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TMCnet Feature

January 27, 2014

Full Color Finally Arrives for 3D Printing

The combination of 2D color mixing technology and multi-material 3D printing can potentially save time for manufacturers and industrial designers by reducing the need for separate print runs and painting.

It’s a significant achievement in the fast-growing world of 3D printing, especially because improvements to prototype development can impact the time to market, saving companies both time and money in the process.

"This is groundbreaking stuff,” said Duncan Wood, publisher of specialist 3D printing magazine TCT, to the BBC. “Being able to produce single products incorporating materials of different rigidity and color has been the holy grail of 3D printing to date.”

The Stratasys Objet500 Connex3 can print objects in a range of colors and material strengths. Some manufacturers use color 3D printing to illustrate the different stress factors expected to affect a design.

And it’s finally arrived with the introduction of the Stratasys Objet500 Connex3 color multi-material 3D printer. The printer uses what the company calls "triple-jetting" technology, which combines droplets of three base materials.

Using traditional 2D printer color mixing, using cyan, magenta and yellow, users can create multi-material objects in hundreds of colors.

“It’s important for our prototype parts to look and feel like production parts,” says Mike Zeigle, manager of Trek’s prototype development group, which was the first to install the Object500 Connex3 printer in its operations. Trek uses the printer to build parts with clear, tinted and flexible components, sometimes all in one job.

It also uses color, but not just to make the piece look pretty. Trek incorporates finite-element analysis data into a 3D map of a bike seat showing the pressure a rider applies to each area, and then uses color 3D printing to represent the data on the actual prototype.

“Most people think they just sit on the whole bike seat, but there’s more pressure on certain parts than others. This shows the pressure points so designers can make decisions, like where to put high-density foam, for example,” explained Guadalupe Ollarzabal, Trek engineering tech.

Another 3D printer manufacturer, 3D Systems, also launched a multi-material high-end 3D printer, the ProJet 5500X, with a smaller range of colors: black, white and shades of grey.

Like 3D printing in color, incorporating shades of gray in 3D printing prototypes can help manufacturers model and study the shape and behavior of their designs.

Edited by Ryan Sartor

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