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As you leap into 3D printing, you may be curious about color 3D printing. It’s the next logical step after printing your first white Benchie test print. You’ve created something incredible—how to do it in color?
Check out our comprehensive guide below for more information.
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Options For 3D Color Printing
Whether you’re a hobbyist or a pro, there are many different options for colored 3D prints.
Direct Color and Color Mixing
Direct color means creating 3D printed parts in various colors. You need to load the raw material (a colored filament) into the printer, which will melt and get deposited onto the print bed in layers.
This method prints using a single color unless you have dual extruders or gradient filaments. This is one of the easiest methods of 3D color printing, as well as the most affordable. The downside is that it’s impossible to choose specific colors using gradient filament, and the more extruders your printer has, the higher your risk of a misprint.
Color Matching refers to the integrated color-mixing solution for SLA printing. Formlabs Color Kit mixes color pignments into a base material to create a customized color resin. SLA printing uses a laser to solidify the colored resin, leading to almost non-existed layer lines.
Full-color 3D printing is exactly what it sounds like. It’s one of the most versatile methods of 3D printing, and allows you to use multiple colors at the same time.
Unlike other methods that require colored filament or resin, the color is added to the base material during the printing process.
Painting 3D Prints
One of the easiest methods of creating colored 3D prints is painting them. Although it’s more time-consuming in the long run, you’ll save yourself a lot of money and headaches when making sure your print is coming along as expected.
On the flip side, it requires a more considerable investment of your time after the fact. Once your print is done, you may need post-processing, including sanding and priming. After post-processing is done, you can proceed with painting using acrylic, oil, or spray paint.
While this method takes the most time and effort on your part, the final product will undoubtedly look the best.
Hydroprinting 3D Prints
Hydroprinting, also known as hydro dipping, is the process of transferring a design or color to 3D surfaces by dipping it into a container of water that features the art floating on the surface.
The process of hydroprinting uses an image printed on polyvinyl alcohol film using an inkjet printer. The film is then submerged in water and is activated using a chemical spray. As the item is dipped through the film, it stretches over and sticks to the 3D object.
Color 3D Printing Technologies
With as many different 3D printing machines to choose from, there are also numerous color 3D printing technologies you’ll need to be aware of.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the least expensive and, therefore, most common technology related to 3D printing. 3D printers that use FDM technology melt and extrude thermoplastic filament through a nozzle, which builds your print up layer-by-layer.
FDM is primarily used for direct color printing using a single extruder or for color mixing. However, some newer full-color 3D printers, like the da Vinci Color 3D printer also uses FDM.
Stereolithography (SLA) uses lasers to cure the liquid resin in a process called photopolymerization. SLA results in the highest accuracy and smoothest finish of all plastic 3D printing technologies.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLF) and Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) are processes used across various industries to produce colorful, functional parts. SLS prints are dyed in post-processing. Whereas MJF prints can selectively apply ink on the powder layer of the print, making it a full-colored 3D print.
Binder Jetting is similar to the technologies mentioned above. However, it uses a colored binding agent to bond powdered sandstone instead of heat. Products using binder jetting are typically brittle due to their porous surface. Therefore, they’re most commonly used for creating concept models.
Material jetting is a combination of traditional inkjet printing with the use of photopolymer resins. The process creates photorealistic prints with vibrant colors.
Best Color 3D Printers
When it comes to 3D printers, there’s a “best” for different purposes. Whether you’re a beginner looking for something easy or want to get your kids started with 3D printing. Below are some of the best color 3D printers we found:
1. Best for Beginners: BIQU B1
If this is your first time venturing into color 3D printing, the BIQU B1 is precisely what you want.
BIQU’s B1 features filament detection. When the filament runs out, a red light will turn on. If a green light turns on, it means the material is blocked. The machine will auto-pause, allowing you to correct the issue. Additionally, it features a resume print function that will enable your firmware to restore the last recorded position to minimize material waste.
Compared to the Ender 3 V2, the BIQU B1 has dual cooling fans, a broader Y base, and better stepper motors. It also has more features than the Ender 3 V2.
This 3D printer prints in full color, which is contingent on the color of the PLA filament you feed it. You can provide it only one color at a time. BIQU makes its filament in various colors, from standard white to a beautiful sky blue.
Pros: Affordable and compact, it has more features than competitors, like the Ender 3 V2
Cons: Poor customer support, some machines were sent out with faulty software
2. Best for Millions of Colors: XYZprinting da Vinci Color
XYZprinting’s da Vinci Color 3D printer is so popular that it’s often out of stock. It is the world’s first full-color FFF 3D printer.
The da Vinci uses CMYK inkjet printing technology to apply ink to color-absorbing PLA filament. It features an advanced auto-calibration and leveling system. The color saturation is excellent, resulting in a vivid, brightly-colored print you can be proud of.
Due to its CMYK inkjet technology, droplets of ink attach to the custom PLA filament, leading to millions of color possibilities with less effort on your part.
