Coloring 3D Prints With Sharpies

Printing objects in full color easily is one of the paramount goals of the ‘squirting plastic’ 3D printer scene, and so far all experiments have relied on multiple colors of filament, and sometimes multiple extruders. This, of course, requires a stock of different colored filaments, but [Mathew Beebe] has a different idea: why not dye a natural colored filament just before it’s fed into a printer? Following his intuition, [Mathew] is doing some experiments with the common Sharpie marker, and the resulting prints look much better than you would expect.

The basic procedure or this technique is to drill a hole in the butt end of the Sharpie, pull out the felt in the tip, and feed a length of filament through the marker before it goes into the extruder. The filament is dyed with the Sharpie ink, and the resulting print retains the color of the marker.

Despite the simplicity of the technique, the results are astonishing. An off-white ‘natural’ filament is easily transformed into any one of the colors found in Sharpies.

Besides the common Sharpie, there’s a slightly more interesting application  of this technique of coloring 3D printer filament; as anyone who has ever been in a dorm room with a blacklight knows, you can use the dye inside a common highlighter to make some wicked cool UV-sensitive liquor bottles. Whether the ‘Sharpie technique’ works with highlighters or other markers is as yet unknown, but it does deserve at least a little experimentation.

Video below.

64 thoughts on “Coloring 3D Prints With Sharpies

  1. copy protection? you mean jitter reduction.

    I had forgotton about that green-pen lore. hard to believe folks bought that but quite a few did. when cd’s first came out, there was a company making circular stick-ons that would run along the edge of the disc to help ‘balance’ it and make it play better. if anything, those actually caused more strain on the bearings and motors.

    green cd pens. a whole generation (the usb stick generation) probably never even heard of this ‘joke’. opto discs? oh yeah, my father told me about those once.

      1. oh, I see. this isn’t the old OLD green pen trick, its actually trying to block out some data to avoid the copy protection issue. didn’t know we had attempted CP on cd. wow. pathetic. thanks for the info, though.

        1. @lw
          That isn’t even the worst kind. My “favorite” were the CDs where when you put them in a PC’s drive if you hadn’t disabled auto-launch it would try to install a rootkit form of copy protection without your concept, or without even acknowledging it in the fine print no one reads. Once folks found out they were furious not just because of the obvious invasiveness and sleeze-factor, but because this rootkit could potentially be used by malware to hide themselves such that even if people realized they were infected they may well mistake the malware for side effects of the rootkit. Don’t know if any nasties were discovered in the wild that actually did this.

          The company behind this (Sony?) got sued and lost hard, forcing them to do a recall if I….(puts on sunglasses)….recall correctly.

          1. I was pretty sure Sony was not directly at fault – but it was actually pretty bad:


            Another fun thing – the copy protected CDs (not necessarily the ones with rootkits on them, just copy protected audio) do not have the CD logo on them. Why? They don’t comply with the CD white book specs:

            This led to the CDs not being playable on many CD players, notably lots of car CD players. For a while, Sony Music had a stack of normal, non copy protected CDs at their Stockholm office. My brother went there and had his newly bought, non-working “CD” replaced with a working disc.

      2. I used to use the ‘Add to CD’ feature on CD-R’s to add more data to the end of a previously burned disk. One time something went wrong and the addition rendered the disk unreadable, but by drawing over the outermost ring, I was able to recover what was on it. Felt pretty clever about that little trick..

  2. I’m not sure a highlighter would work. They are genrally water based inks. The Sharpie uses solvent based ink.
    Also does this exacerbate deliamination problems?

  3. Won’t last as long as colored filament, can potentially mess up your nozzle, and will probably generate a bunch of lamination problems for the prints.

    You might want to check out Taulman nylon which can be colored using clothes dye.

    1. Have some faith, buddy! The sharpies last a LONG time and are cheap compared to extra spools of QUALITY filament. I have yet to run one dry. My nozzle is in excellent condition after nearly 100 small prints (only time will tell though). There is actually a higher concentration of coloring in filament that has been pre-colored from factory. I have not experienced ANY lamination issues at all. Thanks!

          1. The last thing of mine that they published was the audio-serial trick, and that’s in like, 2010. Even then, I had to tell the editors “Look, I will only open source this if it gets on hackaday”.

    1. I understand the frustration, it takes a long time to properly document a build and it’s always nice to have the visibility in the community. I’m sure most of us have submitted something and not had it posted. Ultimately the interests of the editors and the zeitgeist are major factors, along with the quality of the build/writeup. I would be interested in seeing your documentation. You’ve posted a great deal of advice in the comments, could you post your website so we can look at it?

