Creating Multi-Color 3D Prints From Mono-Color 3D Models
A new project hopes to provide an easy way to produce multi-material 3D prints.
SimplyColor3D is a service that allows “painting” of a provided 3D model to identify separate material segments.
The problem is that most of the commonly used 3D model creation and management tools ignore the possibility of multiple materials. If you’ve ever tried to create a multi-material model, you’re in for an adventure that may span multiple tools.
Most of the few 3D printing systems that can switch materials require the input 3D model to be separated into pieces, each being an adjacent but entirely watertight 3D model on its own. It’s much like “exploding” your 3D model into separate pieces that could be printed independently. However, in this case the segments are touching each other.
To prepare a 3D model in this way can be an extraordinarily complex task. You must have a tool that can allow precision cutting of the model in multiple directions, with straight or curved edges. Most 3D model tools, such as MeshMixer, Cura and others, allow only simple “Plane Cuts” where you basically chop a 3D model in half with a plane.
That’s insufficient to prepare a multi-material 3D model except in the most basic cases, such as lettering on a flat surface like a coin or labelled box.
Coloring Thingiverse 3D Models
The problem is most evident when attempting to segment someone else’s 3D model. There you don’t have access to the original CAD file and so the process of segmentation is much more challenging. This is the most frequent experience of those, for example, attempting to create a color version of a Thingiverse 3D model and print it on their Prusa MMU device.
SimplyColor3D hopes to solve this dilemma by providing an online service that a designer can use to paint segments of a 3D model and instantly segment them. They explain:
“SimplyColor3D3D allows anyone, of any skill level, to turn a single-body 3D model into a MultiColor 3D model, for 3D printing in multiple colors easily. All the 3D models that you design, all the models on thingiverse.com, and all the other online model repositories, can be colored with SimplyColor3D3D and 3D printed in multiple colors on any 3D Printer. This enables a level of freedom and customization never before seen. Every 3D model is now a MultiColor model. Every model can be colored unlimited times in different colors too.”
The fact that this is a cloud app means it is instantly usable on basically any platform or OS, so there are no questions about compatibility. However, it then does require a constant internet connection to work, so you can’t use it offline.
What 3D printers does SimplyColor3D support? There’s quite an interesting answer to that question.
They do support the two major multi-material desktop 3D printer options, the Mosaic Palette 2, a device that analyzes GCODE and splices together a custom multi-material filament for each print job; and the Prusa MMU2S, a five-way filament switcher add-on for the Prusa series of 3D printers.
[I should note that Mosaic provides a tool for relatively easily developing color 3D models for their system only.]
Single Extruder Multi-Material 3D Printing
Interestingly, SimplyColor3D also supports single-extruder 3D printers as well! In that case it inserts pauses into the print job to allow the operator to manually switch filaments as required. I suspect this approach is only useful for the simplest multi-material print jobs, as I really wouldn’t want to sit beside my machine and perform 693 filament swaps!
The system works by having you upload your 3D model to their online service, and then editing it. Essentially you are painting surfaces, which will be transformed into independent segments by SimplyColor3D. Then the resulting GCODE is emailed to you.
While this technically works, for some users it may be problematic, as some client designs may not be legally uploaded to any online platform. Similarly, the email transport of the GCODE may be compromised. However, for the majority of SimplyColor3D users, I suspect these are not major issues.
There is one really interesting feature with SimplyColor3D: an advanced purge mechanism. With multi-material 3D printers like the Prusa MMU2S, a block of waste material is printed beside the actual print to account for color changes. This purge gets rid of mixed materials to ensure color purity. The problem is that in order to, say, purge at layer 350, you must 3D print purge tower material for layers 1-349. That’s an incredible waste of filament.
SimplyColor3D’s solution is brilliant: instead of repeatedly and unnecessarily 3D printing a purge tower, they instead add a small gizmo to the side of the printer that allows the purge (and only when a purge is actually required) to squirt out a small “button” of material that is captured in a bucket.
This has several benefits:
Reduces print elapsed time considerably
Reduces material waste
Allows mostly full use of the print bed (which would otherwise be partially occupied with a purge block)
You can see how this works in their video, which begins with the editing process. Note how the “buttons” pile up in the bucket:
SimplyColor3D has launched a Kickstarter campaign and at this point you can snap up a lifetime license for the tool for only US$23! For US$42 you get the lifetime license and a printed version of the purge hardware. Note — you can 3D print your own purge hardware on the US$23 option as well.
This is an interesting project that I’m hoping to try out in the near future. Of course, I must somehow get my MMU2S working before then. That will be a challenge.