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California Jewelry Designers Convert 3D Printed ABS Plastic Into Gold in Several Different Ways

Formnext Germany

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There’s no question that 3D printing is revolutionary in any number of ways, but one of the serious limitations of this rapidly developing technology, albeit a generally aesthetic one, is the restrictive color palette. At this point, refining or elaborating on color happens in the post-printing stage, although even as we make this observation, we know that the technology is transforming in this and other respects.

Until we can colorize 3D prints in more sophisticated ways, there are many techniques for embellishing 3D printed objects. For instance, Erin St. Blaine, a costume designer who runs Fire Pixie Entertainment in Fremont, California, has shared a number of cheap and affordable techniques for making objects that have been 3D printed using ABS filament. St. Blaine, who is using a 3D printer to create jewelry, has developed and tested five different processes for producing a gold effect with her necklaces, tiaras, and pendants, many of which feature LED enclosures.

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St. Blaine begins with objects printed using white ABS plastic. Her first method of turning ABS into gold involves using Rustoleum® Metallic Spray in gold. She found that application of the paint, while thorough, is not in any way nuanced or really that controllable. The effect, though, is that the ABS is no longer a matte texture but is instead extremely shiny and reflective.g2

Erin next tried Plaid Liquid Leaf® in Renaissance Gold. She recounted that it provided a comparably less-than-satisfactory end result. The coat was thick and opaque and dried quickly but it was difficult to clean up and the finish was somewhat dull with an orange cast to the gold. The end result was a plastic object that looked like, well, “painted plastic.”

Persistent in her quest, St. Blaine tried the bronze color of Liquitex® Acrylic Paint and, while she found it easy to use and clean up, the final product was also less than stellar. It certainly read as “gold” but had no sheen at all, so back to the matte finish. Her experience with Rub n’Buff® Antique Gold was comparable to the other paints that left the object looking gold but rather flat and unimpressive. Because she inserts LEDs into some of her jewelry, she thought using a paint expressly designed for glass surfaces and to promote transparency might work. She gave gold-colored Pebeo Vitrail glass paint a test run and found it to be too sheer to make the ABS look convincingly like gold.

g3Finally, St. Blaine struck gold when she experimented with Testors Copper Enamel®, a paint used primarily for finishing model cars, which provided the best results in her view. The finish was somewhere in between the super glossy of the Rustoleum® and the dull finish of the Plaid Liquid Leaf. She applied the enamel using a cotton swab, covering the top layer of the ABS and letting the layers below contribute to texture. Another virtue of this paint is that it isn’t expensive (less than $2 for ¼ fluid ozs.).

We love Erin’s experimental spirit. As a sort of 3D printing alchemist, her process illuminates the need for enhancing the possibilities of 3D printing with a more complex palette but also emphasizes how resourceful the maker community can be by generously sharing the most feasible solutions to some very common and often frustrating obstacles.

Let’s hear your thoughts on Erin’s experiments, as well as any experiments you may have done in the past.  Discus in the Golden 3D Prints forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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