Need a full color 3D print? You can do it with the new da Vinci Color desktop 3D printer.
The device actually 3D prints objects in full color and at the same time is a filament extrusion 3D printer. There have been a few attempts at filament-based full color, but none have been particularly successful yet; more about this in a moment.
How does the da Vinci Color produce full color?
Previous “color” filament-based 3D printers used a “mixing nozzle” to create colors through different ratios of basic color filaments input to the same nozzle. The problem with that approach was that a new color mix required the evacuation of the mixing nozzle. This means that every color switch required the toolhead to move to the side and “purge” out the incorrectly mixed thermoplastic until it was “pure”. This can be a huge waste of material, particularly if a large number of color swaps is required, and don’t even ask about gradients.
XYZprinting’s approach is entirely different. Instead of creating the colors in thermoplastic, they are applying them! The da Vinci Color includes something akin to a standard 2D paper inkjet color print head.
As the print proceeds, this additional print head swings across completed layers and “inks” in whatever color is required. It seems that XYZprinting uses a natural thermoplastic filament which simply absorbs the color ink rather well. And this works because 2D color printing figured out how to do that a long time ago.
When the print completes, each layer has been colored.
Otherwise the da Vinci Color provides a modest 200 x 200 x 150mm build volume, layer size of 0.1mm, a color touch screen with easy interface and auto filament loading. There’s also a rather interesting removable print surface that flexes for quick removal of completed prints.
The results are, I would say, not bad. They’re definitely not “photo ready”, but probably good enough for simple prototyping. XYZprinting suggests the system could be used by artists to demonstrate small scale versions of larger projects, or for animators to physically realize the virtual characters they’re developing. These could indeed be good use cases.
The materials for this machine are a bit different. First, you must use the new “3D Color-inkjet PLA” material specifically designed for this machine due to its ability to absorb ink properly. It’s sold in 600g spools at USD$35 each, but the machine itself comes with a 300g spool to start printing.
The second thing to worry about is the ink itself. XYZprinting has employed a CMYK approach to the color ink toolhead, and thus you must buy 40ml C, M, Y, and K ink cartridges from them to fill out the complement of colors, just like you would for a 2D paper printer. These are sold for a whopping USD$70 each, making the full CMYK suite priced at USD$280! The machine does come equipped with a full set of 20ml cartridges, however.
It’s not clear to me how frequently you would use up these cartridges, as it’s an entirely new process that depends on how “deep” XYZprinting wants to soak the filament to perform the coloring. I suspect you might be at risk of paying considerably for ongoing supplies of ink here – just like you do with 2D paper printers.
There’s another strange price point: the machine itself, which we were told is priced at USD$3,499. This is a pretty high price as compared to other models in this price range, but then again there really aren’t a lot of full color 3D printers available. I’m just a bit surprised that XYZprinting would diverge from their typical practice of very low price points, as we’ve seen on their other equipment.
That all said, it remains to be seen whether color 3D printing is a popular process. So far, it hasn’t been, mainly due to cost and availability. Perhaps that will change with the XYZprinting da Vinci Color.