27 Nov

Coloring by 3D printer

By Justine Fox

Colour people are always talking. A few months ago I got embroiled in a debate with a colleague about the world of 3D printing and what it was up to in colour. So when I heard that  3D Print Show was on its London leg, I thought I'd better get along and find out more. First off in the investigation of colours & 3D printing was to understand the various processes themselves. If you're up on this already apologies, if not, then stick with me. At it's most basic, the processes breakdown into filament, resins, pastes, CMYK and paper with the colour process being different in each. There's a really simple explanation of the material can be printed at home by Eetu Kuneinen that I found that you might find useful.

So how do we get colour into the 3D printing process? Probably the simplest and currently most accurate for model builders is to spray colour after the object has been printed. You can control exactly what levels, finishes and effects you want to apply, but this takes skill and time in itself, reducing one of the advantages of 3D printing: convenience . This is probably one of the reasons why so many of the products out there are seen in white, neutral and grey, another perhaps being the designer's love of puritanical white.


I spoke to Sam Jacoby from at the show. Form Labs have an amazingly quiet desktop printer that has wonderful definition at affordable price. The compromise for affordability seems to be colour with UV cured resins. At the moment they have grey and natural but they are due to release a couple more colours in the next month. But imagine if architects & designers were able to simply print detailed material samples for their client with exact colour replication. No shipping charges. No waiting times. Making the colour selection process more efficient would be really valuable as it speeds up the design process tremendously.


Colour in filaments, although available, at the moment often seem to have a naïve quality to them. The colour offering doesn't seem to have moved on from the technical wonder that is 3D printing (it is a wonder bearing in mind that the first Xerox only came into being 65 years ago). Most standard colours being used in PLA and ABS plastic have a vivid, technical, almost electrical tendency in them, heightened when used as translucents and phosphorescents.


Color Fabb woodfill filaments in the Ultimaker 3d printer

Color Fabb offer around 30 colours but as a new brand of Helian Polymers materbatch they have access to thousands of recipes. They are one of the few that have started to bring together brand colour collections and names in a similar way to the paint industry. They are presenting a more consumer-friendly palette in tones like Olympic gold, olive and leaf that have appeal outside of the tech industry. At the 3D Print Show, technical director Ruud Rouleaux was really excited about their new woodfill filament (below). They've launched in pine (it even smells that way) but are keen to develop further wood colours in line with product trends.



LaybrickMimicry of, composites of and even improvements on traditional materials bring me to LayBrick. Invented by Kai Parthy from CC Products and currently produced by Orbi Tech, once printed LayBrick feels like smooth sandstone. Its anti-warp property comes as a revolution for the large-scale printers, this however only currently comes in this cool grey. As the product develops, I'd love to see some of the subtlety and nuance of more natural colours come into play.






3D printed carOf course the appeal of 3D printing and in fact colour itself isn't confined to simple aesthetics. The medical and safety sectors are progressing quickly in utilising the process in everything from bespoke prosthetics to experimental human parts. Even entire bodyworks of cars are being printed. Having functional and reactive colour available in 3D printing isn't just brilliant to look at but become essential support in our daily lives. Look at this video from Maker Geeks using Thermochrome Grey EcoPLA by FormFutura. In how many ways could the development of colour signalling within these materials make this an inclusive process for everyone and benefit society at the same time? I can think of a huge amount.


This column is just a fraction of the thoughts I'd love to share about colour in 3D printing. Some of the creative ways people are using colouration to stretch this process and ideas of how we can develop usable colour and trend collections will pop up as an article in Clarity InColour's next Colour, Trend & Design Diary out next month. If you'd like me to remind you when it's available to download from please visit the site and sign up for our newsletter.


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