Casio — the company famous for calculators, watches, and calculator watches — is touting a 2.5D printer. We aren’t sure we are impressed with the marketing hype name, but it is an interesting innovation for people prototyping new designs. The printer can create material that appears to be leather, fabric, and other materials. With some additional work, the printer can even mimic hard materials like stone or wood. You can see a video about the machine below.
The Mofrel printer uses special “digital sheets” that appear to be thick paper or PET plastic, but are really a sandwich of different materials. When you heat an area of the sheet, particles inside the sandwich expand allowing the printer to apply a texture.
To heat the material, the Mofrel prints a pattern on the sheet’s back surface using carbon. The front of the sheet gets color print via a conventional ink jet process. Infrared light then causes the areas with the carbon to expand up to 1.7mm — Casio calls this “foaming”. Apparently, future versions could allow expansion up to 2.5mm. The process varies a little if you use two-sided paper and there’s software to manage the entire process including automatically producing realistic irregularities.
Of course, the materials that come out of the printer are still just made of thin sheets of paper or plastic. It might look like leather or some fabric, but you won’t be able to use it as a replacement. But for making a model or a visual mock-up, it could be just the ticket. Supposedly, coatings can make the resulting material more durable and shiny, if desired.
You can’t buy one yet, but when they are available, it looks like the printer will run about $45,000 — a bit much for your average hackerspace. The sheets are not cheap, either, running about $10 a piece. There is a rumor that a consumer version could appear in the next year or two.