Full Color 3D Printer Upgrade Leaves Competition In The Dust

Most hobby 3D printers are based on FDM, extruding a single-color noodle of melted plastic to build up an object. Powder-based inkjet 3D printing allows you to print detailed, full-color models from a plaster-like material. The process uses ink and water droplets, dispensed from an inkjet print head to selectively fuse and color layers of a powdered binder material. When you see an offer for a 3D printed miniature version of yourself (or someone else), they are made with powder. [Aad van der Geest] wants to put this technology on your desktop with ColorPod, a kit that converts your FDM printer into a powder printer.

On the hardware side, his solution consists of a special printhead — shown in the header image — that mounts next to the extruder nozzle of an FDM machine. The printhead features a powder dispensing mechanism and two off-the-shelf HP inkjet cartridges. One of them contains water, the other one can be used to color the print. The powder dispenser employs a pager motor to sprinkle down fine layers of PVA powder while a spinning roller to evens them out.

Unlike industrial machines (and the one [Aad] built in 1998), which print objects in an enclosed, piston-like build volume, [Aad’s] addon simply prints the object within the heap of powder it lays down on the build plate. [Aad] provides PC software that processes 3D models from the STL and OBJ format into printable G-code and streams the instructions to both the printer and the addon. It also generates support walls around the model to stabilize the powder heap.

With the hardware working, [Aad] now sells his add-on kit for $488 ($349 for the PCB and $139 for the rest of the kit). Looking at the commercially available powder bed alternatives, [Aad’s] desktop-capable solution is underbidding the competition by about $50k. It’s certainly not a mature product and PVA dust and explorative goodwill pave the way to success, but [Aad’s] results speak for themselves. He made it work, and he’s providing us with tools to do the same. Check out the video below where [Aad] demonstrates the working kit on an Ultimaker 2.

41 thoughts on “Full Color 3D Printer Upgrade Leaves Competition In The Dust

  1. Definitely in the “look at this pretty object” category of printers, which can be valuable for test-fitting designs etc. But I’ll stick with FDM for things that need to take a beating.

    1. If you are a commercial architectural (or other concept design) company selling how good your designs are, this is a really good alternative to either forking out for a very high priced machine or paying (usually through the nose) for a 3D printing house to make it for you.
      Strength is not the goal – pretty models you can hold and impress clients with is. That makes the dough – not ugly, low resolution, but high strength, single colour models.

      1. These models don’t really look that good. If you’re developing an architectural model, it needs to look nice. It’s an investment. Spend the money and get quality. This add on is a great concept, that needs significant refinement, or a method to smooth out the surface, equivalent to acetone on FDM.

  2. Maybe I’m wrong, but… why PVA powder? That’s surely going to get expensive to actually print with, given how quickly regular PVA filament takes on moisture once opened.

    Wouldn’t it have made more sense to base the powder on something that *isn’t* water soluble? Seems to me that acetone + ABS powder would have been perfect here.

    1. I agree on the PVA having a short shelf life, but wouldn’t acetone and ABS powder just turn into a puddle of ABS juice? Acetone doesn’t vaporize that fast, and the ABS would have structural issues after. In my head, it all turns into a flammable mess all over the printbed…. Correct me if I am wrong though.

    2. PVA is cheap and it’s response to water and colorants is well known, I imagine you should use a spray on sealant after printing to prevent water from being absorbed from the air. As for the idea of ABS and acetone as a printing medium I suggest you go reread the most recent fail of the week before you go filling your house with acetone vapors.

  3. Why god why haven’t any of the big name inkjet printer companies added a powdered bed to existing products and jumped Into the cheap household yet full colour high res 3d print market. The technology really needn’t be a big jump from what they already sell. Is It a patent issue?

    1. Because no body wants to pay Ink jet cartridge prices for the consumables.
      Printer ink is one of the most expensive items on the planet due to the big players in the industry not making very much profit on the hardware.
      They make their money in the 1000+% markups on genuine ink cartage sales. £30 for a cartridge with a few teaspoons of ink in it just ludicrous.

    1. So what? And filament printers produce stronger prints. What is your point? I guess the main objective of the guy is full color. At the expense of other factors like resolution, print time, stability, resistance to environment etc.

    2. every technology has its pros and cons resin printer may have hi res but good luck implementing full color on one of those even with filament its a quite tricky business so yeah really depends on what you want/ need

    3. Each type of 3D printer has its strengths and weaknesses.

      Resin printers are mostly used for detailed objects. They produce single-colour, fragile objects.

      Powder printers are mostly used for multi-colours objects. They produce low-resolution, sand-like fragile objects.

      FDM printers are mostly used for strong objects. They produce lower resolution prints than resin, printing with multiple colours is hard and well below the high resolution of powder+inkjet printers.

      1. Could powder-based prints be made stronger by vacuum impregnation with resin/epoxy?

        I’ll bet someone has tried it, but if it isn’t any stronger then it doesn’t seem worth the effort.

  4. I’ll just leave this here.

    (I’ve got one of their earlier printers, and upgraded it with a diamond hotend, I can print rainbows. This is better than what the diamond hotend can do.)

  5. There was that thing a couple of years ago, that some print shop, somebody like Kinko’s came up with. It uses a stack of sliced paper, one layer on another, printed with colour that bleeds around the edges with a normal inkjet. Tougher, full-colour, and no powdery look.

    No disrespect for Aad’s hard work, but I think this has fundamental limits until he finds a better medium than PVA powder. I think the problem is the water spreading, soaking into the powder, after it’s sprayed. Maybe use tiny amounts of water, and finer powder? Would be slower, of course.

    Maybe there’s a solvent that won’t rot printer cartridges? Maybe spray superglue? Have the print head spit glue out occasionally in a corner somewhere, to keep from clogging.

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