Taking a look at recent 3D print patents for 2017 that have emerged, what the technology means for the 3DP market, and how they may or may not be successful in achieving their goals.
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3D Print Patents for 2017 – Color 3D Printing
We are going to talk kind of our favorite subject, we tend to hit on it quite often, patents. There’s a bunch of new ones really that have come out in late 2016 that are worth talking about. Let’s start with the color one because I just can’t stop, the idea of color. There’s a CMYK Microsoft patent that was filed. Actually, they got it issued. It wasn’t just filed.
In September 2016, they were issued a patent on a CMYKW 3D printing method, I guess is the best way to put it. It’s a system or a method for doing that. I’ve got to tell you, this is getting to be a very crowded space in 3D print patents. Because there’s a lot of people working on this.
You know what, I think it’s a really flawed plan. CMYKW is hugely … How do I say this? It shows that they think they can model regular printing, like paper printing, like ink printing, with filament. You can’t. They’re two different material sources, they’re two different color theories that go into it. What it really shows me is they don’t have a colorist or anyone in that side of the world on their team.
I think they don’t understand either the value of it. They’re like, “Hey, we get a color, it’s fine.” But it’s not the color. I think it’s like a flawed approach to me to think of it. If you substitute it, and I do believe it’s there, I just think that they don’t have anyone researching it or doing it from anything that I’ve seen. If you say, “What’s going to be C?”, what’s normally cyan, isn’t actually cyan, it’s instead this color blue that is like something that needs to be tested and researched but a very different type of blue mixed with a different type of yellow, a different kind of … Then you might get it. They’re not going to be what we understand the colors to be for cyan, magenta, yellow and black.
I think it goes even beyond that. The reality is the way that plastic is colored, PLA, ABS, any of the other plastics out there. The way that they get colored is not the same. I guess the delivery system is just so different being in plastic. The amount of pigment it takes to color plastic is very different. Once you create a filament that’s of a certain color, let’s say the cyan, when you need to, in a CMYK plastic mix, punch up the cyan to achieve a certain color, you can’t add enough plastic to increase the pigment enough. You can’t just add enough filament to increase the pigment to achieve the color you want to achieve in every case.
To say it a different way. Thinking about it this way, a computer is going to be picking essentially, some kind of software algorithm is going to be saying, “I need this amount of cyan.” It’s not all that different from the way those Spectrum 3D guys did it. They did it on a voxel basis, on a pixel by pixel basis. By the way, I checked them out and they’re gone. They showed it, what was it? CES 2015 or something and they’re gone. They haven’t been back. Their blog post hasn’t been updated since then. They’re way gone. A couple of young inventor students who realize starting a business was way more than they were in for.
We’re talking about the ones that we saw at that CES two years ago that was doing the dice into clear material. I liked what they were doing in principle, but it was very different. What they were doing is what was on a voxel basis. Thinking about it the same way in that way. An algorithm is going to be deciding you need three little hits of cyan filament, like dot, dot, dot, in a row. It could be 1 mm, it could have a measurement to it, not be just be pixels and that kind of thinking. It’s the same kind of thinking. That’s the way our regular printers work, they go so many dots, that’s a DPI. They’re doing optical mixtures, so many dots.
They’re thinking that way as well. When you look at that and you say, “I need one millimeter of cyan mixed next to this one, mixed next to this one.” When you’re drawing it out of the filament, when you’re drawing that through, there’s a different amount of color quality in each one of those things. What gets the cyan to show up next to the magenta or gets it to mix into making another color, which is really what we’re after here. We’re not after having every single print look like cyan separate, magenta separate. You can do that.
When you’re trying to blend those two together, there’s a different amount of blue, different amount of that cyan mixed into there and then filler. There’s a different amount of magenta mixed into it and then filler. You cannot algorithmically figure out unless you knew and you control the filament itself. You wouldn’t know how much cyan was in there and how much magenta is in there and how to then establish and make this other color you were trying to go for, maybe purple.
The systems by which this Microsoft patent has been issued on is a system of taking CMYK and adding white, W, of filaments. You’re talking about five different filaments feeding into one nozzle, one extruder and then based on the percentage of feeding each of those differently, mixing them, theoretically, you could achieve any color. It just is not going to work that way. It doesn’t actually work that way. In fact, we’ve seen another 3D printer out there that attempts to do this exact same thing. We’re talking about Something 3D, their Chameleon printer. Oh my God, that was horrible.
It does the exact same thing and we’ve seen it feeding all those in there, but when you look at the objects that they’re printing, they’re all very muddy colors – like what I’d imagine DIY filament recycling produces. It’s because it can’t get that color to punch up, they can’t get it close enough, they can’t get enough of it in there.
