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On Demand: 3D Printing in Different Colors

New Ways to 3D Print in Color

3D printing has come a long way since the 1980s and has left footprints in almost every major manufacturing industry. It’s in space science, aircraft, automotive, medical, education, even in food, jewelry and apparel. You can 3D print most anything – from basic designs to a wide range of highly-customizable objects. There is an issue here, though. Because, you see, once you have 3D printed an object, it is the final product. If you have to change it, you’ve got to reprint. For example, if you need to have an object available in different colors, you will have to start from scratch as many times as the colors you’ll need.

Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) in Cambridge, have come up with a method to address this issue. “ColorFab,” a method for repeatedly changing the colors of 3D printed objects after fabrication came out in a new paper. They used their own 3D printable ink that changes color when exposed to ultraviolet light. They claimed they can recolor an object in under 20 minutes using plastics and other common printing materials.

By changing an object’s color, to provide variety and satisfy personal preferences, this method can be widely used in the apparel industry, jewelry, electronics, among others. You don’t have to create a whole new object every time. You will also eliminate a lot of wastage using this method.

To go beyond single-color systems, the researchers developed a simple hardware/software workflow. With the ColorFab interface, they upload their 3D model, pick the desired color patterns, and print a fully colored object. To produce the object in different colors they only need to activate the UV light for a particular desired color, and use visible light to deactivate others. Once the object is placed on the printing platform, the desired color is selected from the interface. The ink is made of a base dye, a photo-initiator, and light-adaptable dyes. The light-adaptable dyes bring out the color in the base dye, and the photo-initiator lets the base dye harden during 3D printing.

A full recoloring process took 23 minutes, though the process can still speed up by using a more powerful light or adding more light-adaptable dye to the ink. The colors, though, came out a bit grainy so this area could still use improvement. This is the first 3D printable photochromic system that has a complete printing and recoloring process. This can be user-friendly, as well as a big step in cost-effective fabrication.

Great Color Ideas in Seattle

This is hoping that 3D color printing on demand soon become a reality. And in the mean me, over in Seattle, if you’ve got a colored idea, contact 3D Composites.