Jul 4, 2017 | By David

3D printing hobbyists are increasingly finding themselves spoilt for choice when it comes to affordable, good quality FDM printers, but 3D printing with metallic materials is still something that is prohibitively expensive. One designer recently came up with a neat solution to this problem, by 3D printing PVA molds that could then be used to cast objects with a metallic fluid. Her method achieved some great results, creating a range of impressively detailed figurines with an antique metallic look and feel.

Designer Eliza Wrobel first had the idea as she wanted to find a way of making some Egyptian-themed figures. The 3D designs for the particular figures she wanted were initially posted on Thingverse by Ukrainian designer Andrei Kulygin, who went by the name of Zorum on the site, and they included priests, warriors, and some pretty gnarly-looking sea monsters. Wrobel decided that 3D printing was necessary to physically recreate the high level of detail featured in these models. She edited the designs in CAD software to add a simple mold form around them, with little inlets to pour the casting liquid into.

Once the 3D designs were finished, Wrobel used Voxelizer software to prepare them for printing. She used a PVA preset, and adjusted it to be compatible with a 1.75mm plastic extruder, mounted on the ZMorph 2.0 SX multitoool 3D printer. Printing took several hours to complete, but the finished molds were immediately ready for the casting process.

3D printing with PVA meant that the molds had good heat resistance, so wouldn’t deform at all as the material started to heat up. The casting liquid, known as Metal Fluid, was made from a mix of metal grit in a resin binder. (The fluid has a very similar look, feel, and weight to brass, bronze, and other metals so is perfect for this kind of modelling task.) Once the Metal Fluid was poured into the casts, it was left for a few hours to fully harden.

The 3D printed PVA molds were finally placed in water, where they dissolved after around 24 hours, just leaving the metallic model behind. After cleaning off any residue, Wrobel then set to work with post-processing. The visible layers left in the figures from the 3D printed molds had to be sanded away to give a smoother surface. A polishing paste was also used, which brought out the patination effect on the metal, giving the figures a more stylish, antique look.

The finished figurines are no less striking, at a glance, than true metallic objects made with a much more elaborate and expensive manufacturing process. Wrobel’s casting technique could easily be applied to make other decorative objects and ornaments, even something valuable like a piece of silver jewellery. This shows the potential for affordable FDM 3D printing technology to go beyond simple plastic modelling and fast prototyping. With a decent 3D printer, some basic design knowledge, the right materials, and a little ingenuity, all kinds of impressive objects can be created with a huge range of effects and finishes.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Gregory Bulger wrote at 12/17/2017 2:47:16 AM:

This is an excellent process for casting small parts. Where can I purchase Metal Casting Liquid?

Wes wrote at 7/5/2017 5:08:16 PM:

I would assume it is just metal powder mixed in with 2 part urethane resin. I buy most of my molding and casting material through Smooth-On. Will see if this link passes through: https://www.smooth-on.com/product-line/metal-powder/

Wes wrote at 7/5/2017 5:20:57 AM:

Like many, I have printed items, cleaned them up, and then made molds of the parts. A good idea for some "one" off pieces without using more expensive mold material.

Si wrote at 7/5/2017 2:57:33 AM:

Where can you find Metal Fluid casting liquid (or equivalent)? I've tried pewter casting but it's a hassle; this sounds like exactly what I'm looking for. Thank you so much for writing this article.

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