We love the idea of full color 3D printing, and have been seeking a full color 3D printer that can print more than one color well since the inception of the WTFFF?! podcast. A new contender has entered the arena claiming “unlimited” color capability in an FFF 3D printer. The advances and effort are to be applauded, but how real is the claim of “unlimited” color capability?
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Full Color 3D Printing Complexities
Normally, Tech Tuesdays are all more in Tom’s area – his expertise area and technical side of things – but color is my specialty. I don’t want to brag about it. It’s just that I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I was the color material and finishes expert at Herman Miller in the 90’s. Everything regarding color for the entire product line for their what was about a $400,000,000 company, went through you among other things. I’m a member of their Marketing Group. I just know color.
It’s more about understanding both color from a technical stand point, I have capability and understanding of color in how it’s applied to materials. Whether its wood finishes or it’s plastic parts and how you’re going to mix and get the color you want, how are you going to get metallics and translucents; how you achieve color in the way that you wanted. Technically, it’s partially that, it’s also forecasting and picking out the right colors for the right product to sell. I have a good track record there.
The reason we’re bringing it up today, I want to say that we’re going to talk about a company that’s launching a KickStarter campaign for full color 3D printing. We usually make it a policy not to talk about KickStarter Campaigns that are in process. We usually talk about after they’re done because we don’t want to influence in a positive or negative way. This KickStarter, all though it’s still going on, this has already more than surpassed it’s goals.
News came out about the RoVa4D a 3D printer that’s capable of full color 3D printing – a blender version of it. What they’ve done is made a 3D printer that blends 5 different filaments into one hot end. There’s one nozzle. We’re not questioning the technical integrity or the engineering integrity of the machine, how it blends colors, or any of that because we know full well that we can blend colors like this. We’ve seen it done. We’ve tested it out on the Dutch Builder. We know that you can do this. We are not questioning that. Today, we’re really going to talk about the merits of CMYK+ White and plastic filament in particular to achieve full color 3D printing.
We’re going to give you our opinion, belief, and suspicion of limitations of CMYK in this application, just from our experience in plastics and color-mixing plastics and how it works with full color 3D printing. We’re happy to be proven wrong. Maybe, we will be someday. I kind of doubt it but maybe we will be. We’re going to give you opinions. We have not tested this printer. We want to be clear of that. We have not because it’s not available yet to test it. We’ve not been able to do that.
CMYK and Full Color 3D Printing
CMYK is a term that we use both in cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. In their particular case they are adding white so this actually has 5 colors. There’s a one hot end for the main material which you need in order to get lightness and darkness, otherwise everything would be chromatic.
In this particular case, it’s different than you think of CMYK and your inkjet printer. I want you to visualize in your head while you’re thinking here. You drop those ink cartages and the inkjet runs it. The inkjet runs every color and runs the other color on top of it. It’s not physically blending the inks to get the other color then putting back a color down for you. That’s the difference on how inkjet works. I’m just letting you think that through.
Printing down a dot pattern, it creates an optical mixture of dots on a page to which it’s actually using the white of the paper as one of the colors showing through. In that case, you don’t have to add white. Its white color is mixed into the process. From what I can see how this is working in the video in this RoVa4D, the white is actually doing a blend into the colors being blended in before it comes out. You can do a separation so you’re sending a color to a particular area. You’re not blending them together into one piece to achieve full color 3D printing.
You’re not optically mixing here. It’s very interesting. They are taking the concept of mixing colors with CMYK and white (which is really CMYKW if you really want to be accurate about it), using those different base colors to blend and mix whatever colors are capable of doing a mix from that which is entirely different from how the entire 2D printing world of photography, paper, posters, packaging on products, inkjet printers work. They’re not the same.
We’ve developed software like Photoshop, all of the CAD softwares, we do have a CMYK input into them in everything that we develop to create a color. They talked about in their video the fact that your’e just going into CAD and pick a paint color. It’s basically picking the CMYK color to paint on whatever your model is. I don’t question how you’re applying color, or where you’re applying color, or anything about their CAD software either. That should hopefully work well because that didn’t on the Dutch Builder. I’m hoping that it is good. It really didn’t have a very sophisticated software for doing any kind of predictable blending of colors. It was really just having 2 different colors and you can blend them at percentages and you can do a gradient to get a version of full color 3D printing, but it’s not the same as this.
This seems more sophisticated to get full color 3D printing in the way that they’re applying it on the CAD side which is wonderful. But, it still comes down to a principle that those CYMK, when they’re developed in a system, they’re developed in light. They are developed so that we see them on the screen in a predictable way which we will actually have a print out in an optical mixture in our output. It’s always been intended for an optical mixture output.
