We’re looking at the launch information for a new color 3D printer, the 3D4C.
The “4C” part of the printer’s name gives a clue: it apparently prints in up to four colors simultaneously. The 3D4C is in fact a plastic filament-based 3D printer, and thus has no less than four spools of plastic filament feeding it.
The machine’s generous 250 x 250 x 180mm build volume is surround by mostly metal components. Capable of printing either PLA or ABS plastic filament at up to 0.1mm layer size, the machine seems to hit the current de-facto standards for a personal 3D printer.
However, it’s the color thing that’s most interesting. From what we can see, the four spools of filament are each separately motored into a common extruder hot end. Within the mysterious hot end the filament colors are blended as they melt, and then extruded onto the build platform in the usual manner. This, in theory, should permit the 3D4C to reproduce any color - assuming you’ve loaded CYMK plastic (CMYK is print shop speak for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black, from which a combination can be made to create any visible color).
We’re wondering about the color quality. The printer will have to very quickly mix the colors, lest the extrusion be prefixed with an unfortunate preliminary blend. We would expect the mixing chamber within the hot end to be rather small and careful attention paid to plastic flow during color switches. From a close look at the sample prints, it appears a clean color switch can take a few layers of extrusion. We’re wondering if they should consider extruding the intermediate mix to the filament bucket to ensure the color is completely mixed?
Currently the company is launching the 3D4C on Kickstarter, where you could order one for as little as £850 (USD$1400).
The main issue we see is software. While the machine can likely produce almost any color, we might want to do color changes at any time during the print job, so that we could print full color objects - like a face, perhaps. However, the sample prints shown appear to have had color switches only when layers change. In other words, rainbow-objects only. We believe this to be a software limitation. But it’s very significant and a barrier to using the 3D4C’s technology to the fullest. It’s a complex problem that we cannot expect a small startup to solve - but having machines capable of full color may encourage others to solve the problem by developing proper color management software for 3D models.
Meanwhile, as the 3D4C folks say, “we want to make 3D printing more interesting.”
They certainly have.