Color 3D Printing

There are now a number of processes, and different 3D printing hardware, that enable accurate multicolor 3D printed parts. However, for many years there were only two technologies that could produce full-color parts: binder jetting (color jet from Zcorp/3D Systems) and polyjet (material jetting from Stratasys). Both technologies are based on inkjetting at some level. In binder jetting the inkjetted color is applied on part produced from a powder bed. In polyjet, the resins themselves are colored and jetted. Both technologies have limitations: color jet has to use a rigid and delicate plaster material, which is only ideal for static models, while polyjet uses expensive photoactive resins, which tend to deteriorate over time.3D Systems’ Projet 660 and Stratasys’ J750 have represented (and continue to represent) the standard for color 3D printing.

As of 2019, there are now several more. One key new technology is HP’s multi-jet fusion, which is a mix between binder jetting and powder bed fusion. As such, this is the first technology that is able to produce full-color parts using end-use thermoplastics such as nylon. Competitively priced below $100,000 (and as low as $50,000), HP’s MultiJet 300 and 500 series systems could open up a new range of opportunities as they become more broadly available. Japanese company Mimaki, on the other hand, developed its own high-quality and high-resolution full-color material jetting system using a technological approach more similar to Stratasys’ (however the cost of the system is also similar).

Another new, and much more affordable, approach is based on the evolutions of filament extrusion (material deposition) technology. Rize developed a technology which combines filament extrusion and inketting to produce functional multi-color parts. XYZ printing brought a similar approach to its affordable desktop systems, by applying color through inkjet heads to filament 3D printed parts. Another small company, Mosaic, introduced an accessory which combines different color filaments to obtain the multi-color effect in parts 3D printed using several different 3D printer models.

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