      1. Unfortunately no, it was taken down in late 2013 along with most of my stuff, so I have no proof either, feel free to mock me I guess, I am getting used to it. Not that having proof helps any if the whole OpenROV debacle is any indication. The advice, however, stands; this is a neat trick, but has some caveats. Most notably, “flush” every once in a while with undyed ABS! (I did this with ABS, not sure about PLA but I imagine that this also applies).

        Sorry, I’m just pissed off today.

    1. If you don’t plan to use the sharpie for anything else, just cut the tip so it covers as much of the filament as possible (a V cut is enough) and print yourself a stand that holds the sharpie as an angle, so that it pushes against the filament. It’s very simple (again, I sent this hack in in early 2013)

      1. This “hack” requires no printing of parts. Most “holders” for sharpies are angular which results in cumbersome protrusions above the extruder which, inhibit the movements and overall Z-axis hieght (on most printers). The density of the coloring is also superior. This is probably why it got an article. Thanks!

  4. I wonder if some sort of electronically controlled colour mixing could be created to allow multicolour prints. Perhaps with who print heads one loading the next colour to be used while the other prints. You could seamlessly move between colours and have practically any colour you wanted. Maybe a standard ink jet print head could be used to measure the colour perhaps with a solvent to clear it back to “white” again.

    1. The problem is that if you stop applying the sharpie, the color doesn’t go away quickly — it will come in fairly quickly if you start white and then start painting, but once you take the sharpie away, it’ll very gradually fade. So it’s really best to do one color per object. My attempts at timing it automatically failed because there’s no real control about what the pigment does once inside the hot end — maybe with a smaller hot end.

    1. Haven’t tried that one — good idea though! Try it, then it’ll go on hackaday a year later under someone else’s name.

      It’d be awesome if there was a standard interface for printer cartridges.

        1. ahhh, now it makes sense.

          tips are un-noticed as people who don’t get mentioned resend and resend and resend until they physically tell you to go away?!

          Try sending less! then actual tips might be noticed!

          I’ve submitted articles before and they weren’t featured… no great loss.

          when I next write up something that I think might be worthy, I’ll submit again, and if it’s not featured… then Oh well!

    1. Actually, Not one of the designs for printed colorers on thingiverse is anywhere near as simple, dependable, or disposable. This was designed to be easy and cheap, winning!

      1. No reason to be so butt-hurt, Matt. You thought of a way to make single-colored objects cheaply. Kudos. Unfortunately, your technique does not allow for switching between colors seamlessly, and is a complete hack (hence being on this website instead of one for 3D printing enthusiasts), rather than a full solution to the 3D printing in color problem. Enjoy playing with markers

        1. Actually, Kail, this Article was hijacked from which is owned by Eddie Krassenstein who is more than an “enthusiast”. Perhaps you should compare apples to apples, Kail. This “hack” was made EXACTLY for creating single colored prints which are produced cheaply, simply, and in an affordable manner. It does this well. So, I suppose my apple IS “behind in the game” of oranges. I’m glad you made this clear! By the way isn’t “butt-hurt” slang for an inappropriately strong negative emotional response from a perceived personal insult? My reply to your previous post is an example of sarcasm. Here is a link to the definition-,d.aWw.

          You should invest more time in proper grammar usage instead of trying to diminish others ideas . By-the-way, It’s Mat not Matt.


          1. Mat, I fully understand what sarcasm is; it is often used when one is feeling attacked, which leads to strong, negative, emotional responses. Also, you should invest more time in learning about logical fallacies in your arguments, rather than pointing out a missing comma, or two, in an online forum. To name a few from your post:
            Appeal to authority: Eddie K.
            Tu quoque: responding to criticism of your idea with criticism about the one I presented
            Ad hominem: commenting on my not-so-flawed grammar

            Lastly, I was not attacking your idea until your first response, I was simply saying there are more advanced alternatives that have gained a lot of traction. Feel free to respond, but this is my last reply.


  5. I haven’t read all comments so this may have been suggested somewhere above. would it be possible to use an ink jet printer cartridge to color the filament as it runs into the print head. if so this would allow 3d multi colored prints.

  6. This makes me wonder why they dont just make a mechanism to switch colours on the fly and have a full colour printer with a single extruder. It would introduce the same cost issues as 2D printers :) but technically I dont see why it couldn’t happen. Basically just have two foam blocks that slap together around the filament.

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