printer was described to me as being made up of several modules which are essentially plug-and-play, although I didn’t see any of the modules being replaced. Very interesting. In fact, I was told that they won’t have a service program for sale, they are so confident in the printer being user-servicable.

The parts are amazing. I would say the detail is only one notch below the highest quality SLA or polyjet parts. I’m told that the plastic is a type of UV curable acrylic. The parts do have some flexibility in them, but are more brittle than an FDM ABS part. I didn’t see any snap fits at the presentation, but I think they would be possible. I haven’t confirmed it yet, but I was told the parts could withstand up to 140 C, which might be the highest temp. I’ve seen from a printed part.

Finally, the price. I was a little disappointed to see the true cost. $9900US will get you the printer, no material, no build platforms (they can only be used once, but cost $5 each…not too bad), no wash bins, no UV oven. In other words, not really functional. I saw prices in Canadian $, so I can’t remember what the prices were in US, but consider an additional $5k to get everything you need. It’s a little disappointing, as the below $10k is the big selling point with this machine, but still half the price of anything else on the market. That’s incredible value!

The bad:

The build supports. I noticed a little bit of part deformation around where the supports were located on the parts. It’s not a deal killer in my opinion, because a little sand paper would get your part perfect, but it’s not as clean as an Objet part. Then again, you can buy 4 V Flash for the same price as an entry level Objet.

The material cost is very high. From my estimates, this is the most expensive material on the market. By cubic inch, more than twice the cost of a Z Corp, maybe 60-80% more than FDM. Also, factor in the total cost: material, build plate, chemical bath, wear-and-tear on the UV lamps. Still, not a deal killer as the final part will cost you 15-20% of what it would from an outside supplier.

Last, is the build size. 8" x 9" x 6.75" I think that’s the smallest build area of any machine out there.

The unknown:

Reliability is the biggest unknown on a V-flash. I’ve heard that reliability is a weak point on other 3D system’s products, so I was worried coming into this presentation. However, the machine looks very simple.

The printing works based on a UV curable resin. The resin is spread out on a thin plastic sheet. This sheet is then “flashed” with UV light, but only where you want the material for your model. The build plate is then raised, pulling the cured resin, but leaving the uncured resin on the plastic sheet. Then the sheet is retracted to obtain a new spread of resin. Very simple. I can’t imagine there being a lot of problems with it.

Also, I asked about the delays. Take it with a grain of salt, but I was told the machine was delayed because of refinements. The original goal was to have a self-contained printer, but they couldn’t get the high quality parts without the chemical wash and UV oven. I can believe this, as it makes sense that if the layers were cured longer in the printer, it would result in a solid finished part straight from the machine. Also, 3D systems is promising a variety of materials to be available soon and they were delaying trying to release everything at once. However, there is only one material available today.

The summary:

I think that the V-flash really has moved the 3D printing game forwards a few steps. The entry cost beats everything by a country mile, print quality and material are very high end. The running costs are an unknown, but I really expect this thing to perform as described. Basically, it’s like a Corvette - close to a supercar, but far cheaper.

I’ve been supervising a VFlash for 4 months now, and when the cartridge is new and you print during the daytime, the parts are beautiful. However, ambient temperature and humidity really mess with your models. Because the speed is 1/4" per hour in the Z direction no matter how large or small your part is, an average model can take 12-15 hours, and of course, the temperature and humidity can fluctuate during that time (unless you have a temperature controlled clean room, but then why is this marketed as a “desktop” printer?). When that happens, horizontals bend, and layers separate. Then the layers fall on to the film which extends to coat resin on the build platform (because the part is built hanging upside down). The shredded bits of hardened resin then retract into the cartridge, sticking to your film which prevents the light from getting through the film to cure the liquid resin, and you start getting voids in your model.

The cartridge has an RFID chip which identifies it, and the machine updates the RFID chip with how much resin it believes has been used by the model regardless of actual resin used - so if you wind up with voids in the model due to shredded bits covering the film and preventing the light from hardening new resin, then you literally lose that resin that would have printed in the voids. At about $9 per cu in, that can hurt. Since it’s natural to want to work on your model all day, then let the VFlash run all night so you have a part when you arrive the next morning, you have to be careful that the building does not shut down AC/heat so that the temperature does not change much overnight.

The first cartridges we got in January had welded tops, so you couldn’t retrieve the shredded bits and you basically lost use of the whole cartridge, but then they switched to removable tops so you can clean out the shredded bits. Also, after the cartridge has been in use for a while, somehow resin always winds up on the opposite side to where it’s supposed to be, and gets all over the glass that houses the UV “flash” which cures the liquid resin. This can also affect the build quality because the light needs to get through all that junk. If I put a new cart in and run a small part, it comes out perfectly, and I do mean, perfectly. By part 3 or 4, however, the glass gets gooped up and subsequent models have problems. I’m always cleaning the back side of the plastic film because small hardened bits and streaks of uncured resin seem to find their way back there. I believe it’s due to the path of the film which drops into a small chamber within the cart, and bits of the gooey resin and shredded bits fall in there as well, and the “clean” side of the film gets contaminated. When the sales guy set up the system, he gave us a putty knife because that’s what you have to use on the glass (and sometimes the film - very gently) after every model to get hardened and non-hardened resin off.

The safety mechanisms are weak, and you can open the front door to check on the model, but the UV light may be on when you do it. I wish they put in a UV safe viewing window, because you are supposed to check the model at intervals. They put a window in their easy-bake oven (which cures the washed parts), so why not the printer itself?

