Thursday, August 7, 2014

Full Color 3D Printing

World of Warcraft Figure by Figure Prints
World of Warcraft Figure by Figure Prints
I have been on a quest to find a full color 3D printing technology that can create beautiful and functional personalized models. In recent months, great progress has been made by several 3D printer manufacturers.

Figure Prints has been making personalized figurines from World of Warcraft avatars for several years using the ColorJet Printing method from 3D Systems. But I don't consider these truly functional. Made of gypsum powder held together with a binder, the models are brittle and best suited to display on a shelf.

CubeJet Print from 3D Systems
CubeJet Print from 3D Systems
At CES in January, 3D Systems announced the CubeJet which offers the ColorJet Printing technology in a desktop version. The samples at CES showed fine color resolution similar to the company's larger ProJet 4500 and a video from CES by Make shows a CubeJet printed iPhone case that is full color and flexible. The CubeJet is not yet available but expected to begin shipping later this year.

For a model that looks, feels and functions similar to wood, the Mcor Iris offers inexpensive 3D printing in full color with over a million colors. Iris builds using paper and the selective deposition lamination process. Since color printing on paper is a mature and well tested method to product accurate color, Iris produces the most accurately colored models that I have seen so far. It is the only 3D printer that supports ICC profiles.

Cyan Magenta Yellow Palette for the Connex3
Cyan Magenta Yellow Palette for the Connex3
Arguably, the most durable multi-color parts can be made using the Objet500 Connex3 printer from Stratasys. Connex3 can print using a variety of PolyJet materials including Digital ABS which mimics the strength, toughness and thermal resistance of ABS and high impact polystyrene. The printer's PolyJet technology jets resin droplets of three different colors onto the build tray and he colors can blend to create up to 46 colors in a single model. While there is a choice of 10 different palettes of 46 colors, none of them have the color resolution to create a model with a continuous tone photographic texture map.




Every week, I see a new article on a research lab working on a full color 3D printer and even some new models coming onto the market. The definition of full color varies though and most of these processes would be better described as multi-color because their ability to blend colors is limited.

What would you like to print in full color?

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