Additive Manufacturing Strategies

Shapeways Adds Mimaki’s Full-Color 3D Printing to Service Portfolio

ST Medical Devices

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As 3D printing service bureau Shapeways moves into its next phase of development, involving an upcoming SPAC IPO, the company is shaking things up within its operations. It recently received an investment from Desktop Metal and will be using the company’s metal 3D printing technology. It’s branched out significantly from 3D printing with the addition of six non-additive manufacturing processes. Now, Shapeways is partnering with Mimaki to add its version of full-color ink jetting to its portfolio.

For years, ColorJet Printing (CJP) from 3D Systems and PolyJet from Stratasys have been mainstays of 3D printing service bureaus (particularly CJP, also known as “binder jetting”)  for the ability to produce vibrant, full-color parts. However, since Japanese industrial printer manufacturer Mimaki jumped into the 3D printing market, it has slowly chipped away at the market share for this segment.

In 2018, Materialise’s 3D printing service bureau, i.materialise, also adopted Mimaki’s technology. Video game developer Ubisoft is relying on Mimaki to 3D print items for its game For Honor. With Shapeways taking Mimaki on board, there’s a possibility that other service bureaus might follow suit.

The advantages to using Mimaki’s ink jetting is the ability to 3D print a wider range of colors than binder jetting or other ink jetting technologies, such as PolyJet. Though the exact number of colors possible with 3D Systems’ CJP binder jetting is not listed, Mimaki has produced the below example as a demonstration of color quality difference and says that it is capable of twice the color expression.

A comparison of Mimaki’s technology on the left with binder jetting on the right. Image courtesy of Mimaki.

As for PolyJet, it is capable of producing 500,000 colors, compared to Mimaki’s 10 million. Like PolyJet, Mimaki’s process is capable of varying degrees of translucency. I don’t believe you can modify the shore hardness of parts, however, in order to create rubber-like features.

Hero Forge collectibles 3D printed using Mimaki technology. Image courtesy of Shapeways.

Shapeways customers can now obtain instant quotes for high-definition full color material. There are additional post-processing options that can be chosen. The company suggests that the technology can be used for surgical planning, real estate models, and consumer applications, such as tabletop gaming and collectibles.

“Shapeways is known for their quality and consistency,” said Josh Hope, Senior Manager for Digital Imaging and Innovation at Mimaki. “Our expertise in 2D color printing allowed us to approach the 3D printing world differently by starting with color. Offering High Definition Full Color to the customer base of Shapeways made sense because it can be used in so many ways.”

It’s interesting to see the quick shift that is taking place at Shapeways since its new CEO, Greg Kress, has taken over. Since the firm spun out of Phillips years ago, it has always been promising; however, the consumer 3D printing bubble threw many consumer-oriented businesses for a loop. Now, it seems as though this company is reorient itself and may quickly pick up steam once again.

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