3D printing involves various manufacturing technologies used to construct parts and components layer by layer. Each 3D printing technique differs in the way they form parts as well as in manufacturing speed, durability, surface finish, and material selection.
Although 3D printing is still considered a very young technology, it provides a lot of manufacturing and design solutions. 3D printing solutions are typically monochromatic, where the final color is a single raw material. There are a few 3D printing processes that can provide full color solutions. Color 3D printing is typically divided into indirect and direct technologies. While indirect 3D printing applies color from an external source, direct 3D printing uses a filament containing the desired color.
Critical 3D Printing Considerations
While 3D printing is an attractive option for many applications, there are five key factors to consider when determining which technology best suits your project’s needs. These considerations include:
- Material selection
- Mechanical requirements
- Cosmetic appearance
Full Color 3D Printing Methods
Common multi-color 3D printing methods include:
Fused Filament Fabrication / Fused Deposition Modeling (FFF/FDM)
Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is a popular desktop 3D printing technology for quickly and cost-effectively creating plastic parts and physical models. FDM printers work by extruding the plastic filament onto the build platform layer by layer. While sometimes effective for functional testing, FDM technology can be limiting since some parts may lack strength and contain rough surface finishes.
FDM printers utilize either single or multiple extruders. To achieve colorful prints with a single extruder, you must set multiple tasks using slicing software when sending your 3D files for printing. An auto-generated g-code instructs the printer when to stop so the filament can be switched and the job restarted. Multiple extruders allow the use of two colors of filaments. While dual extruders are the most common option, some devices offer up to four extruders for multi-color 3D printing purposes.
Fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printing uses an additive manufacturing (AM) process to push thermoplastic materials through a heated nozzle, creating objects by depositing melted material layer by layer. This technology is a low-cost solution in terms of operating costs and initial investment compared to other 3D printing methods. Proving to be reliable and capable of producing accurate parts, FFF has become a driving force in the innovation of 3D printing technologies in prototype design, education, and manufacturing applications.
This 3D printing process can fabricate parts with various colors and materials and is the ideal solution for prototyping overmolded or elastomeric parts. The advanced technology can quickly validate a design while offering cost-saving benefits.
PolyJet technology uses liquid resin and can print at an impressive rate of 16 microns, assuring an appealing surface finish and very fine detail of 3D models. To achieve over 600,000 colors, CMYK, white, and translucent material is applied as individual microdroplets each layer and cured with UV light, allowing for adjustment of color and transparency levels.
ColorJet 3D printing offers the choice of over 36,000 colors. ColorJet technology reads the color and texture information from the 3D file before the multicolor 3D printing process beings. After the first layer of material is spread using a fine powder, the color is applied and adheres to the layer. The next layer is then spread out, and the process repeats.
Mimaki inkjet printers offer full color 3D printing to create beautiful color expression using more than 10 million colors. InkJet technology, first created for paper printers, depends on UV light for processing.
The inkjet head drops pigmented resin on the first layer of powdered material. The UV light cures the material to a solid state, and the printing process repeats to create vibrant 3D prints. Mimaki equipment creates exceptional 3D printed objects with exceptional detail as well as excellent ink properties and post-process performance.
How to Determine Which Color 3D Printing Process to Choose
There are several ways to determine which 3D printing process is the most effective technique for an application. You should base the decision on:
- Materials. 3D printing materials are available in powder, filament, or resin form. Selecting a 3D printing process is simplified when the desired material is predetermined, as very few technologies fabricate parts from the same materials.
- Purpose of the design. Early in the selection process, it is essential to determine whether the finished product will be functional or for aesthetic purposes. It’s important to define the specifications for the level of tolerance, overall part strength, and required properties.
- Manufacturing capabilities. The capabilities of 3D printing technologies play a significant role in selecting the printing process. Understanding the benefits and limitations of each technology will help determine the best solution.
Other important considerations include:
- Dimensional accuracy
- Layer height
- Support structures and design freedom
- Build size
Limitless Full Color 3D Printing Capabilities with Paradigm Manufacturing
Paradigm Manufacturing is at the forefront of full color 3D printing technology, utilizing the most advanced/up-to-date 3D printing technology. Printers in our arsenal include the Mimaki InkJet Printer, as well as resin, MJF, and large format printers. Paradigm also offers prototyping and custom printing services.
For more information about our full color 3D printing capabilities, contact us, request a quote, or schedule a consultation today.