M3D is well known for their inexpensive desktop 3D printers, but now they've added a very different machine to their product line.
The new "Crane Quad" system is a full color desktop 3D printer with a price said to be less than USD$500.
Previously the company marketed single or dual extrusion machines that proved very popular, commencing with their initial Kickstarter campaign years ago that netted them a significant amount of business - and cash to expand. Since then the company has smartly leveraged its resources, avoiding the sometimes-fatal market changes that have affected so many other small 3D printer manufacturers. Today M3D is thriving, and is one of the largest suppliers of desktop 3D printer equipment worldwide.
How does the Crane Quad achieve full colors? It employs a color mixing nozzle, fed by the foundation colors of CYMK. They explain:
Through Crane Quad’s innovative technology, users can now print more than 50,000 colors by mixing up to four colors of standard 1.75 mm filament. From common base colors, users can create numerous color palettes covering most of the color spectrum. The base colors needed are CMYK: cyan, magenta and yellow with black, white or transparent as keys. In addition, the Crane Quad allows users to print objects in any single color without the cost of owning dozens of traditional filament spools, and allows the physical characteristics of different materials to be fused into a single object with new properties.
Like other color mixing systems, it's very likely that the nozzle will have to periodically purge itself to clarify a new color mix if the 3D model demands an instantaneous color swap. This is usually done by having the print head move to the side and spill out a sufficient amount of material to effect the color change. This does slow the print process down considerably, but in exchange for that speed you get a full color print.
Some of the sample prints shown by M3D seem to be using continuous color changing; that is to say they are not doing a purge and merely letting the changing color mix appear in the print. This can be desirable in some cases. However, it's likely you can achieve sharp color changes through purging.
Another twist to the Crane Quad is its nozzle. Virtually all desktop 3D printers use a 0.4mm nozzle, but for some reason the Crane Quad includes a 0.35mm nozzle. This could suggest that the machine is able to achieve higher print resolutions.
Other features on the Crane Quad are pretty much what you'd expect for a good machine at this price point: a build volume of 214 x 214 x 230 mm, a heated print surface that can hit 100C for more advanced materials, hot end capable of up to 270C, automated calibration. M3D says the the machine can handle PLA, ABS, ABS-R, ABS-R3, Carbon Fiber, Tough, Tough 115A, ASA, POM, PVA, PVB, TPU and PETG materials.
One complication from using a device of this type is that for full benefit you must buy FOUR spools of material, not just one as you likely have been doing. This will probably end up much like the 2D printing situation where you "run out of yellow again".
Pricing for the Crane Quad is really the major aspect of the machine. I don't think you can obtain a full color 3D printer - fully assembled and tested - for under USD$500 anywhere else.
The Crane Quad is actually just one member of a small family of new machines from M3D. They also will be releasing a dual extrusion version, and that should enable some very interesting prints using soluble support material, I suspect. Finally, they have a basic version that sells for only USD$199.
Together, these machines appear to be a very powerful add to M3D's popular line of 3D printers. I suspect they will experience a decent sales boost when they are released.