3D printing is more and more popular, but it is still far from perfect. Printing takes a long time, it can be difficult to get the right settings, and many people get frustrated with painting models to take advantage of more than one color.
Most consumer 3D printers can only print one color. It is possible to create multi-colored prints at home, but how exactly can you achieve this? Here, we’ll explore some of the best ways to bring your 3D prints to life with multiple colors.
Multicolored 3D printing: the options
There are several methods you can use to create multi-colored 3D prints, and you need to choose the one that best suits your setup and situation. You may need to purchase additional hardware for this to work, although it may be cheaper than buying a 3D printer that can do it right away.
Multicolored filament printing
The first option we’re going to look at is by far the most affordable, but it can also seem a little weird. Most people wouldn’t consider the idea of printing their own 3D printable filament. However, it can be one of the easiest ways to get started printing multi-color designs because you just need to use software to make it work.
It should be borne in mind that this type of 3D printer filament gives you little control over the colors used at each step of the printing process. You can estimate when the colors will need to change, although it can be difficult to get it right without spending a lot of time in trial and error.
Using a filament control system or upgrading
A lot of people decide they want to dip their toes into multi-color 3D printing after they’ve already bought a printer they love. Rather than replacing your new printer, you can choose to get an upgrade pack or a separate system to control the filament used by your printer.
The Chameleon 3D Color Changer is a great example of tools like this, providing the ability to turn just about any printer into a multi-color printer. Along with this, companies like PrusaPrint are also providing their own 3D printer upgrades that support two-color 3D printing, but these will only work with specific printers.
Dual nozzle 3D printers
There are many dual nozzle 3D printers in the modern market, although many are better suited for industrial environments. Printers like this have two extruders that move together when printing. This makes it possible to print two colors on the same model without worrying about making a special filament for it.
There are many examples of printers like this available today. The Geeetech A10M is an affordable example, although you can find options in just about any price range. It’s important to make sure that you always do plenty of research when considering purchasing a new 3D printer.
IDEX 3D printers
IDEX stands for Independent Dual Extruders and refers to printers with two extruders that can move independently. In most cases, extruders will share two axes while moving freely along the third. This allows printers like this to print two models simultaneously, mirroring or duplicating the same shapes. Of course, it also allows two-color printing.
This type of printer is rarer than the simple dual extruder options. The printer we are using for this article is a FlashForge Creator 3, an IDEX machine that has become very popular among small businesses. There are other companies that make printers like this, so you have a choice.
Using an IDEX Printer to Print Two Colors
Since we have access to an IDEX printer, we will be using this machine for this article. Despite this, most of the steps will be the same for other types of two-color 3D printers. Therefore, it should be nice and easy to get started on your own.
The example we use for this guide is a 3D printable two-color matrix from Thingiverse. This project is free to download and comes with everything you need.
Preparing your files
First, you need to prepare your files. You heard right; you need more than one file to use a two-color printer. Each of the colors you use requires its own STL file, which means we are using two for our matrix. We use FlashPrint for this, but the steps will be very similar in your own slicer. Here is what you need to do:
- First, click on Load and select the files you will use with FlashPrint. They should load in the correct positions, but you can adjust this as needed by using the Move tool found in FlashPrint.
- Select one of the models and double click on the Extruder tool. Choose the extruder that uses the correct color for the model you selected and change the extruder to the other model if necessary.
- Click on To print at the top of the screen and select the printing profile you want to use. We chose the standard Creator 3 APL profile for this, setting the quality on High and reducing the External speed from 50% to 30% to obtain a nice finish.
- Go to Additions tab and set the Wall part at At, change the Margin option at 5 mm. This will give your printer a way to wipe off excess filament while printing and is generally considered an essential part of multi-color 3D printing.
Finally, you can now click on Okay, wait for your software to finish cutting and export the file to your 3D printer.
Calibrating your printer
You need to do some work before you can start printing your new model. IDEX 3D printers are generally very accurate, but you will need to calibrate them for the best results. Usually, you can use the software provided on the printer itself to do this.
In the case of FlashForge Creator 3, you must turn on the printer and go to the Tools menu. From here you can select Settings, followed by scrolling down the list to find the Calibration tool.
It makes sense to go through the process with every axis of your printer. When you select the axis you want to calibrate, your printer draws a line with each extruder. These lines should match perfectly, but you can adjust the offset and draw new lines until they do.
It can be time consuming and a little frustrating, but it will be worth taking the time to make sure your printer is perfectly calibrated before you start your two-color printing. Failure to do so can result in ugly impressions like the one above.
Clean up your print
Thanks to the wall that surrounds your print, chances are you need to do a bit of cleaning up before it’s perfect. There will be filament threads stuck to the pattern, although you can usually pull them out with your hands. You might also notice some rough spots on your print, and these might need to be sanded lightly to make them look perfect.
3D printing with more than one color
Being limited to just one color has long been one of the few downsides of 3D printing. This doesn’t have to be the case when you’re ready to get creative and explore the options available.
We hope this will help you improve your 3D printing projects and give you some new ideas to start working. Multicolor 3D printing has never been easier and the results are worth it.
Want to buy a 3D printer but don’t understand the basics very well? Follow our beginner’s guide to learn how to 3D print today.
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