In Today’s episode, Tom and Tracy discuss the new possibilities that clear 3D printing could offer. They saw a Twitter post by Daniel Norée that featured a clear 3D printed model. Tom and Tracy talk about the possible uses of clear 3D printing if it really can be done now, like in light designs, glasses and lenses, toys, awards and collectibles, and even containers.
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Clear 3D Printing – New Possibilities
Hey, everyone. This is Tracy and Tom on the WTFFF 3D Printing podcast. We’re putting 3D printing in the clear. We saw this Twitter post from a Daniel Norée. He was holding a very cool 3D print or he has an image of it that’s clear. Actually, to me when I first saw it I thought, there’s no way this is FFF 3D printed. However, he said very specifically that he uses a ColorFabb HT Filament to make it, which obviously would be FFF 3D printed.
To me, it looks more like it’s almost a cast resin piece or it looks more like it was made on Formlabs machine out of a resin or something. It’s an impressive little model. When you think of sometimes there are little souvenirs and things at gift shops that are actually cast resin and they have something suspended in the middle of them, here he has created a 3D model where there’s some geometry in there. In this case, it’s a graphic letter representation, an R within a circle. It’s sort of a logo, really.
It’s the negative space geometry in the middle of this cube, solid block, a plastic that’s showing up. It catches light in an interesting way. I have to say, it looks like he must have polished the outer surfaces of the model. You don’t see the print lines very well. We were looking at the clear 3D printing filament that’s out there, some that claims to be clear, and it just doesn’t look so clear mainly because you see so much of the print lines, I think among other things.
This print looks like it had to have been done at 100% infill too, because there’s no infill structure in there. You would never see this geometry in the very center. It’s like it’s made of a solid block a plastic, like I said, like it was cast. Then, it has this negative space of this letter representation in the middle. It’s a very cool print and very effective. It certainly caught our attention.
Maybe this isn’t real, I don’t know. We’ll try to do some more investigation. We tried a little bit to get at it, but we really got no answers back. For me though, the possibility of this is great. I think that’s really where I wanted to explore that, and talk about, what could we do if we had the ability of really a truly clear plastic, a really clear filament, that with a little bit of polish to remove some print lines, all of a sudden, you’ve got something cool like this.
I think there are really some great possibilities to and it makes me think back that we’re at that level of progress that should be happening in materials where we should be getting to this level. I think back to the development. I used to work for a company called Milliken & Company. They were the inventors of the materials that made it capable for Tupperware to be clear. For those of you old enough to know, Tupperware was never clear before. You couldn’t see through it. It was actually white or colored. It was more cloudy or opaque. They used to add color to it and so you’d get the almond color, the orange color, you would also have the avocado green color, which is really big. You had all these colors of it because they had to add a color into it because it had a really dirty quality to the plastic itself. They thought that was not consumer appealing, which was a smart choice to make. They were absolutely right about it. Milliken, in their Materials Technology Department, developed chemicals to clarify it and make it clear in the process. They developed some more that tinted it. We had these pink ones and these barely blue ones. That’s what we’re seeing and being used today when we have those disposables with the pale blue and see-through lids and things like that.
I’ve always thought that there was just an inherent problem with 3D printing of any process, layer by layer, that made it so that just because you’re bonding one layer to another, that you’re never going to be able to make something that’s as clear looking as these images. I’m impressed. I think it must have something to do with the filament to a degree. I’m sure it has something to do with the quality of the 3D printer that it’s being printed on. Also, probably it has something to do with the precision of the 3D printing machine that’s laying down the material, then obviously, the finishing process. It’s impressive.
It did say they’re using an Ultimaker. Ultimakers are great machines but that’s not an overly precise machine or overly detailed. It’s a desktop 3D printer. If he can do it, other people can. I think that’s the point. Let’s push the envelope and let’s see really what we can do with this. The technical details on Colorfabb HT Filament, heat resistant temperature, I think that’s what the HT stands for. I know it’s supposed to be to 100 degrees Celsius. It means they can withstand heat without deforming, but why is that clear? Does that have something to do with it?
I don’t know if the clear has much to do with it. When you go on to Colorfabb’s website for this HT material, really the H and the T, it’s about high temperature as the H, and then tough material is the T. It’s really not about being clear. They actually show many other colors of it, like an actual white that’s opaque white and a black. They’re not really featuring much about the clear aspect of it in Colorfabb’s website, as compared to this Twitter post.
