There are 3D printing filaments out there with a lot of interesting properties. Whether it’s the sanded-down MDF feel you get from Laywood, the stretchy and squishy but somehow indestructible feel of Ninjaflex, or just regular ‘ol PLA, there’s a filament out there for just about any use. Even optically clear printed objects. Yes, you can now do some post-processing on printed parts to make T-glase crystal clear.
The big advance allowing translucent parts to be made clear is a new product from Smooth-On that’s meant to be a protective and smoothing coating for 3D printed objects. With PLA, ABS, and powder printed parts, this coating turns objects shiny and smooth. Strangely – and I don’t think anyone planned this – it also has the same index of refraction as T-glase. This means coating an object printed with T-glase will render the layers invisible, smooth out the tiny bumps in the print, and turn a single-walled object clear.
There is a special technique to making clear objects with T-glase. The walls of the print must be a single layer. You’ll also want a perfect layer height on your print – you’re looking for cylindrical layers, not a nozzle that squirts out to the side.
The coating for the pictures above was applied on a makeshift lathe built out of an electric drill and a sanding pad. This gave the coating a nice, even layer until it dried. After a few tests, it was determined lenses could be printed with this technique. It might not be good enough for 3D printed eyeglasses, but it’s more than sufficient for creating windows for a model, portholes for an underwater ROV, or anything else where you want nothing but light inside an enclosure.