The 3D printing industry has evolved incredibly quickly. It’s become more affordable, and printers have become much more capable.
New types of filaments have arrived that do everything from helping you green up your printing to allowing you to mimic natural materials like wood and stone. For all that advancement, there are still a few areas in which 3D printing technology lags, and one of those is in coloration.
Sure, you can print in color, but it’s difficult to find a printer capable of printing in multiple colors with a price tag low enough for the average hobbyist. That might be changing soon.
Recent developments in the field of hydrographic printing promise to give 3D printers the ability to create complex, even lifelike colors for their prints, and to do it affordably. What’s hydrographic printing?
Chances are good that you’re at least familiar with the process, if not the name. If you’ve ever put together a model car or airplane and struggled to adhere those decals (remember struggling with a bowl of warm water and a Q-Tip?), then you know what we’re talking about.
Of course, the system in question is more complex than that used with models, but the principles are largely the same. Here’s how it works.
A thin, transparent sheet is created featuring the design for the object. That sheet is then floated in a container of water. The item to be colored is slowly lowered onto the print and into the water.
The print adheres to the item, and you’re done. It wraps around the object and sticks in place.
Of course, this process has its weak points, which is why a team of researchers from the US and China took it upon themselves to improve it.
The new process gives users better control over where the print winds up on their object. What happens essentially is that when an item is pressed into a floating print, the print stretches, creating errors.
The team’s contribution is a computer program that accurately determines how that stretching will occur based on the shape of the item being colored, and then allows you to create a print based on that information, complete with distortions. The result? A perfect fit.
“We built a hydrographic printing system that is able to precisely control the object orientation and dipping location,” the team said. “The entire system is built on off-the-shelf hardware and can be easily set up by ordinary users.”
While they weren’t working solely on behalf of the 3D printing industry, the team does expect 3D printing enthusiasts to be among the first to adopt the new technology. The need to quickly and accurately add complex colors and patterns to unfinished prints is immense, and the simplicity of the system the team built means that the average home user will have no problems here.
The team’s hard at work on another option as well – a multi-immersion system capable of applying several different prints and adhering them to a single object in series.