There is another article that we were looking at about high strength materials on another website that did go into actual clear 3D printing material. For instance, polycarbonate is a material that takes a lot of high temperature to be able to melt it and has certain properties that people like to make certain objects of. But only certain 3D printers that can achieve right amount of temperature can actually melt the materials. It’s the same type of material that, if you remember CD cases, the brittle, clear plastic ones, those were all made of polycarbonate. Because it was very clear, you can see through it. This is not a polycarbonate material but it certainly has some of the same clear properties of it.
I’m seeing a lot of other prints being done with this material that you do really see the lines on it. Like we said, that first thing in the Twitter post, it was probably polished, like on a buffing wheel afterwards. The thing about this, high temperature materials offer you a lot of opportunities of obviously heat resistance is what they’re talking about and high strength. Because obviously, if it will start to buckle when it’s left out on a hot day in Southern California in the sun, that does not have a lot of strength. It’s got to have high heat resistance also to have that strength. That’s really what they’re featuring there about that on Colorfabb. I think people are saying you can make even car parts with it, things that could go under the hood in the engine and take a lot of high heat.
I’m just so excited about the idea that it’s possible to do clear. I think the design possibilities, there are a lot of really cool things that we can do. Just the personalization possibilities of this kind of thing that you were talking about, like those resins. They make a lot of awards out of them. Why should you be going through all that system if you could just 3D print your own internal employee awards or student awards or whatever? That would be very cool too.
I could see, instead of just a graphic letter and character here, you could have a model of a different character, like a cartoon character or think about Shopkins or something. If you could have a model of some character, or even one of The Minions, like The Minion chest set. Do the negative space of that inside a block like this, it would make a really cool little award or representation collectible of it. You could do building blocks of things like that. I could imagine it would be pretty interesting. Really making a clear Lego or we could actually have windows in our castles that our daughters are creating. That would be cool, where you could see something on the inside or have something on the windows.
I’m also thinking about the models that we saw in the exhibit for the ZMorph printer at CES, which was an architectural model that had a two-color print of a building. One was opaque material for the parts of the structure you wouldn’t see through, but they actually did use a clearer or more natural filament material for the windows. If you could actually make more architectural models, or any kind of model really that you wanted to see through into an inner cavity, it doesn’t have to be a solid block of plastic either. It could just be a thin wall. You could be making a vessel to put something in and you want to actually see inside it.
If this clear 3D printing material really has better clarity, and with a little post-process of buffing, you could really see through it, that’s pretty exciting. Going to that architectural model point, that’s one of the things that are a big drawback to architectural models today. You really can’t see how the light flows through into a space and everything. You could actually demonstrate that to your clients in a model situation and light it from the inside or light it inwards. Even literally in potential lighting applications. Just interior lighting, making lamp designs. Mark Trageser was doing a lot of work in creating designs of light. I think that’s a great area to explore. It’s a great opportunity for product design and consumer product design that people would really like. I think if you have more potential in the physical properties of some of the materials that are available now, that just opens up the design and engineering opportunities for what you could do with it.
Even going a little bit further into creating glasses or lenses or something from a prototype standpoint that are actually a little more usable, that hard material makes a big difference there when you’re prototyping and you’re not ready to go to the full glass version, but you really want to go through that process. Having to be able to have it clear and really test that out makes a lot of difference instead of you having to make minor adjustments to the glass pieces all the time and making them fit.
I’m thinking of other potential applications. I’m someone who would do a lot of work on my own cars, even changing oil and stuff. I’m thinking about quarts of oil that you would buy just in general to fill your car. They’re blow-molded, the way they make those plastic quart containers now. They often have this clear material on the side that’s like a stripe vertically along the whole thing, so you can see, if you didn’t use the whole quart of oil, you can see what the level is of fluid in there. It’s like a window into it. I think if you had a two-colored machine, like the ZMorph that we were talking about, because it has that capability, it leaves me a lot of other options and opportunities from a functional perspective, as well as a design perspective. I think that’s a really interesting idea of how to use it.
I really hope that this material can do these things. Maybe we need to find a way to get one in and try them out, and see if we can accomplish the same thing. I think the possibilities of clear is highly desirable. It’s something that has been missing in this industry. Everybody thinks the default clear is natural. But it’s not clear, it’s amber at best, or yellow-y. It has this look to it. It’s just not clear. Clear is clear.
Anyway, if you guys have done anything like this or you know if this person is real and if this is really actually a clear piece and was really done on an FFF, we’d love to hear about it. You can reach out to us on Facebook and Pinterest, @3DStartPoint. You can also go to the blog post, 3DStartPoint.com where you can see this image. Thanks for listening, everybody. We will talk to you next time. This has been Tom and Tracy on the WTFFF 3D Printing podcast.
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