It would be different if a system for 3D printing were created where you had the ability to have one filament, maybe it’s a white, if you want to have a white base or maybe it’s a natural. I don’t know. I’m not claiming to have invented this or figured it out, but in theory, you’d have one color filament running through it and then if you had different filaments that were like hyper saturated with more percentage of pigments than filament is today conventionally made with, that you could then add a right amount of really what is colorants only.
Not just filaments, but colorants only into it, in line, fast enough and precisely enough to be able to change colors to make any color you wanted. That would be a more plausible realistic way to achieve it. The way everybody’s trying to do it saying, “Hey, just buy these four or five base color filaments and you’d get any color in the world.” It’s just not going to work. Just the color system doesn’t work like that.
Let me just point out that the Something 3D version, the Chameleon version, that what they’re doing is different than what Microsoft has in their patent, which is that they’re essentially leaving all those colors behind. All of the colors are depositing somewhere in every single row, just they’re not always at the surface. The colors that they really don’t want to be using right now or when they’re changing colors, they’re being put into the either inside of the object or the infill areas. Like creating extra wall thickness and things like that, which is why they’re making them muddier, which they don’t understand. That’s part of the problem there.
The Spectrum 3D problem was is that, what they didn’t understand is that you really have to amp up the amount of color you deposit for yellow for instance, it doesn’t stand out, it doesn’t hold out. The way it seemed to me was that they couldn’t quite get their algorithm to adjust and take longer to put in yellow than it did to put in blue. It just didn’t adjust for that. They all took the same amount of time and drop the same amount of drops.
Anyway, obviously, what I like about this is this seems to be a particular area of interest to a lot of companies. They’re all going after it and trying to solve the problem. I think they’re all rushing also to really file patents as quickly as they can because they all want to own the space. The reality is, we’ve seen so many different companies working with color and adding multiple filaments into one extruder. I really think this is going to be pretty interesting to see how these patents play out.
The other thing I want to talk about is, it does sound to me, and maybe I’m misreading the patent or whatever, the way that it reads to me is that it’s all polygons of one color of 3D printable material, of prints before it switches color. It’s printing all the cyan, all the magenta, all the yellow each in a separate and they’re printing them around the whole layer. That says to me that we’re not actually blending the colors before we print them out, which is problematic to begin with because the only way that you can do it is by pixelized dots. As we know from pointillist paintings, they still look separate at the end of the day.
I think really they were referring to different colors being used in different slices or in different portions of different slices of the print and sort of optical mixing them. That was a weird part of the patent and the claims. I don’t think that’s ultimately … When somebody files a patent, they try to cover every different possibility that they’ve conceived off. I think that was probably not really the main intent. Although really it sounds a lot more like what the ZMorph and their Voxelizer software does that we’ve researched and talked about a bit on a previous episode.
I love that printer. I think that they are showing really smart ways how you would use color rather than just trying to be … It’s just not going to imitate a painting. That’s not what its point is. Really what they’re doing with ZMorph, instead of saying that they’re combining CMYK and they can achieve any color of the rainbow on command, which is what Microsoft and others are trying to do, like the Chameleon. They’re saying they can do, which we are skeptics of in all fairness. What instead ZMorph is doing is saying, “Hey, you can feed a couple different colors into our single nozzles and achieve some beautiful patterns using one color and the other in different areas or mixing them to achieve a different color in certain areas.
They’re not claiming to have a color system where you can achieve any color with the Pantone rainbow. If you look at any of the images of what they’re doing, really what they’re doing is the most effective that I’ve seen so far at combining colors. I think that they really are effective in it. I think they’ve smartly decided to look at it from a user approach. How would you want to use multiple colors in your prints?
When you approach it from that direction, you don’t make this tech mistake, which to me, it’s a CMYK. You don’t have an application there. Because at the end of the day … Here’s the thing, I don’t want CMYK, I don’t want a crappy color imitation. I want the color I want. I want it to match my Pantone chip if I’m designing products. I want it to match my decor and my pink color if it’s Sherwin-Williams. Those are what we want as users. We don’t care about how you get there, that’s not important to us.
For instance, if I were going to use the Chameleon printer, let’s say, and it has five filaments capable. You can do that. I would rather find the five colors that I want to use, and five is probably too many for any one object. Let’s just say you wanted to and it made sense. Find the five colors I want to use and I would create my model where I have different ridges of the print where I’m using each of those different colors in a pattern to achieve a certain look and not try to mix those colors because it’s in the mixing of them that’s flawed.
The only thing that you can really do predictably to a certain degree is to have a gradient blend between different colors over a long period of the print. That’s the first thing everybody did. Even with the Dutch Builder, when we used and reviewed that printer, that was like the most, and really in a lot of ways the only effective thing you could do with mixing of colors, was to have a gradient blend over a period of time.