What you are going to see on the screen isn’t what you’re going to get from a filament mixture. That’s a really different thing people need to understand. Unless you compensate it from an algorithmic technical stand point, you’re going to pick a color on the screen that is not going to look like it looks in the output. In fact, most often, it ends up looking muddy dirty. That would be the way I would describe the color. It’s always going to be ending up looking dirtier than it will on a screen, because you’re seeing in bright light. While you’re optical mixing, you’re keeping your CMYK slightly separated so it has more brightness to it. Your color will always be cleaner in optical mixing or on a screen then it will be in a mixed plastic format after the full color 3D printing is done.
When we choose and match colors in plastics, a lot of times that happens, where I receive a fabric. They will say, “We need a plastic part that matches with this fabric. We need to match it.” We never use the color formulas, numerical output to numerical output. We don’t scan it into the computer and say “Here’s the CMYK of it.” We don’t do that. We make a special formula for it in plastics.
From a technical perspective, it’s incredibly complex and difficult to take two different plastics, even filaments, and mix them together to achieve a predictable color result. It’s just not that easy. The way pigments work to make colored plastics; the concentration levels compared to the resin are so different and specific depending on each type of plastic you might use.
Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have a full color FFF 3D printer that could predictably produce whatever color I want and do full color 3D printing. In a principle, it sounds great. In practice and application, this printer may very well be able to achieve many different colors with the same filaments and many more colors with FFF 3D printer on the market. That’s admirable. That’s very cool. Let’s not call it unlimited color which is what they say. Let’s be clear here, it’s not “what you see is what you get results from that”. It doesn’t work like that.
Their video is claiming that you can mix and produce any color that you see on the screen and getting it by full color 3D printing. I’d be interested in trying that to see how true that really is. I guarantee you because even just with mixing colors in general, the CMYK color system, there are certain areas of color between other colors that can’t ever be mixed. It’s like in a RBG system – red, blue, green. There are different color systems out there. When it comes to mixing paint, if you’re going to Lowe’s or Home Depot or something in order to mix all different colors in the rainbow, they don’t just have 3 or 5 pigments. They have 24 different pigments. It even goes farther than that. They also have different base colors. They don’t always start with white. They start with a different base. They start with gray. They have different underlying colors which you could do that.
“Unlimited” is misleading at best.
My question here is “Why are we using CMYK?” It’s because from what I understand and what I’ve been doing for 25 years in mixing plastic colors and doing all these things. Those are not the best choice colors that you would start from to mix together to get full color 3D printing. They’re not the best choice as you start to mix dyes together, and pigments and dyes are not that far off when I dye a fabric. It’s very similar.
We start from multiple versions of reds. We have more than magenta. We have 4 or 5 different versions of colors of reds to start from. Magenta would be probably one of my last choices. That’s usually only when you’re doing something so chromatically or primary bright that you would put magenta into it.
It’s the same thing with yellow. Typically, you start with match paler color or more pastel version of it. Yellow doesn’t mix in well with things like that. You usually head into the yellow-green or head it into a direction on which you do that for. There are four different blues that you would start from, including a light cyan. It would be much better as a starting point than straight cyan.
There’s evidence of the limitations of CMYK – what CMYK color can achieve – even in the inkjet printer market. It’s the most common that those printers have cyan-magenta-yellow-black printing on a white paper. The more artistic inkjet printers came out a few years ago, they went to 6 colors. They had not only a cyan but also a light cyan. They had not only magenta but also a light magenta.
They did that because the standards of CMYK color system could not mix certain colors. Pantone is like the authority on color-mixing. Whenever you mix a color for plastic or everything else, usually you reference a Pantone color chip. These people have gone to the ends of the earth to produce the most scientific scale of colors and technical specifications for colors. There are many Pantone colors that just cannot be achieved in CMYK.
In saying that it is unlimited, is unrealistic. There are going to be colors that you might want to achieve, especially if let’s say you bought this printer and you were trying to do a work as a 3D Hub or something. You say, “I can achieve any color. I can achieve whatever color your company logo is.” I can guarantee that there are going to be a lot of companies that have a logo. They have their color that their graphic people have assigned. That’s their graphic identity for their brand. You may not be able to achieve that exact color that is close enough with the system.
Here’s a great example, with this color system, you can never create the Coca-Cola logo red. You could never create Coca-Cola red with this CMYK system for full color 3D printing. It requires a different magenta and a different position to do that. You won’t ever get an exact match there. It will never come across perfectly.
I think this full color 3D printing system is brilliant in it’s thinking. It’s just a choice of filament colors at the end of the day. I think it can work. You might need to have 3 packs of 5 colors. Depending on what colors you want to achieve and print, you may not be able to achieve all the colors in one print. They may have to do some software modifications. If you’re using this set of 5, these are the colors you can achieve. If you’ve got this set here, you’d be able to achieve these different sets of 2,500 colors.
You may not have white. Maybe, you have a cream there. Black will probably be always there. You do almost always require a black. You don’t necessarily always require white like that unless if you have pure white in your design. Sometimes, it is beige color or what we call ecru. It’s a cream color. It actually helps you achieve a more complex and beautiful colors than the other way.
You could do it that way. Maybe you have a gray base that has a very cool gray base that gives you some of these colors – gray tones or nuance blends. You wouldn’t be able to achieve it without using that. You might have some other set of 2,500. That would be interesting now. It requires somebody to have packs of these colors. They have to change them out. That’s the problem they’re trying to solve here.
The problem really is just fine, if it’s full color 3D printing for your kids, or if you’re just doing this for a hobby or fun, and you’re getting close enough to the color. But if you’re going to use full color 3D printing for professional purposes, you need to do an exact match, it’s not going to work this way. It can work! I just don’t think these 5 filaments are going to make that happen.
Some of you may be thinking, “Oh we don’t care. We’re just doing teaching to students how to use 3D printers and get a bunch of colors. They’ll be happier. It doesn’t matter if they can achieve a certain color in full color 3D printing.” If that’s the case, then that is wonderful. By all means go for it. We’d be very happy for you. If the professional world, we are professional designers, in the real world of design and production of just about anything, whether you’re a graphic designer and you’re producing the graphic identity of a company. You’re doing collateral material for treat show or posters or Hollywood and movie posters, the world of color gets incredibly specific. There is no compromise in the professional world of color. You need it to be that certain color. It has to be that color. There is no substitute.
I’m professional at this. Sometimes, it would take 10 or 12 tries for a factory to color-match something properly. You do a back and forth. You have to know how exactly to advise them; how to shift the plastic color. Sometimes, they have to start all over again with a different filler base and a different base tone color. That’s how that works. It’s the same way when I dye fabrics. It’s the same way that I mix paint colors with clients. It’s always in there. These are not optical measures of colors in an output. That’s where the differentiation is.
You could equate it to a recipe for baking a flavor of a cake. You’ve got mix the ingredients just right to achieve the end-result that you want. It’s going to be very difficult with these colors. To this analogy, people may say “If it’s vanilla-ish or Strawberry-ish, I’ll be happy.” That’s great! I’m talking about professionally getting it to be French Vanilla taste or something like that. You need to be accurate about it.
The real argument I have aside from the fact that I think that these things need to have multiple packs of colors in order to say that you can achieve any color, hue, tone, tan, or shade. Any is very misleading. You can achieve many more than any other printers. It’s very fair to say. But, it’s a bit misleading.
They have 3 hot ends. They don’t just have one. You can do a flex material. That’s a different material for flexible material and for soluble material. They have a single hot end for similar materials. I remember the predecessor to this. A printer more than a year ago, maybe a year and a half ago, it came out. I had been doing a lot of work with dual extrusion machines that printed with two nozzles. It was a night mare-ish just getting two nozzles to be co-planar, to be perfectly level, in the same plane with the print bed. They had their predecessor printer that had 5 nozzles to mix a bunch of different colors. Their software has done as well blending of colors. But, I just can’t imagine the headaches I would have leveling 5 different nozzles. I’m very happy to see that they have come and blend them into one nozzle which a lot of 3D printers are doing as well.
It makes sense that you have a separate nozzle for your support and another one for flex if that’s what you need. I also liked it from a technical perspective. It’s a Bowden machine. They’re pushing a material up from the side, up over an arch, and down to the middle, with multiple colors and multiple materials. That’s not the best situation. I understand why they did it at from a practical standpoint because the weight is going around on the hot end. One of the things I did like about the Dutch Builder is their drive motors were right there at the hot end, moving around with it, it made much more accurate control of these filaments. There’s always going to be some slop and lag time in terms of the retraction with this type of machine.
It’s going to complicate the amount of waste that you might have. What they show here in their video and photos is a rainbow vase. They’re doing a color rainbow. Towards the bottom of that, when you mix it from blue and the purple, you’re just using really 2 of those colors. When you have purple and the red, you’re mixing mostly 2 of those filaments. You’re not mixing all 5. For a lot of colors, you might end up with mud. It’s much easier when you do a gradient. You just go from one color to another consistently. You never have to purge the nozzle.
They’ve given an example making a chameleon. It has different colors in different parts of it. That kind of print while it’s great to achieve it, it’s going to take a long time to print because every time it changes color within a layer, it has to move the nozzle over somewhere and purge the material out.
They are sometimes using the infill area to purge the material. They say that the printers can purge the materials to the infill areas that you would never notice it. That’s great! But not every model you would print has enough in-fill areas to be able to dump all of the excess plastic so you have to dump it somewhere else.
