Nov 8, 2016 | By Alec

3D printing objects in two colors using a dual extrusion setup; many makers dream of doing that in the comfort of their own home, without having to fear the dreaded ooze (i.e. colors dripping where they don’t belong). While that kind of dual extrusion FDM 3D printing is becoming increasingly available, Microsoft is already looking to take things one step further. They have just patented a new 3D printing technique that creates mixtures of 3D printable materials with a 2D printer’s CMYK colors plus white, allowing it to 3D print objects in any and full-color.

Of course patents don’t always translate into 3D printing hardware immediately; it could take years before such a 3D printer sees the light of day, while Microsoft could even just be heading off a competitor by filing for a patent. Nonetheless, the concept is brilliant and approved as US patent 9,434,108. It was filed by Yulin Jin, Emmett Lalish, Kris N. Iverson, Jesse McGatha and Shanen J. Boettcher on behalf of Microsoft Technology Licensing. “It demonstrates a persistent investment by Microsoft to improve the state of the art in the 3D space,” Iverson said to

So how does it work? In a nutshell, this patent covers various techniques for mixing CMYKW (cyan, magenta, yellow, key or black and white) 3D printable materials and expressing the design from computer software to a physical device – from CAD model to 3D printed object.

A number of existing techniques already allow users to produce 3D printed objects in multiple colors, but these lack the ability to represent the full gamut of colors in a color space – unlike a 2D color printer. “In addition, none of the conventional technologies are capable of determining exactly which color to produce because they are not capable of translating a full-color model into machine instructions [to 3D print them],” the Microsoft team writes. “Limitations imposed by such conventional technologies […] inhibit full color three-dimensional object fabrication.”

While technology patents are necessarily very broad to cover all bases, the Windows team seems to overcome this problem by attaching color information to each and every sliced layer and polygon. As a result, they will generate two-dimensional polygons on each layer based on colors on faces, colors on textures, and/or gradient colors. Their technique further determines a tool path for fabricating those color schemes from colored but unspecified 3D printable materials (could be plastics, could be resins). All polygons of one color are 3D printed before switching colors, while it also smooths down exterior layers of full colors. What’s more, transitional material is deposited in an infill area and also used for support structures.

Of course this requires a completely new 3D printing management system, and that is obviously included. The system memory includes code that slices the objects and their color data, and another embodiment of this patent makes it possible to store that data on various platforms. Each 2D polygon is further listed as a single type of material, though those materials are now left unspecified.

While that sounds quite good on paper, actually 3D printing this huge load of data is a different matter entirely. The patent therefore envisions a non-specified material mixing system that is further linked up to an extrusion unit. However, the actually 3D printing technology can take several shapes, Cartesian or otherwise. “Other coordinate systems may be used instead, such as a polar coordinate systems or the like,” they write. “The material may be pushed or pulled into a printing extruder or hot end tool head, and the motors may be mounted further away in order to push the material through a thin guide tube into the chamber.”

As such, very little can yet be said about how Microsoft is envisioning such a full-color 3D printer. In fact, it is even unclear how many color mixtures will be used. One example includes three colors, but they immediately added that such a configuration may be extended to four, five, or six colored materials of various opacities, “including an optional translucent material, for example.” But one thing is obvious: this patent is the first step towards a 3D printing system that will change colored object production forever. The full patent can be found here.



Posted in 3D Printer Company



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John Pickens wrote at 11/12/2016 1:18:10 PM:

I've seen five or six versions of this concept implemented by hobbyists over the past three or four years. Whoever the patent reviewer was is an idiot. This should have been rejected as an obvious extension of existing technology, as it is too broad. Maybe a specific description of the mechanics of a working color blender device would be patentable, but a concept patent like this shows how corrupt the US Patent Office is.

Sean wrote at 11/8/2016 11:13:50 PM:

It seems to me that the patent reviewer for this patent was insufficiently aware of prior art, given that OST Solutions first released a 3D printer that did precisely this mixing of five filaments to get full-color printing back in 2013, with their most recent design, the Nova4D, recently completing a successful Kickstarter project. Similarly, dump columns have been in use for years by multi-color 3D printers. What seems to be described in the patent is a file format that attaches the color data to the geometry, rather than being applied separately as in UVW mapping, and the software for manipulating such files. Neither of which appear, at least in my judgement, to meet the 'novel' and 'non-obvious' requirements for patentability

bkubicek wrote at 11/8/2016 4:50:57 PM:

Prior art:

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