2.5D Printing?

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.

Perhaps the time is coming when you could print a wallet. Meanwhile, inkjet printing on actual fabric, by the way, is nothing new.

26 thoughts on “2.5D Printing?

  1. I’d be curious about the final feel/finish of the end results. Presumably the foam still has some ‘give’ to it after forming to provide a more ‘realistic’ feel. Otherwise such results have already been long achievable, starting at half the price, with LED UV printing. It can be somewhat time consuming to build up the layers one needs for the 3D effect, but at the same time you can print directly on say leather itself, with no need to simulate the underlying texture.

    Personally I’m not quite sure what segment of the market this product is aiming for…

      1. Obviously it’s meant for such areas as:
        Automobile interior decoration

        and… oh… they didn’t list anything else did they? Well damn.
        Still this certainly is a modern overpriced solution to something called swatches (textile samples) that have been around for probably a couple thousand years or more- and still cost a fair amount less to make and provide more accurate tactile feedback than a bumpy paper and foam sandwhich.

        Perhaps it might find some limited use in lost foam casting, or making someone’s resume or business card stand out (quite literally) but I can’t imagine a common practical use for it.

        I’m curios though, How much did Casio spend to create a solution to a problem nobody had with a product nobody really wants?

        What even is market research?

      2. Maybe it is Urban Legend, but when Benjamin Franklin first observed a hot air balloon, someone asked,
        “But what is it good for?”
        To which he replied,
        “What is a newborn baby good for?”

    1. The main advantage is likely to be speed: a decent inkjet can spit out pages at a fair clip; and the actual “foaming” step appears to be a fairly simple ‘heat evenly once printed’ step that can be run while the next page is printing.

      That said, at $10/sheet for mockup-grade textured surfaces, I’m not entirely clear on what you would want to be printing at such speeds. Faster is better than slower; but for that kind of premium you need a use case; and unless the sheet material is durable enough for final use(or matched to some alternative that is for when you do want to scale up), the ability to rapidly iterate through textures is less valuable because you are still constrained by what your final material (leather, vinyl, etc.) which will take a bit of futzing to match.

      I could definitely see a niche(much as vinyl cutters haven’t been driven to extinction by either 3d printers or laser/waterjet cutters); but a $45,000 niche? If the sheets are tough enough to be directly swapped in for leather or the like(at least for short term use and non-load-bearing stuff) there would probably be costume and fashion applications that would love it; but it still seems like a tough sell at the price.

  2. I’m sure I saw a similar technique maybe 20 years ago for printing braille. Found a source saying $44k for the machine – that enormous screen is ridiculous.
    Might be interesting to see if you can use their media in a rather cheaper device like lasercutter or engraver with a cheap laser.

    1. Given what contemporary tablets don’t cost these days(despite often using nicer panels than cheap desktop displays and laptops); I suspect that the display, while unnecessary, is a very small part of the problem. Especially if you need a moderately beefy SoC to act as an intermediary between the network and the low-level print components anyway; and aren’t expecting to pound out a zillion units.

      1. It would require some work, but you could do small pieces by using the MINT stamps with printable hydrographic film. The stuff doesn’t seem to be that expensive. It might be interesting to see a group find a way to throw these cheaper versions of the technology together for putting a higher-quality finish on cheaply-printed 3D prototypes.

  3. Great. Yet another super-duper composite directed at the landfill (best case) or at sea life’s (our food!) stomachs.

    It’s about time industry thinks those things through at the product design stage. I mean — it kinda works with FCC compliance too.

  4. I hate it!!

    No, not really. Actually it’s kind of interesting. I’m not sure who it’s for but if the price were low enough it would be a cool toy to have. But…. 2.5d? I’m sorry. I can’t get over that. I will continue to feel ill will towards this product because I harbor so much hatred for the name. I do realize that language naturally evolves over time but there are limits. If marketers keep muddying up our vocabulary at the rate they have been at it for my own short lifetime… my grandkids will be looking at 1984 doublespeak as an example of clearer communication to strive for! There is no such thing as half a dimension! Baaaaahh!!!!

    Ok. I’ll stop, I’m done now.

    Hate the name!!

    Oh. uh.. sorry.. .Now I am done.

    Hate the name!

    1. Crayola will have that for Xmas 2018…. microdinks… draw on this sheet, let mommy nuke it annnnnd… yay… some blobby mess to go with the macaroni mess you brung home from kindergarten.

      1. erm, did you mean shrinkydinks? microdinks is something else…and shouldn’t be googled at work.

        I know because i just did, hopefully seeing a semi interesting product for my children. was presented something not for children.

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