Decorate Your 3D Prints with Detailed Hydrographic Printing

It’s like the old quip from [Henry Ford]: You can have your 3D prints in any color you want, as long as it’s one. Some strides have been made to bringing more color to your extruded goodies, but for anything beyond a few colors, you’re going to need to look at post-print processing of some sort. For photorealistic 3D prints, you might want to look into a simple hydrographic printing method that can be performed right on a printer.

If some of the prints in the video below look familiar, it’s because we covered the original method when it was presented at SIGGRAPH 2015. [Amos Dudley] was intrigued enough by the method, which uses computational modeling of complex surfaces to compose a distorted image that will be stretched back into shape when the object is dipped, to contact the original authors for permission to use the software. He got a resounding, “Nope!” – it appears that the authors’ institution isn’t big into sharing information. So, [Amos] hacked the method.

In place of the original software, [Amos] used Blender to simulate the hydrographic film as a piece of cloth interacting with the 3D-printed surface. This allowed him to print an image on PVA film that will “un-distort” as the object is dipped. He built a simple tank with overflow for the printer bed, used the Z-axis to dip the print, and viola! Photo-realistic frogs and globes.

[Amos]’ method has its limitations, but the results are pretty satisfying already. With a little more tweaking, we’re sure he’ll get to the point that the original authors did, and without their help, thank you very much.

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Creating Full Color Images on Thermoformed Parts

In a race to produce the cheapest and most efficient full-color 3D object, we think Disney’s Research facility (ETH Zurich and the Interactive Geometry Lab) may have found the key. Combining hydrographic printing techniques with plastic thermoforming.

You might remember our article last year on creating photorealistic images on 3D objects using a technique called hydrographic printing, where essentially you print a flattened 3D image using a regular printer on special paper to transfer it to a 3D object in a bath of water. This is basically the same, but instead of using the hydrographic printing technique, they’ve combined the flattened image transfer with thermoforming — which seems like an obvious solution!

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Printing Photorealistic Images on 3D Objects

Hydrographic Printing is a technique of transferring colored inks on a film to the surface of an object. The film is placed on water and activated with a chemical that allows it to adhere to an object being physically pushed onto it. Researchers at Zhejiang University and Columbia University have taken hydrographic printing to the next level (pdf link). In a technical paper to be presented at ACM SIGGRAPH 2015 in August, they explain how they developed a computational method to create complex patterns that are precisely aligned to the object.

Typically, repetitive patterns are used because the object stretches the adhesive film; anything complex would distort during this subjective process. It’s commonly used to decorate car parts, especially rims and grills. If you’ve ever seen a carbon-fiber pattern without the actual fiber, it’s probably been applied with hydrographic printing.

print_tThe physical setup for this hack is fairly simple: a vat of water, a linear motor attached to a gripper, and a Kinect. The object is attached to the gripper. The Kinect measures its location and orientation. This data is applied to a 3D-scan of the object along with the desired texture map to be printed onto it. A program creates a virtual simulation of the printing process, outputting a specific pattern onto the film that accounts for the warping inherent to the process. The pattern is then printed onto the film using an ordinary inkjet printer.

The tiger mask is our personal favorite, along with the leopard cat. They illustrate just how complex the surface patterns can get using single or multiple immersions, respectively. This system also accounts for objects of a variety of shapes and sizes, though the researchers admit there is a physical limit to how concave the parts of an object can be. Colors will fade or the film will split if stretched too thin. Texture mapping can now be physically realized in a simple yet effective way, with amazing results.

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