Jan 30, 2015 | By Kira

The idea of full-color 3D printing is mere fantasy for most who cannot afford to shell out thousands of dollars for the high-tech color-capable models currently on the market. Yet Wisconsin-based startup Spectrom is looking to lead the color revolution by introducing affordable, desktop full-color 3D printing, potentially changing the 3D print game forever.

When we last wrote about Spectrom, developers Cedric Kovacs-Johnson and Charles Haider were still in college, and had just won two highly prestigious awards at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for their groundbreaking invention of an automated, continuous and variable coloring process for desktop FDM 3D printers.

Nearly one year later, the recent graduates are at it again, having announced the upcoming launch of their full-color 3D printing device at CES 2015. Their new product, described as a ‘virtual paintbrush,’ will be capable of producing full color 3D prints through a dye-based process with a single polymer feedstock - basically, instead of having to work with multiple nozzles and rolls of different colored filaments, Spectrom works by using ink to dye a single spool of clear filament with various colors in the precise location where that color is needed. Its software uses an algorithm to determine the exact amount of filament that needs to be dyed a certain color, and then moves onto the next - no guesswork, just beautiful color.

Spectom’s technology has been compared to BotObjects, a UK manufacturer that also developed a method for multi-color printing, however the biggest difference is that BotObject’s technique involves fusing multiple stock CMYK filaments into a head, melting them, and churning to produce new colors. The disadvantage of this approach is that the transition from shifting from one color the next is visible and resulted in color fades and mixing (i.e., when going from yellow to blue, an unintentional patch of green would appear in the middle).

"Spectrom is producing full color 3D prints through a dye based process with a single polymer feedstock. This means we have great hue and saturation control in coloring and the color is actually full incorporated into the plastic - it's not just a surface finish." Tyler Waite of Spectrom told 3ders. "Furthermore our proprietary patent-pending filament allows for color to be absorbed and exist the extrusion head instantly. The advantage here is immediate color transitions and precise, discrete printing of colors."

In terms of software, they are working with a version of Cura that allows users to select layers, apply colors from an RBG palette, and export to the device and 3D printer simultaneously. "We chose to work with Cura because it puts your creation front and center," Waite told us.

In addition, and perhaps most importantly, Spectrom comes as an accessory device, meaning that it will be compatible with almost all FDM 3D printers already on the market. For example, in the video below, Braydon Moreno of Robo3D explains how Spectrom works directly with their single-head RoBo1 model in order to produce up to 64 different colors.

The next step is to find a way to color objects down to the voxel, which the company believes will be possible with further refinements to their algorithm.

Although no exact launch date has been set, the company told us to keep an eye out for a “big announcement” in the middle of this year. Pricing is also unknown at this time, however the company has stated that one of their three main goals is to make their product as affordable and accessible as possible.

For those involved with 3D printing, whether they are industry professionals or at-home hobbyists, the ability to print in full-color with no fading, bleeding or visible transitions will surely change the way they design their creations. And the fact that Spectrom can be added on to existing printer models rather than users having to buy an entirely new set makes it that much more appealing. “We’re focused on expanding our testing units to maximize compatibility when we launch,” Waite told us. “We want everyone with a 3D printer to be able to get a Spectrom and experience the awesome plug and play feeling that comes from a tested, verified device.”


Posted in 3D Printing Technology


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Proteus wrote at 2/4/2015 12:53:52 AM:

The current software and file format limitations keep projects like this from moving forward as quickly as they could. Check out this blog here, and think about how 3D Printing could advance with a real step forward in how the 3D data is captured and shared with equipment. Here's the link: http://blog.stratasys.com/2012/09/19/new-amf-file-format-to-unleash-the-potential-of-3d-printing/

Tyler from Spectrom wrote at 2/1/2015 9:12:40 PM:

Hi Corey, We have (mostly) been limited to layer-by-layer coloring because of our software limitations. We have since been improving the capability of the software to specify different colors within a layer. Backward compatibility is not a problem.

Rich H wrote at 2/1/2015 6:10:51 AM:

underwhelmed. i heard these guys talking about not needing to be restricted to layer colors in an interview from CES, multiple colors I a single layer, but I'm thinking its vaporware

3DPrinter.org.ua wrote at 1/31/2015 1:43:02 PM:

Who know how it work?

Corey Warren wrote at 1/30/2015 9:29:07 PM:

I'm curious why they are changing colors at the layer level and not within the layer itself. Is there some extra color changing process that has to happen that would interfere with the way all of our 3D printers currently print? In other words, is it a backward compatibility reason?

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