Jan 11, 2016 | By Kira

Desktop 3D printing is just starting to shed the annoying stereotype that its main purpose is for making brightly colored, cheap plastic tchotchkes. Rather, thanks to various innovations at the hardware, materials, and features-level, consumers are coming around to the idea that 3D printing can be used to create a range of clever, functional and and good-looking objects, from 3D printed smartphone car mounts to 3D printed carjacks.

One of the biggest developments in 3D printing technology that has helped us get to this point is color 3D printing, since not everybody has the time or skill set to dutifully hand-paint objects once they have been made, and not everyone wants bright yellow, blue, or orange things filling up their homes. While many companies have been trying hard to make full-color desktop 3D printing easy and accessible—including Apple, who recently filed a patent for a full-color 3D printer; and Mcor, who just released the first full-color, paper-based desktop 3D printer—the truth is that affordable, full-color 3D printing hasn’t yet reached the mainstream.

In its own effort to change that, Japanese 3D printer manufacturer a-z-ia.net Ltd. has just released an upgraded Lunavast CrafteHbot 3D printer kit that allows for full-color, layer-by-layer dying during the FDM 3D printing process, rather than after the 3D print is complete, all thanks to a clever 2D inkjet printer mod.

The previous CrafteHbot, an FFF/FDM 3D printer, was considered a ‘color 3D printer,’ however it came with some significant limitations. Essentially, it used an injket printhead to dye 3D printed objects, but it could only add color after the 3D print was completed, and they had to be rotated in order to cover all sides. Additionally, the ink-spraying distance of the injket printer is only 10mm, meaning that if the 3D object’s shape was geometrically complex in anyway, it would have to be divided into several pieces, colored, and then re-assembled. Not a particularly efficient process, if you ask us.

With the new ‘Color Layer Printing’ enhancement, however, the CrafteHbot can actually dye objects while the 3D printing process is taking place, meaning a more thorough application of color, even for complex 3D printed objects. “With the newly added color layer printing function, after every 3D layer [is printed], color 2D inkjet printing process to each 3D printed layer is done. This function enables full color 3D printing for any shape,” said the company. Just like in the first version, the ink spraying distance is 10mm.

Much as Mcor turned to traditional, 2D paper-based printing to create it’s full-color 3D printer, Lunavast is also ‘standing on the shoulders’ of the 2D world. That’s because in order to introduce the layer dying process to the CrafteHbot 3D printers, users will have to disassemble an existing color injket 3D printer, and mount its printhead onto the CrafteHbot kit.

The company quickly points out that the kit they are selling doesn’t actually include a 2D inkjet printer, meaning users will either have to source their own, or purchase the components separately on Lunavast for an additional $340.

Lunavast's full color A4 inkjet printer as a 'donor' for CrafteHbot.

In addition to full-color layer dying functionality, the CrafteHbot 3D printer includes a rigid aluminum frame, two Bondtech QR extruders with double drive gears, and Adruino Due electronics with a 32 bit CPU. Depending on the coloring method (either ‘Direct to Object’, where the object is colored after 3D printing, or ‘Color Layer Printing’, where it is colored during the 3D printing process), the CrafteHbot offers a 150x150x150mm or 200x200x200mm build volume.

Currently, the Lunavast CrafteHbot 3D printer kit (which comes with comes with PLA filament, a support material, and Lunavast's 6-color ink set) is available for pre-order, with a special $500 discount for orders placed before January 20th (buyers can use the code ‘craftehbotlaunch’ at the checkout when ordering from Lunavast’s site). That brings the regular retail price of $2,499 down to $1,999—plus the cost of extra 2D inkjet parts or a secondhand 2D inkjet printer, if you don’t own one already. The official release date is set for February 25, 2016.

Though the CrafteHbot may not be the most refined 3D printer, and the fact of having to source or buy additional 2D inkjet printer parts on top of paying for the 3D printer kit might be slightly off-putting, it’s nevertheless a clever mod that enables full-color 3D printing on an affordable, desktop machine—an increasingly popular trend, and one that is sure to see some major advancements in the coming year, if not just in the next few months, as the 3D printing community fights to prove that the technology has a lot more to offer than obnoxiously colored plastic trinkets and doodads.



Posted in 3D Printer



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Bernd Chander wrote at 8/29/2016 4:33:03 PM:

That is a great starting point for doing prototypes - but I have been looking into for my color prints so that I can get an even higher quality and accuracy to the output. It was been working well. It still isn't cheap - like all professional 3D prints, but it definitely makes a huge impression to my clients.

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