Multi Color 3D Printing. Can It Be Done?

by Mike Brooks | Last Updated: December 26, 2021

3D printing is versatile, which means as a hobbyist, 3D artist, designer, or architect, you can print pretty much anything.

Multi Color 3D Printing

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However, multicolor 3d printing is a challenge as typical 3d printing prints a single color despite the technology you deploy.

This limitation is a challenge, especially where you want to achieve fine details or employ color patterns. Thus, multicolor 3D printing offers diverse solutions to different printing issues.

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Color three-dimensional printing comes in several categories including direct and indirect printing.

This article is a useful guide on 3D printing, including DIY, Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), non-FDM multicolor printing solutions, and the techniques to make multicolor prints.

Can 3D Printers Print Multicolor? Is There Multi Color 3D Printing?

Most three-dimension technologies print in one color. However, you can have nice details and bright colors with a quality 3D printer and filament.

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You have three categories of 3D multicolor printers to suit your printing needs. They include:

  1. A hobbyist multicolor printer is a convenient 3D printer for the hobbyist. These hobbyist printers cost below $2000. They have a multicolor kit that usually costs below $500. Hobbyist multicolor solutions feature in do-it-yourself. Why? Because they fit the typical desktop.
  2. Second, you have professional multicolor printers, which are more precise and more expensive. They are perfect for product development and prototyping. Also, these printers fit in your office and cost over $10000.
  3. Lastly, you have industrial multicolor printers. They come with no size or financial restrain. These apparatus are high-tier machines, ideal for end-use production or manufacturing and rapid prototyping. They mostly fit in large offices and factories that print complex objects with multicolored parts.

How to 3D Print in Multiple Colors

Typically, most markers create multiple color models by painting. Also, by employing other post-processing methods of color addition after printing.

However, when you print a complex object, painting afterward becomes nearly impossible. Thus, the option you have is printing with color from the start.

Multicolor 3D printing works in two ways. You have direct color printing and indirect color printing. In direct printing, you can use colorful filaments as you create objects.

This method works with Fused deposition modeling technology, enabling excellent details and bright colors. However, it depends on your printer and the filament’s quality.

Indirect printing employs a printing process that allows printing your objects from an external color source.

This technique is more precise than direct printing, allowing you to achieve a realistic appearance of your 3D prints. Please note that indirect printing requires professional knowledge.

What must you note in both techniques? You cannot mix colors; therefore, you may not be photo-realistic. On the other hand, indirect printing requires CMYK color modes that you must consider before preparing your printer model.

How Does Multicolor 3D Printing Work?

Under direct 3D printing, you have Multiple-Extruder, Multiple-Nozzle, Splicing, and Swapping. Under indirect, you have multi-jet fusion and material jet fusion.

Multiple Extruders and Nozzles Fused Deposition Modeling

Multiple extruders FDM is a direct color 3D printing technique whereby the 3D printers have multiple extruders and nozzles.

Previously, this technique was relevant while printing your dissolvable support structures. However, you can use the technique to print even with two different filaments colors. You have various printers with even four extruders.

The extruders feed the nozzle(s) with the colors you want in conjunction with the printing materials.

This method helps you produce multicolor objects through care and calibration for excellent outputs. Multiple nozzles ensure you don’t have excessive retraction for your used filaments.

Single Extruder (Swapping)

You can achieve colorful models even when your printer has one extruder. You’ll achieve that by setting for multiple tasks as you send the three-dimensional files for printing.

To set for multiple tasks, you’ll use the slicing software.

Here, your slicing software produces a g-code that instructs your color 3D printer to quit printing after a certain duration. Then you can switch filaments to restart the print job.

Since swapping requires your 3D printer to have one print head to achieve a multicolor print, the nozzle retracts your 3D printer’s old filament inserting a new filament when you need a color change.

These techniques require you to purge to clear any used filament before depositing the new one. At the same time, this method wastes materials and time.

Therefore, to reduce its risk, you can combine colored filaments. Then include specific instructions on your model and specify the color for each part.

Splicing

In splicing, you cut and join various colors on different materials. This process causes the printer to print continuously without stops, allowing single extruder color 3d printers to carry out color change operations. These operations include purging, retraction, nozzle wiping, etc.

Some printers with this technique allow you to use multiple colors to print because they have various functional parts with up to four filaments.

Material Jetting

Additive manufacturing material jetting is accurate three-dimensional printing technology. This technology utilizes the jet color 3D printers.

These printers release ink as polymer droplets, which are cured by ultraviolet light. The printers develop the complete color parts using CMYK inks. Thus, the color droplets avail a full suite of shades.

Multi-Jet Fusion

Multi-jet fusion uses powder polymers instead of soluble supports. It differs from the other technologies because you place each new agent layer and printing base material on the former molten layer.

Material Jetting and multi-jet fusion are two non-FDM multicolor methods of making colored multicolor prints.

DIY Multicolor

First, do-it-yourself multicolor prints are more costly and more complicated to make than the typical printing. Thus you will need some pre-printing coloring and post-coloring techniques and skills.

What are these skills?

For pre-printing coloring, you can’t attempt coloring your models fully, and you can’t predict the color changes. Why?

Because this technique is preparatory and doesn’t follow your model’s design. However, you can use the model for 3D printing of mixes, colors, and blends.

Here, you have different colored filaments, including the multicolor filament, which is a colored filament bearing all color shades. You can use it to make sculptures and vases. You also have a color-changing filament, which has multiple colors.

However, its colors are don’t change. Finally, you have the nylon filament that causes the neat dye effect.

The post-printing coloring helps you to have multicolored prints as you save on time. In this step, you should be keen on detail, and you can use a brush to ensure perfect detail.

In post-processing, you also have water marbling, also called hydro dipping which involves mixing insoluble paint with water.

This mixture achieves a chaotic pattern that is aesthetically appealing. Then you dip your model into the paint to stick on the model.

Multicolor 3D Printing Supported Technologies

Several technologies allow by default multicolor printing. However, you can only find these printing technologies in professional 3D printers.

Poly-jet technology has a system whereby small droplets of resin stream onto printing objects.

This technology allows the droplets to get colored before depositing them on the object resulting in full colored 3d parts. Poly-jet materials print multiple materials, including a wax-like support material used for printing.

You also have Binder Jetting, whereby the printer introduces a binder onto a powdered substrate. You color the binder before depositing it.

The dye in the binding agent bleeds out into the powder. Hence, the process produces fewer crisps than in poly-jet printing.

These two processes may not be accessible to many hobbyists as they are industrial.

Color Kit Resin

Stereolithographic resins come in limited colors which manufacturers select. This color limitation restricts product engineers and designers from creating similar prototypes.

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However, some color kits enable engineers and product designers to make similar prototypes. These color kits have Magenta, Black, Yellow, White, and Cyan colors, making a full spectrum with various colors.

What’s more? Xyzprinting da Vinci color mini (view on Amazon) has more compact. It has an optional laser engraving module that customizes your printing projects.

It was launched by the Canadian company Mosaic Manufacturing. This multi-material printer enables you to make professional complex prints with realistic colors.

Wrap Up

Typical three-dimensional printing technologies only print in a single color. Many markers that create multi-color prints require that you paint using one color. However, creating multi colors requires post-processing techniques like water marbling.

In conclusion, you can make colored 3D models using the above techniques whether you are a hobbyist or a professional 3D artist.

Michael Brooks is the founder of M3DZone.com. He sees a very bright future for 3D printing that's why his mission is to try and make this easy for everyone. Discover your hidden talent and creativity. You can follow here: Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest.