When designing a 3D print product, color tends to be the last thing many designers think about, mainly because 3D printers have not been color friendly, up until now. With the many complexities to full color 3D printing, it helps to reframe and start thinking about it as part of the initial design process rather than an afterthought—most especially because color application opens up the design possibilities. Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard talk about planning, designing, and technically specifying for full color 3D printing. The HP Jet Fusion Full Color 3D Printer is a real game-changer in the hands of a creative designer ready to explore the world of 3D in color.
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Complexities of Design for Full Color 3D Printing
This is going to be your favorite episode, Tom, because we will get to talk about your design and we’ll finally get to talk about designing color. It’s the goods. It’s the 3D prints themselves and the capabilities of what you can do with HP’s new Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer. It’s exciting and refreshing what we’ve been able to do with it and what we’re still doing with it because we’re still doing more testing, more things.
We are modifying again. What we discovered was that there are a lot of complexities to full-color 3D printing. The design process is like starting over again when we started the series. We thought there’s such a steep learning curve that we were going to help people leap that learning curve and to make steps to advance by giving you advice on how it works. Designing for color 3D printing is like starting all over again.
It’s a different process. We have been used to for decades creating models for 3D printing, that color is not a part of that tactical process. Even if we were thinking about what color something might be manufactured in eventually or prototyped in. If we’re designing something that is a 3D print end-use product, which we do, we would think about what color it’s going to be made in. We were thinking within the limitations of either the processes that were available, the constraints of production and manufacturing down the road after 3D print prototyping. In the case of 3D print end-use products, the vast majority of the processes allow you to do one color.
This is common to the industrial design and product design model in general. Thinking about injection molding and all of these things, color is always applied later. It’s not designed in from the beginning. It’s very rare that there is something that you have to consider the color application from the moment one. Usually, we make prototypes in our big designs, then we’ll paint parts and we’ll go, “We’re going to have to make that part separately, then attach it, snap it in.” We’ll have to mask off and paint differently. We think about those things after the fact, not usually as a part of the initial design process.
Even when we would have multiple cultures within a product, there are usually separate parts that are designed, manufactured and assembled. That’s how you get your combination of colors and/or you print on things after the fact in a post-process even after injection molding if need be or apply stickers, decals, whatever. There are lots of ways that you end up with the final look that you want, but when it comes to 3D printing, we’ve always wanted to be able to do more with color. As we went through this process in providing some prints to HP, for some models to HP to print, at first, we had to give them models that had no color information in them because our models didn’t have color. Color was done later.
It was like an applied color in process. We’ve got these two mic blocks because they’re the simplest. They’re contained geometry. They’re super simple and easy for us to talk about. We use them all the time in our process. We thought, “How cool would it be?” Theoretically, we would do them in a solid color if we were molding them. We wouldn’t create some complex patterns like this on them.
Those of you who are reading, we have what is like a rainbow zebra print. You can see that it’s applied to the top of it, which nobody sees because the microphone covers it so it wouldn’t be useful. It’s drawn out the side, which gives this rainbow striping look. Some of the green colors on here, because we use a green screen with our video. You can see through it. It’s like Steve Carell’s pants in Anchorman. While our girls thought it was cool to have rainbow color and everything, there are going to be a few customers who might like that.
I’m going to bring over our microphone. There is a mic flag, which is a 3D printed part that is put on the microphone and we slide a logo card into it for our show. We 3D print those routinely in our business, but we have had people want ones in color and it’s been, “What kind of color do I happen to have? Do I have the right color? I could never dial in the right color.”Designing for #color3Dprinting is like starting all over again. @hp @zbyhp Click To Tweet
We had another one done where they applied color into the center panels, but they get covered by our logo information. The reality is if they could print fine enough, we could print the logos here, but it’s not at that stage yet in 3D printing. It would be great when we get to that place where we’re getting that combination of the HP 2D and 3D together, then we could do what we want to do with it.
We wouldn’t have to have a window here that you slide a card into. You could have it flat and 3D print it with the logo on it. You could do that, but it has a non-glossy finish. I would call it a slightly light, soft textured, matte finish. It’s nice and smooth. It’s not rough at all. If you look at it closely, you can see layer lines but you don’t feel them. That’s the nice part about it, but the colors aren’t brilliant. They’re not rich and bright, which you get when you have a shiny material at the end of the day. When we injection mold something and we’ve got that shiny nylon look, this doesn’t have that. It’s its own style thing.
You’d have to paint this with clear paint finish to get glossy. Even still, the color underneath wouldn’t be like deep color. Thinking about that, these are considerations as to what you can achieve and get out of it as well. Full-color 3D printing has been my dream because I think in color. From that standpoint, this is also something that you as designers out there have to be clear on. You’re going to have to be very specific with how you specify color and how you identify where it’s going to go on your product and how it’s going to flow on the product. We’ve printed hundreds of 3D print ties on different machines over the years. We had one printed on the machine.
It is just in gray but we wanted to see the capabilities of the machine. Keep in mind we’ve printed this in other printers. If you look at the video, behind us is an abstraction of the print or the shape in prints coming off of an FFF 3D printer. We spiral it in on itself and print it on end on an FFF. It would fit in the build plate. Also, it was complicated that I had to construct my own support material. I couldn’t use machine made support or software made support to achieve what I wanted to. This is one of the wonderful freedoms of the MJF 3D printer is there’s no support necessary because it’s in a powder bed situation.
The finish is nice on this one. It is a lot lighter weight than the filament prints we’ve done with PLA and ABS and stuff like that. I think the density, the mass, the weight of the material is lighter, which is nice because I’ve worn these ties at a lot of events like for all week-long events. That’s not the lightest tie hanging on my shirt there when it’s in solid plastic. With this material, it’s refreshingly lightweight, but as I got this sample back, I’m like, “There was an opportunity we missed with color.”
There’s an opportunity to do something with color, which we hadn’t planned ahead because we never designed it for that. The one thing I want to say is the way the finish feels. This is one thing that people are always asking and coming up to Tom going, “Can I touch it? What is that?” when he wears that. The material feels like silk. It’s like fabric in there. That’s the texture of the surface, like raw silk. It is almost like a fabric surface texture.
I think people are going to be fooled by it and loved that. We took this gray tie and saw how it printed and said, “What are we going to do with this? How are we going to take it? We’re going to do two things. One, because it’s always our goal to make something highly Instagramable. That was always our goal from day one. I wouldn’t let Tom post anything we did off the 3D printer until I felt it was Instagram worthy. That being because we’re designers. It needs to be better than your average. You can’t just go out there and post all the ones like pigs, octopus, frogs, and all the typical things. You can’t do that. We had to do something better. That’s how the ties and our angels came about that we printed over the years.
Thinking about that, we had to say, “We have to do the same thing in color. We need to do something that you cannot do by any other means.” That meant taking advantage of the full-color 3D printing capability of doing gradient because being able to go from light to dark or one color to another sounded like an ideal thing for us to try because you can’t do that in any other method. There isn’t anything besides painting something that you couldn’t even do it. Even that is difficult to do and do it accurately, and then doing highlighting where we’re taking the outside edges of the tie and the inner pieces and changing the colors up in those two areas. Long-term, we had always thought maybe we might sell the ties or do something where we put company colors or logos on them.
Even company logos or monogram on them. You can do stuff like that with this, no question. It was one thing to try to print in three dimensions those initials into the print, which was my thinking years ago. Now I’m thinking, with this technology, you can just print those things on here. I’ve had some people ask about a company logo on them and things like that. That can be done, but I want to spend a little time talking about technically how to accomplish that.#Fullcolor3Dprinting is here, and it's going to only get better. @hp @zbyhp Click To Tweet
We don’t have the tie as it is being printed. We’ve got a little bit of a drawing that we’ll share so you can see some of that and how we are rendering. Essentially, I’ve treated the perimeter spaces of the print as one treatment and then the interior spaces as another. We did do gradient and I’ll talk technically about how I did that.
It goes from bright orange at the bottom to a dark red up at the top in the center sections, in the insets of all the tie pieces. On the outer edges, it does the reversal of that so it’s dark red at the bottom and bright orange up when you get towards the chain at the top. We’ve made the gradients go in opposition to each other in the two pieces, hoping that creates the energy of it going up and down in which it already goes in and out and creating this infinity shape that it does. We thought this might give it dynamic energy in the color choices.
To describe it, it’s like going from sunset orange to a deep burgundy red. That’s the gradient that we applied there. I want to talk about first some things I tried and didn’t achieve what I wanted and then how I achieved what I did. I’m going to have all the images here. You can check it out. It’ll be clear to you seeing the result and we’ll have photos of the print.
When it comes in, we’ll be adding this. I want to say before you get started on this, it was more challenging than you thought. It was much more complex than you thought to go in and do it. I think that that’s important for everyone to say, it’s not easy to modify a model and do something that you didn’t intend it to do originally. That’s a little bit harder than designing from scratch as you would design differently. If you could talk about those two parts as you’re doing it like, how would you have designed it differently to accomplish this? How did you have to modify the model? That would be a great viewpoint.
First, I consulted HP on this. I had a conversation with somebody, not one of the people we interviewed in any of the episodes, but another person on their team about how they would apply color and what would they use? Everybody knows I am a Rhino model guy. That’s my go-to, not that I’m not interested to explore newer other programs, but I still primarily use Rhino. While it has rendering capability within it, you can apply materials to it and save files out that have material properties within it. It’s not easy to use. It’s very difficult and in my application, there’s something unique about this tie why I couldn’t use a Rhino’s rendering capabilities and material applications to do what I wanted to do.
What HP said is, “Do you have a Windows PC machine?” It’s like, “Yes, I do.” Part of the Windows 10 operating system, I did find that on my machine, which is an older Windows 10 machine, I had to go to the Microsoft Store and download this free software. Apparently, it comes pre-installed on a lot of machines. It’s called 3D Builder. They also have a program called 3D Paint and they’re closely related. They work together and in a lot of ways are interchangeable. HP worked with Microsoft in developing this 3d Builder application and it will export the 3MF file format. That is a format that HP fostered and prefers for their 3D printers, although you can still use OBJ and some of the other formats that have material and color information within them for their printers.
I was able to load our model right into 3D Builder. Keep in mind, while my tie is made up of many actual separate parts that are interlocked like a chain link. It’s not one solid thing. It’s a lot of parts so it moves, but each one of these pieces was one solid model part. That’s important to understand. As it was modeled, I didn’t have a different model for this perimeter shape, a different piece of geometry that’s separate from what was in the middle. We didn’t need it and it complicated it to have it that way and in some of the other methods we were printing things with. This 3D Builder software and this 3D Paint application would allow me to apply either texture maps or paint in different areas. It would treat each different surface of the model as its own element and allow you to apply color to that element.
You could either apply it as a block of color or they have some brush effects where you could create like you’re painting with a brush and putting more paint in part of the surface and less in another part of the surface. You could get detailed with it if you want to. The thing that I found about that software though with such a complex model like this tie that has 100 separate little pieces of geometry in it. It was time consuming to apply those colors to it and doing any consistent gradient across multiple pieces was challenging. I don’t know that that program was the best application to achieve what we wanted to. Although I did take time and I’ll have a screenshot showing you what I was working on in this 3D Builder program.
I think for many models that maybe have fewer parts and are less complex and you want to apply colors or textures to them, this is a simple utility that you can take a Rhino model or any kind of what you’ve probably heard me say in the past when it’s not a parametric model, I call it a dumb solid. Any kind of dumb closed solid meaning pure 3D geometry that you want to apply texture and/or color to, you can do that with this program. It’s fairly simple and straightforward to learn how to use. It didn’t take a lot of work.
I’m glad you’re sharing your work process with everyone so that they can see what works and what doesn’t work. This is like the early days of 3D printing again that we’re going through. It’s trial and error to be able to achieve what’s in your head. That’s what we’ve been talking about in this whole series here. How can we get faster through that process? Maybe it would have been a lot of fun to use VR in that process.
Maybe, but what I found though that I needed to do to get the result we wanted, where we could apply color precisely and quickly across many different pieces of geometry. What I needed to do is I recreated in the exact same geometry though, because I save all my work and all the generations of what I did. I recreated the tie so that each of those twisting infinity shapes that are more flowing plain of surface in each tie was separate actual models from the perimeter structures. That’s a 3-millimeter extruded circle going around the path of stuff. I recreated all those pieces and then I could apply textures or colors, not only definitively and differently between them, but I went to a different program. You could apply solid color pretty easily to them just there, but we wanted to do a gradient.
