We live in a color world. We see everything in color. Whether you’re a designer, engineer, architect, artist, animator, student, doctor, healthcare provider, entrepreneur or consumer – you live, think and imagine in full, living color.

Why 3D print in color? For professionals, most products are designed with the look of the product being paramount – how will it stand out over the others on the shelf? Shape is also very important, but color is one way to make your products stand out over the competition. Color allows you to communicate better within an organization, and color also allows you to communicate better with your clients. For consumers, we want to be able to print gifts and keepsakes, such as 3D photos and statues, in full color, and not be limited to single color objects – in the same way, that we want to be able to 2D print in color.

Full Color 3D Printing

Imagine if you had the capability to see and hold a physical 3D printed model as it would actually appear as a real-life object, just as if you printed a color photo of the object on a 2D printer, but now a full 3D photograph in your hand. Photo-quality 3D objects can now be used just like 3D photographs and look just as real.

Why haven’t we used color 3D printing in a widespread manner before? One reason we have accepted monochrome 3D printing for so long is because most 3D printers just can’t print color parts. If they could, they would. Also, many color outputs just aren’t good enough for practical applications. Most 3D printer manufacturers want to offer true multicolor 3D printing and are trying very hard to do so. High-resolution color is now possible to achieve with certain print engines.

Why is full-color 3D printing important?
Seeing the value of color is evident when comparing the face to the right and the banana below.

Full Color 3D Printing

Example of true color 3D printed banana created on an Mcor IRIS 3D printer. Courtesy, Printz Worldwide.

Black + White = Full-Color 3D Printing
Did you know that even black and white 3D printing requires full-color 3D printing capability? Black and white is useful for adding text and dimensions and other feature labels and notes onto models; graphics or even adding barcodes directly onto your 3D printed models. Unlike 2D printers, if you need black and white on your 3D printed object, you require a true multicolor-capable 3D printer that can print two colors (black and white) simultaneously. Monochrome 3D printers can only print one color at a time.

Is color 3D Printing Expensive?
Color 3D printing is not expensive since the existing multicolor-capable machines are the lowest cost machines to run in the 3D printing industry. Therefore you can actually save money by selecting a true color 3D printing system vs. a monochrome system.

Full Color 3D Printing

FEA model created in full color on an Mcor IRIS 3D printer.

Applications Made Possible with True Color 3D Printing

  • FEA – stress analysis, flow analysis, solar energy analysis.
  • Concept modeling – at the initial stages of a design project.
  • MCAD form fit models – to prove a design is correct.
  • Textures – can be added to models to make them look like wood or carbon fiber, for example.
  • MCAD production planning – highlighting surfaces to identify machining operations or tolerances during manufacturing.
  • Footwear and clothing design – to evaluate color options and shapes.
  • Packaging – to ensure your product is the one that has the best shelf appeal. Also, models can be used for vacuum forming patterns to make real packaging in small batches. And live hinges allow you to make folding packaging objects.
Full Color 3D Printing

Full-color living hinge created on an Mcor IRIS.

  • Archeology – to encourage learning without damaging delicate ancient artifacts.
  • Medical applications – to identify tumors of different parts of the body. Plastic surgeons can also use color to show what someone will look like after surgery has taken place. It’s even possible to 3D print new prosthetic body parts, and surgeons use color models for pre-surgical planning, thus improving patient outcomes and reducing surgical time.
  • Architects – who typically prefer pure white models also have the option to illustrate what the building will actually look like when completed, resulting in faster approvals and increased business.
  • 3D map models – Google is constantly scanning the planet and will release 3D maps allowing us to print locations in full 3D color. This is ideal for many applications in civil engineering, military planning, and even consumer applications, i.e.; printing your favorite vacation spot
  • GIS – for flood and evacuation planning. Even just using two colors to highlight land and sea requires full-color 3D printing.
Full Color 3D Printing

GIS model 3D printed in 3 sections to reveal a toxic plume under the sea on an Mcor IRIS.

  • Communication, education, and learning – the best use for color is in communication. Educational institutions are popular customers for color 3D printing. Color excites people and allows them to more interested in what they are looking at, learning and designing
  • Marketing, display and custom gifts – 3D printing can be used in marketing using realistic looking 3D printed objects. Shop displays can print one-off objects to suit the theme of the week or month. Custom gifts and giveaways can be produced.
Full Color 3D Printing

This pizza model is a 3D scanned pizza that was printed in full color using an Mcor IRIS 3D printer.

  • Entertainment, art, and ceramics – artists can use 3D printing in the development of their creations. Filmmakers and game producers can now use 3D printing to develop characters and avatars. The consumer market is growing rapidly as more 3D data is becoming readily available. 3D portraits are the latest craze, with booths setting up in high street stores, allowing you to get a full 3D model of yourself or family member. The possibilities are endless for custom made gifts and ornaments.
Full Color 3D Printing

Full-color 3D portrait made on an Mcor IRIS 3D printer.

  • Imagine other new businesses and revenue streams that are possible – pushing the limits of what’s available today – with affordable, full-color 3D printing.

However, all “full color” 3D printers or those promoting “multicolor” capabilities are not created equal. So, be sure to do your homework when evaluating multicolor 3D printers to ensure they can safely print the models that you need at a price point you can afford.