We managed to get a close look at Spectrom’s intriguing filament-coloring system.
There’s often a desire to produce full color content, but the ability to do so is simply not present on personal 3D printing gear. Typically you’d have to use a much more expensive color-capable 3D printer costing perhaps tens of thousands of USD$.
Spectrom hopes to change that with their filament coloring system. It’s based on primitive experiments in which folks would use a colored Sharpie pen to add some color to plain filament just as it entered the extruder. While these experiments were handheld manual affairs, the Spectrum device automates the entire process.
Plain filament proceeds through the Spectrum and it automatically colors the filament with ink as it passes by. The colors are added to the precise locations where required such that when that portion of the filament is printed, it has the correct color.
Here’s the best part: the technology is provided in an accessory device. This means it could be added to any filament printer to instantly create color capability. Plus you’d need only purchase plain filament, which is sometimes sold at lower prices.
The results are not bad at all, although the color is occasionally not consistent. One major restriction, however, is software. The current Spectrom software can change color by layer, which is terrific for mono-colored objects or layered objects such as this contour map.
It’s not so good for arbitrary coloring anywhere in the 3D model. However, the good news is that the color switching technology is precise. In this example we can see how quickly the coloring can change. There’s no “color transition blend” that’s seen in other approaches - the color switches almost immediately. Thus, we suspect Spectrom could theoretically develop sophisticated software to change colors in a more complex manner, able to print more fully colored objects.
The product is not yet available as we’ve seen only a prototype, but we’re told it should be by the end of 2015. They’re not sure yet of their ink strategy. It’s possible they may require you purchase ink from them in proprietary cartridges - or maybe not. The pricing could be problematic for some, however. They’ve not yet determined a price, but expect it to be in the USD$1,000-2,000 range. This price is as much or more than some 3D printers, so it could be a very pricey accessory. On the other hand, this price range is far less than color printing alternatives.