Aug 10, 2015 | By Alec

Desktop FDM 3D printers are – as browsing of Thingiverse quickly proves – overwhelmingly used for 3D printing fun toys, little figurines and decorative pencil holders and planters. While very fun to do, not everyone enjoys having their home filled with the bright and limited palette of filament colors. So how can you add some more variation? While painting objects by hand is an option, a far more exciting solution has just appeared from Canada. There, startup Finuvo has developed the world’s first desktop hydrographics printer, that can be used to easily add a huge variety of intricate patterns to the surface of 3D prints. Their machine is set to come to Kickstarter in a few months.

Now obviously, the first question that needs answering is what hydrographics actually are. It’s essentially a technique for applying previously printed designs (that can be as intricate as you’d like) on top of any 3D surface. It’s often used for parts in the auto industry on a very large scale. That scale would be necessary, as these type of machines can be woefully expensive. ‘Hydrographics machines are used to apply graphics, designs, and patterns permanently to objects. Machines typically cost between $50,000-$150,000, and use toxic chemicals,’ the Canadian entrepreneurs say.

However, this new machine – called the Finuvo Aqua – is a safe, easy and affordable desktop alternative. As the company’s CEO Robert Weeks explains to, it was motivated by the same issues you and I might encounter after endlessly 3D printing parts in one solid color. ‘Our background is in product development and we were always trying to figure out how to create consumer grade parts with 3D printers, something that the average consumer would agree looks great,’ he explains. ‘We’ve done everything from acetone smoothing to spray painting, but we were never quite satisfied with the results. We were printing a lot so we approached an auto body paint shop to see if they'd be willing to paint some of our parts, there we saw their industrial hydrographics dipping tank and were curious to see how that would work with 3D printed parts, turns out it works great!’

The Finuvo team therefore set out to develop something similar for home-use, which grew into this interesting machine. So how does it work? ‘The process starts with floating a film on a bath of warm water. The film backing dissolves in the water leaving the hydrophobic ink behind. The ink is then treated with a chemical mixture to soften it and prep it for adhesion to the part,’ Robert explains. ‘Next the part is pushed through the ink and the surrounding water pressure adheres the film around the part. The result is an amazing looking full color part only limited by your own imagination!’ What’s more, the print is permanent and perfectly solid, as the pressure forces the ink into every nook and cranny. What’s more, the coating will not fade, flake or crack whatsoever.

This special film is made from PVA (polyvinyl alcohol), and an ink pattern (whatever you can design on your PC) is printed on top with a specialized inkjet 3D printer. ‘This way we can paint any 3D object with any pattern we can think of,’ he explains.  So far, it has been tested on objects as varied as shoes, a pc mice, water bottles and other objects intended for heavy use. Most of the prints seen above and below have been done with a a Maker gear M2 and a Form 1+ 3D printers. And in every case, the film – featuring patterns that include wood, camo, animal prints, flames and more – stays brilliant.

The Finuvo Aqua, in short, can be used to give your own 3D prints a modern look suitable for such a modern manufacturing technology. ‘3D printed parts today are like computer monitors from the early 80s - 1-4 for enthusiasts, but for everyone else they only look ok,’ Robert says.

However, we will still have to wait a bit before the Finuvo Aqua reaches our own desktops. Robert and his team are planning to launch a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in the fall of 2015, so we will likely have to wait a few months beyond that before actually getting one. He adds that early bird prices are expecting to be somewhere between $700 and $900 per machine, with the ink patterns costing anywhere from $1 to $5 per dip. While they will probably start with an initial set of available patterns, options for designing your own films are expected in the near future too. Interested? Keep an eye on the company’s Facebook page and Twitter for more information.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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Allen wrote at 10/4/2015 8:06:57 PM:

Finuvo, I am a custom hydrographics printer that can print specific to a particular 3D printed object. Such as placing "eyes" in the print in the proper place for custom 3d Object decoration. If you have any interest you can research me through You will find out the capabilities and quality of my custom hydrographic prints. I may be of some service in your endeavors.

randy wrote at 8/16/2015 1:00:55 PM:

I hope there is a very clear statement somewhere in Finuvo's marketing as to exactly what the benefits are over the typical hydrographics kit you can get for $70-100, e.g. or (I have no idea if those are any good, they're just the first I found by googling). I've never tried the technique but would be very interested to.

Finuvo wrote at 8/11/2015 12:13:21 AM:

Hi Big Dipper, the concerns you brought up are certainly valid. Some models can be dipped better than others, we are constantly improving our process to give optimal results. We are also developing a complimentary software to aid in the setup and planning of the dip for harder parts. The Finuvo Aqua is an automated enclosed system designed for indoor use unlike any other hydrographics equipment on the market and very much different than a hydrographics kit. Thanks, we really appreciate the feedback, particularly from people with experience in hydrographics!

Big Dipper wrote at 8/10/2015 1:48:43 PM:

As if it were that simple. The technique is well known and used, but not every model ist suitable for hydrotransfers. And you need to have a strategy on how to dip the part in the water in order to get a clean result. Just check the eyes on the last 3 marvins, there is no ink applied inside, and the lower edge of the face shows some problem shining thru too. How and why they want to charge 700-900$ for a water tank and some starter supplies is beyond me. All the other supplies like the films and activators can be bought in a lot of stores already. If anything, make a software that computes the ideal dipping angle and movement for any given 3d model. Thats what we would need.

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