Mar 1, 2017 | By David

One of the major challenges that 3D printing poses for manufacturers and hobbyists alike is how to apply colors to surfaces. The non-flat, often complex objects that are produced can prove difficult to cover with paint or color textures. One method used to apply these extra touches to the finished object is known as hydrographics. Back in 2015, a group of developers came up with an ingenious way of refining the hydrographics technique, making use of computer modelling in order to apply more complex textures and color patterns. While the authors haven’t released their project to the market yet, a recent simulation made in Blender by 3D printing company Formlabs has demonstrated the exciting potential of this method.

Hydrographics is a technique that applies color or texture to a 3D printed object using an adhesive paint. This paint is printed on to a 2D film, which is then sprayed with a fixing solution. This flat PVA film can be floated on the surface of a water tank. The 3D object is then slowly immersed in this tank, and as it is lowered the film wraps around and leaves its imprint on the surface of the object.

This immersion printing process greatly simplifies the coloring of objects with compound curved surfaces, and there are few other ways that it can be done.  However, it doesn’t come without its limitations. The fact that the 3D objects often have non-uniform shapes means that the transferral of paint onto them is done in a non-uniform way. As the object is lowered, certain areas of the film will be stretched more than others, which means that it is impossible to align a particular point of the pattern or texture with a particular point on the object. Because of this, immersion printing can only be used to transfer imprecise, repeating patterns, like a camouflage pattern.

The breakthrough that was made by software designers at Columbia and Zheijang Unversity is known as Computational Hydrographic Printing. Demonstrated at the SIGGRAPH conference in 2015 to a rapturous response, the technique works by simulating the actual process of immersion printing to produce a better 2D film. By predicting how the film will stretch as the 3D object is dipped, a texture map can be printed that allows patterns to be precisely aligned to the objects they are designed for. This means that 3D printed objects can be colored in a way that goes beyond simple customization or decoration, with the potential to apply precise patterns with different colors for different parts of the object, or to recreate a whole range of different textures.

The simulation made by Formlabs used its Form 2 3D printer. The resin tank was repurposed to make the water tank for immersion of the 3D object. The software they used was ‘faked’ by using texture maps for a specific shape, and Blender was incapable of modelling the surface tension of the water, but despite these limitations, their experiment was incredibly successful.

A 3D printed sphere was immersed to produce a surprisingly accurate globe, and the patterns and textures of the skin of a frog were faithfully recreated on its 3D printed replica.

The fact that such impressive results were achieved with a basic simulation of what Computational Hydrographic Printing could be is a very promising sign. Hopefully the developers who initially devised the method will eventually release something to the market, so more users will have access to their breakthrough. Formlabs suggested the idea of a hydrographic tank being built into a 3D printer, which would greatly improve the alignment between the 3D object and the 2D film, so perhaps manufacturers will eventually recognise the potential of Computational Hydrographic Printing and build hardware that can more effectively accommodate the process.  That would be an exciting development in terms of the kinds of objects 3D printing would be capable of making, and we would see the horizons of the 3D technology world expand once again.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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YoMomma wrote at 3/1/2017 8:25:39 PM:

They will do anything for publicity. What garbage.

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