Their tech support is excellent. I can’t say enough good stuff about their support guys. Smart, efficient, nice guys in the U.S. who just want to get you going. My only issues thus far have been with the cartridges (and one problem due to older firmware), and the parts washer stopped working (I have yet to call them on that one).

Speaking of the parts washer, the fact that the VFlash is marketed as a “Desktop” 3D printer is a bit disingenuous. It may be the smallest 3D printer out there, but it is larger than a minifridge, and weights 145 pounds. Then, you have to have a slightly smaller parts washer which contains naptha in a lidless open vat (classified as an irritant, so don’t inhale deeply when you mount your part and make sure you wear latex gloves) plus a vat of water to wash the irritant off, and a UV oven to bake the whole thing (about the footprint of a small laser printer). My whole setup is sitting on two 5’ tables side by side, and barely has enough room for the keyboard and monitor to run the thing. Not really something you want in your small carpeted office, but works fine in our fab lab with tile floors and lots of ventilation. Technically, it is sitting on a desk, but…

The resin cartridges have 1.8KG of material, and we seem to make parts that are in the 200-300g range. At almost $0.50 per gram (assuming you can eke out 100% of the resin in it which we have almost done once out of 8 cartridges so far), our parts get a bit pricey.

I have a ZCorp 310+ as well, which is cheap and fast, but the parts don’t have great resolution. When the moon and stars align properly, the VFlash’s printed parts really look great, but the 310+ is way less headache than the VFlash. I obviously have a love/hate relationship with mine.

Thanks for the feedback. This is the kind of hands-on experience I was hoping to hear about.

Hi guys,

I just checked out the V-Flash last week. I was very impressed with the amount of detail that it was capable of. I’m not crazy about the support structure that it currently generates though - but the may be rectified in future software releases or so I’m told.

With regards to the cleaning station and UV curing cabinet, I was led to believe that you could do without if you were willing to wash your parts in a bucket and could cure your parts in strong sunlight. (I envision a homebrew curing station that could be built using a busted microwave oven and some surplus UV lamps)

I’m disappointed to hear about the problems regarding temperature and humidity. What kind of variation in temperature and humidity will cause these ill effects? What would you say are the ideal conditions to operate the machine?


The support structure is not actually that bad. The software is pretty good about where it generates it, but occasionally does inexplicable things like sticking short supports out the top of the model in the air. The supports look ugly when you first see them, and you have to be very careful to orient your part properly to minimize the supports (so, if you make a tubelike shape, don’t rotate it on its side to save time due to that whole 1/4" per hour thing because it will have to generate supports through the center to hold up the opposite side of the tube). I once had a model that had roughly an 70 degree angle for its major structure, and it generated a tremendous amount of supports in the software to hold that vertical angle up until we oriented the vertical to 90 degrees, so the only supports were under the base of the model. Things like that you have to look out for.

The material cuts and sands easily, so it’s not too much of a problem unless your model is hollow with small openings and horizontals inside that may generate supports. The software shows where the supports connect, but not where they run. Orientation plays a major role in how many you wind up with.

As far as temp and humidity, I can’t say for sure because I have not taken measurements. The machine is in a room with basic air conditioning and heat, but the temps can fluctuate 10 degrees or more overnight. During the day, a small model generally doesn’t have many problems unless it’s 60 in the AM and 80 by afternoon outside. Just the other day someone printed something under those conditions and the horizontals were a mess. The verticals looked great. We’re going to have to look at better insulation and HVAC in that room.

Just a followup for those that are searching for info on V-FLASH…

I’ve had my V-FLASH in the basement for about a month and a half now – I’ve mostly been printing scale models on it. Although I’ve seen some distortion in printed parts, I believe it is due more to the way that the clear resin carrier deforms as the parts are pulled up from it. It took me awhile to realize what was going on (there’s actually a printed how-to sheet in the box that describes the best way to arrange parts to minimize this effect). The distortion seems to show up the most when you are mixing bulky and detailed parts in the same build. I’ve found that placing the bulky parts near the middle of the build tray with the detail parts around them to be best. The how-to sheet says place your detail parts in the center and surround them with the bulky parts.

Also, the only time that I’ve had trouble with getting chips in the resin tank was when an invalid build was generated. I think it was due to a software error (not a transmission fault) as I got two identically flawed jobs… The support structure would print, but some parts didn’t print and other parts printed with missing slices, resulting in random wafers of plastic being generated and dropped on the carrier and into the tank. Making the tanks with removable tops was a smart idea. Its fairly easy to clean up – kinda like a gooey paper jam. I just did a software upgrade on the V-FLASH this past monday, so hopefully it will fix some of these problems as well as the advertised improvements to the support structure generation.

All in all, I’m still pretty pleased with my purchase. Even though it can be finicky at times, the V-FLASH can’t be touched so far as detail/dollar performance. Having said that, I notice that the Objet Alaris has dropped $15k in an effort to compete with the V-FLASH and the UPRINT. I’m thinking that the Alaris might be my next 3D printer…

We’re looking at the V-Flash as well as the Objet and UPrint+ machines for our design school, so this thread has been pretty helpful. We’re thinking of getting several UPrint+ machines based on experiences with other users in the education industry. I then came across this report which was pretty helpful as well: Additive Manufacturing Benchmark - 3D Printers. Hopefully, this helps some of you, too. Good luck!

So its gotten to the point where my VFLASH is just too expensive to run. Its been sitting in the corner of the basement gathering dust for about two years now. Wondered if there were any other VFLASH owners out there that were interested in a cooperative hackathon to enable VFLASH to use generic resins and reuseable build pads. Please post here if you are!

Its a stinking fast machine but who can afford $400 a liter for resin in this day and age!