One of the recurring issues in 3D printing is how best to colorize the objects produced. Prior to the introduction of colored filaments, a monochromatic creation could have color applied only after completion. Since then a variety of color printing processes have been developed. The process of gradient color printing has introduced an entirely new and challenging set of requirements to the process of 3D printing and is garnering a great deal of interest in the 3D printing community. The creation of machines that can print in a gradient has been an effort largely in the powder process printers, such as MCOR’s Iris and 3D Systems’ ProJet x60. The options for printing in a gradient using filament has long seemed like a pipe dream.
The research team at the Chinese company Stronghero Invest Limited was dissatisfied with the possibilities for multicolor gradients to be printed directly and easily–and they were not going to take no for an answer.
The CEO of Stronghero, Mr. Wu Jingyang, described the circumstances behind his interest in developing a PLA filament that could print a three-color gradient without requiring the operator of the printer to change filaments by hand:
“I purchased my first Mendel 3D printer in 2010, since them I have bought no less than 10 different 3D printers. I absolutely love 3D printing; hardly a day goes by that I don’t print something. However, over time I found that my enthusiasm was diminishing. It was harder and harder to get the quality of model that I wanted as my ideas outpaced the available materials. The objects began to look like mass-produced creations rather than inspired designs, like an undifferentiated mass of things. I wanted to do something different and that’s why we started experimenting to develop this new filament.”
It was easier said than done. At first, the different colors of the graded filaments would simply mix together and create a dark brown model. The second iteration of the idea was to load the printer with several different filament colors, requiring someone to refill the machine by hand every 5 to 20 seconds. It was at that point that it felt as though the machines were enslaving the producers rather than liberating them to create more freely. Jingyang noticed that designers would stop creating their best work and instead start trying to come up with solutions that required less exhaustive attention to the printing process. In other words, the very process had become the problem.
Finally, after nearly a year of experimentation and development, Stronghero was able to move from a manual to an automated means for dispensing a colored gradient in vivid colors. Jingyang demonstrated his renewed enthusiasm in his effusive description of the possibilities for this filament:
“There are many things that can be achieved either through CNC or 3D printing. This monofilament gradient printing option opens up a whole new world and creates an especially beautiful product to add to the landscape of 3D printing possibilities.”
What may make this even more exciting is that rather than only being available to users of particular machines, this filament can be used in any printer creating much broader access. One roll of the filament has up to 15 colors and currently sells for $25 per spool. The demand for the patent-pending invention has been so high that the company is in overdrive trying to keep up. Jingyang promises that they won’t be resting on their laurels either:
“We continue to strive to make improvements in our product. There is no reason to think that we can’t make this product even better in the future. We’re not going to be satisfied, we will always have another goal to reach for.”
Discuss in the Stronghero Gradient Filament forum thread over at 3DPB.com.