Pros: Endless possibilities, less effort required from you
Cons: Very expensive and frequently sold out
3. Best for Millions of Colors: FlashForce 3D Printer Creator Pro 2
This printer is ideal for beginners who don’t mind restricting themselves to PVA, PLA, and ABS for printing. It’s perfect for larger items and delivers a range of customizable options to create structures and multi-coloured items.
The Creator Pro is a closed unit with an aluminum build plate that won’t warp, even with higher temperatures. It does arrive fully assembled, saving some time and frustration for inexperienced people.
FlashForge’s instructions leave something to be desired, so it may take some trial and error. Thankfully, it’s relatively easy to use and maintain.
Pros: Easy to use, several customizable features
Cons: The warranty is practically useless
4. Best for User Friendliness: ComeTrue T10
ComeTrue T10 won the 2018 Taiwan Excellence Award out of over 1,200 inventions.
This full-color 3D printer uses ComeTrue Print software to slice your 3D files. Not only does it print fast, but it maintains an excellent level of accuracy and quality. As a result, you’re able to produce high-quality prototypes, art models, and biomedical parts that will exceed your expectations.
The T10 prints in full CMYK color. The final print will have a beautiful sandstone matte finish. However, for a glossy finish you can add ceramic powder.
Pros: Fast printing speed, can print complicated models
Cons: Very expensive, low build volume for price
5. Best for Resin Printing: ANYCUBIC Photon M3
ANYCUBIC’s Photon M3 is one of the best resin 3D printers on the market. Its prints have a sharp 4K quality that allows for finer details. It has a 400:1 screen contrast ratio, which perfectly prints everything from sharp corners to delicate edges.
A powerful ANYCUBIC LighTurbo matrix is under the plate, providing strong light energy that makes high-speed printing possible.
You can use colored resin for your print. However, because the Photon M3 prints out such high detail, it would be beneficial if you chose to paint it.
Pros: Detailed 4K prints, easy print removal, fast printing
Cons: 4-bolt leveling platform
6. Best for Value: Creality Ender 3 Pro 3D Printer
Creality’s Ender 3 Pro is a powerhouse machine for the price—in fact, occasionally, Creality will put it on sale for half its retail value. The value is incredible for the cost, making it the perfect device for anyone from professionals to hobbyists.
The Ender 3 Pro is easy to set up and run, with everything taking less than one hour. The kit comes semi-assembled and will help you learn about the basic construction of 3D printers as you set it up.
This printer has a quality single extruder and can resume printing if there is an unexpected power surge. It can heat the hotbed to 110 degrees Celcius in 5 minutes. As it only has a single extruder, you can typically print in one color at a time. However, if you swap your filament out during the print or use a gradient filament, your prints could easily feature multiple colors.
Pros: Easy to set up and use, best value for money spent, perfect for beginners and hobbyists
Cons: Quality control issues mean not every printer is the same out of the box
7. Best for Wi-Fi Printing: Flashforge Adventurer 3 3D Printer
The Flashforge Adventurer 3 3D printer comes with an enclosure, which other brands typically sell separately at a markup. Some of the cool features of this printer include its wireless capability, which means you can start a print remotely instead of going through the trouble of transferring a file to your USB to print.
In addition, it has a built-in HD camera, which is excellent for watching your print in progress after the fact. Unfortunately, the video is saved to an SD card and cannot be streamed live.
The Adventurer 3 is leveling-free because it is pre-leveled at the factory. It can use various 3D filaments, including PLA, ABS, PETG, etc. The quick detach nozzle makes it easy to swap filaments. In addition, it features a filament detection function. That means the machine will pause your print if it detects that your filament is broken or ran out.
Pros: Comes with enclosure, wireless capabilities, has camera installed to watch print
Cons: Difficult customer service, print can only be watched from an SD card after the fact
Honourable Mention: Toybox 3D Printer (Best for Kids)
Toybox 3D is a 1-touch kid-friendly 3D printer. It uses colored PLA filament and can output 7 x 8 x 9 printing volume. It’s so easy to use that no adult assistance is needed, and there is no need to adjust the print bed.
Toybox allows users to choose simple objects to print from over 2,000 files. You can also import your own created 3D file.
To change the color of the PLA filament as your print, you will need to cut the filament strip from the top of the printer and replace it with a different color roll. You’ll need to let the excess wire of the previous color disappear before inserting the new color filament into the top. This allows the user to print in multicolor. The process is so easy that it’s safe for kids to do it independently.
Toybox manufactures environmentally friendly filaments. However, you can use other brands as long as they are 1.75mm.
Pros: Safe and easy for kids to use, requires no experience
Cons: Small and may need to be calibrated more than once
From choosing your color 3D printer to deciding what technology and 3D color printing option you’ll choose, there is a lot to consider before making your purchase. There is a choice for each budget and expectation. Good luck choosing the color 3D printer that is right for you, and happy printing!