I created my own bitmap in Photoshop of the gradient from that orange color and the red color that I wanted, and pretty much the proportion or scale of all the parts because it’s long and skinny, close to it anyway. It doesn’t have to be exact or super precise, but then I needed to use a program that would let me apply that texture map across all the parts that I wanted to together and not just individually. I wanted the gradient to be even and smooth across all of them. I went to Autodesk 3D Studio Max, which is one of the programs that I have. It’s my typical rendering program. It allows me to group as many parts as I want and applies a texture map to the group as a whole, not just to each individual part.
I could do that gradient. Let’s say I would take all the middle fill parts all the way through the tie, group them together and applied it to the middle from orange to red. To do the inverse, I grouped all the outer perimeter parts in one group. I then turned the bitmap 180 degrees so that it was red at the bottom going to orange at the top, which is the opposite of what was happening in the middle parts. You get this nice contrast at the top and the bottom of the tie. Somewhere in the middle where it’s almost the same color in both. It’s like it’s traveling, switching and blending.
This is something to consider that you could do and that you can stretch one. You could have played with the idea of them not blending into the center. If you have the ability to test and print and go back and forth, then you may find out that it may create a stripe across the center that is undesirable. It may also look cool. We don’t know. This is something that we’ll be trying and we’ll see how it is. It may not be exactly what we imagined because it may be that one of those directions has to travel at a different pace of light to dark orange to red in this case.
I’m sure with most things in creating models and renderings, there are a dozen different ways to accomplish any one task. Some may be more efficient than others. Some may have more possibilities and capabilities than others, but there are a lot of ways to do it. For me, I found that using a program I was familiar with and I knew I could apply the textures the way I wanted, 3D Studio Max made sense. The reality is any program that can output that surface color material with the model is critical and that’s what I did. I exported a different model, not from my main CAD program, from the rendering program that includes the bitmap information of the textures. That’s what that HP printer will read and it’s going to build the model and apply the color.The next generations of industrial and #3Dproductdesigners out there need to start designing for #fullcolor3Dprinting. @hp @zbyhp Click To Tweet
With that little mic flag, one of the things that this shows us is there is not a surface on the outside of this part that is not colored and printed with color from a map. It’s incredibly capable. It doesn’t matter what orientation the surface is in or what access it’s in. I don’t know how this printer does it, but it’s pretty darn impressive that you can get color everywhere.
Another thing that we were going to do, although our children weren’t going to be too happy, so maybe we’ll saw apart the one with the solid panels, but we’re going to break it apart so you can see how deep the color goes in. You can tell that it’s pretty surface and it’s thinly on the surface. We’ll cut that apart and we’ll have that for this episode so you can see the depth of that. That’s an efficient use of color and what they’re doing. They start with this more gray stock material. It’s not white, it’s not black because it takes the color better. It is partially why the colors have those pastel nude quality, and it’s because the material starts in that gray
Pastel is a good way to describe it. It’s incredibly professional. You could create professional 3D printed models, samples, and tests samples with full color the way that you would like it to be in production, maybe with the exception of the glossiness. Other than that, I’m excited about this. It’s a real game-changer.
It goes back to what we always thought we could achieve and was never able to earlier on. It’s come so far. Full-color 3D printing is here. It’s going to only get better from here because I’m sure with the way that they modeled and everything that we’ve learned from the whole process of doing all the interviews here and learning through all the different stages of their company and HP as a whole in their work process and their workflow with everything, there’s going to be great improvements. They’re going to model exactly the same process that they took with their 2D business. The colors are going to get more brilliant. They’re going to get more accurate. The prints are going to get finer. All of those things are on its way. We just have to learn to design for it. That’s our job and the next generations of industrial and product designers out there need to start designing for full-color 3D printing.
As long as you experiment and you understand the principles and what can be done, then you’ll consider that more as you’re creating the models from the beginning and be thinking about color earlier on. It won’t be so much of an afterthought and you won’t have to reconstruct your model the way I did with this tie. That took me several hours.
I’m super excited about this. You will all see the photos from this at 3DStartPoint.com. We’re getting towards the close of this series and we’ve got a few more great episodes that are talking about application and use. We’re getting past the design process and getting into this application and use of 3D printing. I’m excited about that. There’s a few more coming up so don’t miss them. If you haven’t caught the whole series and you want to know what’s in it, you can go to 3DStartPoint.com/HP and you’ll be able to catch that whole series. Thanks for reading, everybody. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope you like the photos and the video. Go check it out.
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- White Paper on Elevating Jigs and Fixtures with Informational Color
- Other Episode on Color 3D Printing
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