True Transparent Parts from a Desktop 3D Printer

We’re no strangers to seeing translucent 3D printed parts: if you print in a clear filament with thin enough walls you can sorta see through the resulting parts. It’s not perfect, but if you’re trying to make a lamp shade or decorative object, it’s good enough. You certainly couldn’t print anything practical like viewing windows or lenses, leaving “clear” 3D printing as more of a novelty than a practical process.

But after months of refining his process, [Tomer Glick] has finally put together his guide for creating transparent prints on a standard desktop FDM machine. It doesn’t even require any special filament, he says it will work on PLA, ABS, or PETG, though for the purposes of this demonstration he’s using the new Prusament ABS. The process requires some specific print settings and some post processing, but the results he’s achieved are well worth jumping though a few hoops.

According to [Tomer] the secret is in the print settings. Essentially, you want the printer to push the layers together far closer than normal, in combination with using a high hotend temperature and 100% infill. The end result (hopefully) is the plastic being laid down by the printer is completely fused with the preceding one, making a print that is more of a literal solid object than we’re used to seeing with FDM printing. In fact, you could argue these settings generate internal structures that are nearly the polar opposite of what you’d see on a normal print.

The downside with these unusual print settings is that the outside of the print is exceptionally rough and ugly (as you might expect when forcing as much plastic together as possible). To expose the clear internals, you’ll need to knock the outsides down with some fairly intense sanding. [Tomer] says he starts with 600 and works his way up to 4000, and even mentions that when you get up to the real high grits you might as well use a piece of cardboard to sand the print because that’s about how rough the sandpaper would be anyway.

[Tomer] goes on to demonstrate a printed laser lens, and even shows how you can recreate the effect of laser-engraved acrylic by intentionally putting voids inside the print in whatever shape you like. It’s a really awesome effect and honestly something we would never have believed came off a standard desktop 3D printer.

In the past we’ve seen specialized filament deliver some fairly translucent parts, but those results still weren’t as good as what [Tomer] is getting with standard filament. We’re very interested in seeing more of this process, and are excited to see what kind of applications hackers can come up with.

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Transparent 3D Printing?

Transparent plastic is nothing new. However, 3D prints are usually opaque or–at best–translucent. [Thomas Sanladerer] wanted to print something really transparent. He noticed that Colorfabb had an article about printing transparent pieces with their HT filament. [Thomas] wanted to try doing the same thing with standard (and cheaper) PETG, which is chemically similar to the HT. Did he succeed? Watch the video below and find out.

You can get lots of clear plastic filament, but the process of printing layers makes the transparency turn cloudy, apparently mostly due to the small gaps between the layers. The idea with the HT filament is to overextrude at a high enough temperature that the layers can fuse together.

[Thomas] wanted to create some clear parts and diffusers for lamps. The diffusers print using vase mode and the lamps he creates when them look great even without clear diffusers.

His first experiments involved layer height and extrusion rates. He tried to determine what was making things better and worse and modifying his technique based on that. There were also some post-processing steps he tried.

If you want to see what the Colorfabb HT parts made by someone other than Colorfabb look like, check out the second video below from [3D Printing Professor]. The prints he is making don’t look very clear until he does some post processing. Even after the post processing, it isn’t going to fool anyone into thinking it is glass-clear. However, the parts that Colorfabb shows on their blog post about the material do look amazing. Between the overextrusion used to prevent gaps and the post processing steps, [3D Printing Professor] warns that it won’t be easy to get parts with precise dimensions using this technique.

If you have a big budget, you could try printing with actual glass. There seem to be several ways to do that.

Star Trek Material Science is Finally Real: Transparent Wood

It’s not transparent aluminum, exactly, but it might be even better: transparent wood. Scientists at the University of Maryland have devised a way to remove all of its coloring, leaving behind an essentially clear piece of wood.

IMG_20160518_110605By boiling the block of wood in a NaOH and Na2SO chemical bath for a few hours the wood loses its lignin, which is gives wood its color. The major caveat here is that the lignin also gives wood strength; the colorless cellulose structure that remains is itself very fragile. The solution is to impregnate the transparent wood with an epoxy using about three vacuum cycles, which results in a composite that is stronger than the original wood.

There are some really interesting applications for this material. It does exhibit some haze so it is not as optimally transparent as glass but in cases where light and not vision is the goal — like architectural glass block — this is a winner. Anything traditionally build out of wood for its mechanical properties will be able to add an alpha color channel to the available options.

The next step is finding a way to scale up the process. At this point the process has only been successful on samples up to 1 centimeter thick. If you’re looking to build a starship out of this stuff in the meantime, your best bet is still transparent aluminum. We do still wonder if there’s a way to eliminate the need for epoxy, too.