I think the mistake is thinking that users want full color 3D printing today. I don’t think that that’s an expectation for an FFF printer. I think that that’s a mistake right there. I want the color I want. Do I want the capability of putting colors in multiple locations on my print? Yes. I want it to run smoothly. I don’t want it to make bad seams. I don’t want them to blend together and make this dirty little mix of colors in between. I don’t want to have a discharge pile somewhere on the build plate.
There’s a bunch of things that I want, but I want it to get closer to the way that I make product today and the way that I make product today is simply by molding in plastics. Those are individual separated. It’s just that those parts tend to get assembled together. Can I do it in one piece? That’s what my goal is. It’s not full color 3D printing like we think of. Why do I want to make a painting imitation? That’s what we saw, we saw them doing a Mona Lisa. Why do I want that in 3D? It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s way better in print media.
It would be more practical to 3D print the object you want and have a way to then print on top of that as a post process probably with the way they print your kid’s photograph on a birthday cake in the grocery store or something. That would make a little more sense.
It is exciting what’s happening in the world of color. I think we’re going to see a lot of advances in 2017. This episode I think airs technically almost right after CES 2017. We’re not doing our recap and we won’t be talking about what we’ve seen there until the next week, I think one week later is our CES recap. We’re going to go obviously see in person, I know, the ZMorph printer. We’re going to see probably the Chameleon again and we’re going to see other things there. We’ll have more firsthand knowledge of seeing some of these things in person. That’ll be pretty exciting. We are working very hard to get the ZMorph printer in here for a review. We’ll give you an update on that after CES because we’re going to have a meeting there.
3D Print Patents for 2017 – 3D Print Video Games
Let’s move on to the other patent that came up and really want to talk about Sony and 3D print video games. I think the tie in here is thinking, in this case, you might be printing out your favorite character from your video game. Do we even still call it video games now that it’s digital? I don’t know. I keep using that term. Games in general. Digital games. There’s a distinction between video games and other games. I think they actually called it video game in the patent application. I think that’s still legitimate. I don’t know. I felt old saying that.
Anyway, either way, the ideas that you’d be able to print out your favorite character, which is great. In that case, yeah, maybe you want a more full color application of it. At the same time I think you also get into a whole bunch of other areas where this doesn’t make sense on an FFF printer at the end of the day. This is definitely something going in output to a service bureau who then ships it in because Sony’s not about to let go of control of their brand anywhere.
It’d be interesting to see if they do, like Mattel is supposed to be doing with their ThingMaker in late 2017. They’re going to have some of their actual characters that people can print out at home, albeit in one color. I sincerely doubt they’re going to start with Barbie or anything like that. They’re not going to start with their precious characters. That’s what I’m saying. It’s like maybe B characters or something like that. I just don’t think they’re going to let go of the quality of the output of their brand or let their brand be bastardized in that way.
You have to be really careful with that. Not that I’m saying that they shouldn’t file this patent, absolutely, Sony should try and own the category if they want. I just don’t know that that makes a case for full color FFF 3D printing. It doesn’t make the case for it to me. It’s still a separated thing because I think just because you’re a fan doesn’t mean you have a 3D printer. Certainly, I’m sure that they’re going to try to control their more valuable characters and only allow them to be printed at service bureaus. I think they’d want to make revenue from it too. They definitely do. Everybody’s looking at that in the VR world, in the AR world. They’re all looking at how can we make money with this and how can we bring some of these things you’re seeing to real life and 3D printing is the natural extension of it.
The thing that’s surprises me about the Sony patent is that isn’t it sort of an obvious step to when you have something in a virtual world, whether it’s in a cartoon on a kid’s TV show or it’s in a game or somewhere else virtual, that you may want to 3D print that. I have a hard time thinking that the Sony patent’s going to actually hold up in the long run and they’re going to be able to protect that. Everybody thought that Amazon’s One-Click Buy button wasn’t going to hold up either. It did. You think about it that way, is it seems really obvious but the technology is moving so fast that the patent and trademark office doesn’t catch up as quickly as it should in some of these cases. Hey, they filed it. Good for them. We’ll see what happens on it.
I think that the real case, and this is something we talked with our friend John Rich at Moxie about recently. We had a nice conversation with him. When we were looking at it, the big problem is that, in the VR world and the AR, augmented reality, virtual reality and in these video games, the problem is that these models are not designed to be printed. They’re not designed to be safe. The arms aren’t all in the right places so they don’t break off easily.
