by Andre Tiemann | Feb.12, 2013

As someone that is very active in the prosumer range 3D printer market (primarily through my efforts over at Draft Print 3D), I have embraced the immense potential offered by the technology. The ability to create three-dimensional prototypes and production ready parts on the fly still boggles my mind at times.

But 3D printers also offer something for those yearning to create something a little more abstract.

I have spent much of my free time in the last few months playing around with a method of printing that enables multi-colour results using a single extruder machine. The process, which was touched on at my Instructables page, relies almost entirely on colour swapping based on layer height.

Confused? I will do my best to elaborate the process for anyone interested in creating similar prints.

As a reader of, it is likely that you know 3D printers work their magic by placing material down in a controlled manner one layer at a time. I take advantage of this layering by designing files in such a way that every colour sits at a very specific level. This means that all the red parts of the print fall at a certain height, all the green at another, all the blue at another even still, and so on.

To get this done, I rely on Sketchup to prepare the files. I do so because I am comfortable with the software more than anything else and design suggest using whatever software you're most comfortable with.

Once the image is created and the layers are set, I send the file through a standard set of processes to make sure the file is print ready (manifest).

All that's left to do at this point is to print the file. Using this method, your printer software will have to have the ability to pause the print and switch filament on the fly. This is possible with the onboard settings with the Replicator 1 and 2. If memory serves, this can also be done for those using Pronterface as their print software.

To get this right, it is best to keep an eye out on the print to avoid missing a colour change. If you miss a change in colour, there is no way you can go back to reapply it (using filament at least)

At the end you will have something similar to the images shown here on this page. And while this isn't a breakthrough in 3D printing, it is a fun technique to liven up prints.

I print all my Draft Print 3D business cards using this technique.

Feel free to comment below if you have any questions about this technique and I'll make sure to reply as soon as I can.

A few tips:

  • If I am tracing a work that already exists (Andy Warhol, Stuart Davis and Duck Hunt), I always start tracing the image from the middle and move outward.
  • I keep everything on a level, two-dimensional plain until after the entire image is created. This holds true whether I am tracing something or creating a new image from scratch.
  • While printing, the way each layer fills in typically gives you a good idea of when a colour change is approaching. If some areas start filling in at 100% while the remainder of the job continues filling in at the sliced setting, you know a change is coming soon.
  • It's good to give each colour three to four layers. This avoids missing colour changes, but also provides a buffer if the first layer or two don't print cleanly.

(Images credit: Andre Tiemann)








Posted in 3D Printing Technology


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Andre Tiemann wrote at 2/14/2013 6:07:41 PM:

Hey OpenLab, What machine are you using? With the new Makerbot firmware, the "Change Filament" option on the onboard preferences makes it easy. This said, I know all software/printers are different and this might be an issue. Another method that worked for me early on was to create separate files for each colour. But then you need to manually place each file so file one is on platform, file/colour 2 is raised just above file one, etc. If using ABS, you need to make sure the platform remains hot between files. Also, if the print is any higher than a few cm, you risk the nozzle ramming into the earlier files because it has no idea there's anything on the platform. This may not be super clear and it's not a method I really use anymore.

OpenLab wrote at 2/14/2013 3:31:16 PM:

How do you stop the print head from "oozing" filament whilst it is paused? Some retraction??

Andre Tiemann wrote at 2/14/2013 5:25:34 AM:

Thanks for the kind words. For anyone interested, this I am working on this print for next:

Leo wrote at 2/13/2013 2:20:16 AM:

So brilliant!

David wrote at 2/12/2013 8:01:02 PM:

Thank you for sharing, will publish similar article on my blog soon

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