Full color 3D printing is definitely not for everyone. There are those who do use it, but are there many more who don’t yet know they should?
The vast majority of 3D printing equipment prints in a single color or small set (like “two”) colors. Full color 3D printing is a very rare beast, found in only a handful of devices, including 3D Systems’ ProJet series, the MCOR Arke, Stratasys’ J750 and most recently the ORD RoVa4D.
Why so much mono color 3D printing? It’s the use case: for many users of 3D printing, the objective is to produce a mechanical part. The important thing is whether the part functions mechanically as required, not so much what it looks like.
But there is another use case, perhaps one more subtle, one that requires full color.
Where a mechanical part must be made to see “HOW IT WORKS”, a color part can be made to see “HOW IT LOOKS”.
Consider the case of a shoe manufacturer. Such an industry is utterly dependent on the style and fashion of their products. They must evaluate dozens of proposed styles before committing to manufacture them.
How do they do this evaluation? In the past they would have to literally manufacture individual copies of each proposed design using conventional approaches. This could take a very significant amount of time to complete, leading to scenarios where fewer candidate products would be made. This lessens the long term effectiveness of the product as fewer options were considered.
But with a full color 3D printer, the shoe manufacturer can simple print out many versions of the shoe, literally as fast as they can be digitally designed. Thus the product managers can peruse a lineup of near-visually perfect versions of the proposed shoe products and select the one that makes the most sense when experienced in glorious, full 3D.
I experienced the same phenomenon when visiting Otterbox, a manufacturer of high-quality smartphone cases. This company follows this same type of process, but in their situation, the prototypes are almost literally suitable for end use.
Recently I’ve seen I’ve seen other examples of “getting” full color 3D printing. Stratasys has made a point of demonstrating several use cases for full color 3D printing technology, including preserving historical artifacts and footwear design experiments.
For those of you who dismiss full color 3D printing as unnecessary, you’re wrong. It may not be what you need to develop mechanical parts, but it is something designers require.