Inkjetting & Material Jetting

Material jetting printing (we use the acronym MJP) can be described as the 3D evolution of inkjetting. This family of AM processes includes technologies that use jets to deposit materials onto a platform to create layers of an object. Printing materials are jetted through an inkjet head with thousands of nozzles, similar to the hardware used in 2D inkjet printing. Because each droplet is digitally controlled, these technologies offer precise material control at the voxel level (a voxel is a 3D pixel), allowing for multi-material and multi-color 3D printing.

Most material jetting processes are based on photopolymerization and therefore use similar materials to stereolithography. The first and currently market-leading technology is PolyJet, developed by the Israeli company Objet. Objet was founded in 1998 by Rami Bonen, Gershon Miller, and Hanan Gothait. After about 10 years, the company introduced the first multi-material 3D printer, and in 2012, it merged with Stratasys.

Another early type of material jetting was Smooth Curvature Printing (SCP), developed by the US-based company Solidscape (which was later acquired by Stratasys and then sold to French DLP and SLS 3D printer manufacturer Prodways, which shut it down due to lack of demand in early 2024). SCP used wax-based materials and is widely used in dental and jewelry applications. 3D Systems offers a version called MultiJet Printing, which can use photopolymers as well as wax materials. The high productivity of 3D Systems’ wax and photopolymer-based machines made them the preferred solution for many jewelry manufacturers.

One notable feature of material jetting processes is their ability to be customized for specific vertical applications. For example, the US-based startup Voxel8 developed a version for producing footwear uppers using polyurethane materials. The Israeli company Nano Dimension developed a unique type of multi-material jetting process (now called AME, Additively Manufactured Electronics) for producing electronic components with integrated circuitry. The Belgian company Luxexcel developed a system for manufacturing custom ophthalmic lenses.

Generally speaking, material jetting refers to all AM processes that use multiple nozzles in a printhead to jet printable materials, similar to inkjet printheads used in 2D printing. By jetting materials through tens of thousands of nozzles, a single printhead can offer precise voxel-level control and the ability to print using multiple materials in a single part (such as printable inks and dielectric polymer materials used in electronics). They can also achieve advanced multi-color capabilities with millions of different colors. In material jetting additive manufacturing (AM), multiple printheads dispense liquid thermoset photopolymers in tiny droplets. These droplets are then solidified by ultraviolet light, forming a solid layer for the next layer to be built upon.

The material jetting process begins by heating the liquid acrylic material until it reaches the ideal viscosity for deposition through the printheads. The first layer is deposited as the printhead carriage moves across the build surface, with multiple printheads depositing viscous photopolymer droplets of different materials or colors. Simultaneously, a dissolvable support material is deposited. The UV light on the printhead cures the liquid photopolymer droplets, transforming them into a solid state. Once the first layer is complete, the build surface descends, allowing the next layer to be jetted on top.

Material jetting is advantageous because it allows for the production of parts with multiple materials and colors. This includes parts with both hard and flexible sections or opaque and transparent sections. MJP systems can also mix different photopolymers before deposition, resulting in parts printed in almost any color or shade, as well as sections with specific material properties tailored to the intended application.

One key benefit of the material jetting process is the creation of smooth parts with high-dimensional accuracy, comparable to injection molding. The layer heights typically measure around 20 microns. After printing, the parts must be separated from their support structures, either manually or through post-processing equipment.

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