The biggest issue is that, all in all, that those types of things cause tremendous amount of problems. They actually all have to develop a whole different support structure in their business, a whole different division that’s going to be just taking those models and making sure … It won’t be the exact same thing. It’s not like you can just freeze your character in the exact position that they’re in and send them straight into it without some algorithm that has to process through, or a team that has processed it and actually submits a different file for digital printing.
Here’s where I think the technology and the patent are going to clash with the reality of what consumers want and with safety standards and other considerations. Even getting something to print properly, depending on the kind of printer you’re printing it on, people are absolutely going to want to freeze that character in a certain pose in the game and then print it. What I see them probably doing first because they’re going to want to allow that consumer that is sort of demanding or wanting it to do that, they’re probably going to say, “Eighteen years old and older or maybe fifteen years old and older.” We learned from Mark Trageser who worked at Mattel and these other places, thirteen years old.
If you target something at thirteen year old age and higher, you can pretty much do whatever you want safety wise and not get in trouble. He was talking more about, that’s where they target chem labs that you can buy, microscope kits and things like that. They target those at that age group and they can get away with a lot. You can do things with kits using knives, exacto knives, whatever. You can get into things that are dangerous or more dangerous for sure and not run into major liability problems.
Even without the liability problems, you have a huge amount of consumer liability in terms of perception. It turned out like crap. It didn’t print well. You’ve got those issues going on and when you hit those, it’s just as big a problem as making something unsafe. In the reality, you get a reputation for not doing a good enough job. I think at some point, they really are going to have to build entire departments that are focused on making these things, like you might be able to stop on of a hundred positions. They’ve already pretested it. Even though you think you’re stopping it as its arm is raised with a battle ax, it’s actually stopping at a preset position.
Anyway, what I like about all this is that clearly these patents and the moves these companies are making, whether it’s with their printers or their games or their processes or their markets for products is that 3D printing is clearly something that they see as necessary to their futures and the ways in which they’re pushing the edges of whether it’s color or your experience in the game or whatever. There’s a lot of development happening here and it’s bringing exciting new opportunities to consumers and to the market.
I’m glad to see these 3D print patents for 2017 being filed. I question whether some of them will actually hold up or that there hasn’t been prior art that would invalidate them. But unless you’ve got the kind of pocket book that Microsoft has to go up against them, or Sony, you’re talking about some formidable legal opponents there that can probably outspend the majority of us. Unless you get Microsoft going against Apple something like this. I wouldn’t say probably. That’s also a warning for certain companies. Unless you’re really confident that you can show you did something before they ever filed for a patent, but even so, proving that can be very costly. Even if you’re in the right.
This is raising something that has been going through my mind. We have this book that we wrote almost a year and a half ago. We haven’t published it yet. Part of it is that we’ve been struggling with whether or not we wanted to publish it because whether or not there’s a big enough audience for it. Thinking about this topic, this is actually the perfect case. It’s like how do you compete against a Goliath? That’s what our book is about. I’ve been trying to run through some new title ideas in my mind and see if I can come up with something that really makes it work. It’s boring. It wasn’t as fun as battling Goliath, industry Goliaths or anything like that, the IP battles and things like that. It’s not as fun as that. But protecting your IP on a shoestring. That’s kind of what I came to so far.
I don’t know. I’d love to hear our listeners out there, love to hear your thoughts on it. It’s really a book about, a story about how we have done that over the years, how we’ve used patents, why we use them in a way that we do and how we got ourselves into many, many cases of hot water and out of them with industry giants like IDEO and Palm Computing, to name just a couple. The story is I think interesting one. It’s the one we get asked to tell all the time when we go to inventors groups. We weren’t really sure whether or not it has enough of a business case and whether there’s enough people interested in it. Especially if it really applies to our business and where it’s been moving, which is more in the directions like the 3D printing world where patents are a part of it but it’s not the main focus. Anyway, is it worth following through on or not? I don’t know. We keep debating it.
We’d love to hear from you. Please let us know @3DStartPoint on Facebook as well as in the comments on this blog post. If you guys have some title ideas, we’d love to hear them too. If you have any experience with any of these printers, mixing multiple colors and you have some thoughts to share, we’re seeing a lot of muddy colors out there, like in that Chameleon printer. If you’ve been experimenting with it, maybe even on your own in a kit printer, because I’ve seen a lot of YouTube videos of people doing that. We just love to know about your experience and what you think about the realities of FFF 3D printing and being able to produce any color by mixing the right filament colors together. Is it real or is it a pipe dream?
As always, I am putting up my plate. If you are working on a color 3D printer, you want someone to help you with the color, please call me because it’s in all of our best interests for the industry to move along. You can find me at 3DStartPoint.com.
- Full Color 3D Printing Complexities
- ZMorph Mulitcolor Image Mapping
- Microsoft Multicolor 3D Printing Patent
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