When I was looking through their site and checking things out on full color 3D printing, it seems that they’re offering up a subscription to AutoDesk and AutoDesk Fusion 360. Is that the software that you think is doing color-mixing for them? It can’t be Simplify3D because we found that to be inadequate in terms of the color-mixing portion. Simplify3D, I haven’t checked on the list of updates to see if they’re doing blending of colors. But I know that they do on their Kickstarter on their homepage, they do list Simplify3D as a software that is compatible or being used with printers.
I don’t think the AutoDesk is one. It looks to me there’s a different software that they were using for the blending. Maybe, some are proprietary. It would have to be a proprietary software for mixing these filaments and trying to get a predictable result. The AutoDesk Fusion 360 is just a high-end CAD program that’s recommended. It’s an interesting machine, incredibly complex, admirable the goal that they are going for.
Hopefully, setting this up and configuring it isn’t a real super challenge. I wish it showed more examples of products that they’ve designed in blended colors and multiple colors. It’s not just a vase. A vase is really an easy object to try to show the arrangement of colors in. I would rather see more practical applications of multi-colored printing like chameleon or gecko. It was just a really simple one.
Kudos to RoVa4D for pushing the edge and trying to move through 3D printing further with full color 3D printing, I’m all for that! That’s exciting! These are just samples on their site. This goes to yesterday’s podcast, in a sense. This is not really showing off well what you can and should be doing. If you’re going to do something that is supposed to be so designer-ish and high-end in terms of its capabilities, you better get some models that actually are.
Just to tell people to download stuff on Thingiverse and repaint it in their system, it’s not okay. This has to go beyond that and what you show it being capable of. That’s where I question the amount of trial and error and the testing that has been done on the colors’ choices.
They’re going to find as they spend more time, and this is an established company, they’ve got a bunch of employees. They aren’t sure about a lot of these things, but they’re going to find as time goes on that the color-mixing is more limited than they thought it would be or expected it to be.
In order to make every color of a rainbow, you’re going to need a dozen of different colors. If they separate that in subsets, you can achieve a lot of colors with one group or another group, rather than just CMYK. The whole idea conceptually is a little misleading that you can achieve any printer that your inkjet can achieve or you can achieve any color for that rainbow. It’s not true.
It goes against the same thing that we keep telling all of these 3D print manufacturers, when we do reviews and another things. It’s a cop out to say it can do anything that you let your customers do all the testing for you. It is not okay. You need to have and be testing, everything yourself. If every color is not achievable and you don’t try to print out that color and see what it looks like and make sure that it’s output and input are the same things. When I put it in CMYK and their software, it comes out and it doesn’t match, then you have to make an algorithm adjustment. You need to make the match. Somebody needs to be sitting there and testing that.
Not one of these companies reaching out to color experts, I know I’m not the only one in the world who can do this. I’m one of the very few, but not one person has ever contacted me and asked for an opinion on this. I find it really difficult that these companies are going in here and do this. You’re going to end up with a lot of back lash. When designers don’t see that this is a great tool, or a great machine, it’s a hobby machine again. Now, you’re into it. It is a high-priced hobby machine.
They’re not really giving you, like you said real word examples. Here on the Kickstarter page for 3D Printing, it says “Not only can it blend CMYK and white to create any color in the rainbow,” which I unfortunately know is not true that they can possibly create every color in the rainbow. There is big gap out there. If you think of that language as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, it’s just the rainbow.
Maybe you can create the colors that are in a rainbow which is really what they are showing in the vase. The implication is any color in the spectrum of colors, that’s not true because we’re talking about light verses pigment– two different things.
We just want to raise that. It’s the thought process of this. They have potential and they have a lot more work. They’re doing a great thing. I hope they are very successful. I hope the people who buy the machine would love the machine. I hope they would enjoy using them and get a lot of them.
Price of Full Color 3D Printing
I just feel compelled to point out people that this is a little bit of what I call a rosy senario that it’s really going to do all of that. It’s not a cheap printer. The rewards to get one are you’re talking about $4,500 to $4,800 to get one. That’s a Canadian dollar. It’s like $3,400 American dollars to get one.
The other thing is if you want to be the first to get one, you’ve got to pay more. If you’re only going to pay about $5,000, you can bump yourself to the top of the list. You’re paying for it. That’s a good reward plan. Not everybody finds out about it before early bird ones are gone. It’s a pretty smart plan.
This company has been around for a while. They’ve done kick starters and fulfilled themselves. I don’t think they’re a big risk. It brings a lot of very interesting technical issues to the forefront of the consciousness and good food for the discussion today.
Let’s just agree to respect each other and have a good conversation about it. I would enjoy that. I look forward to be able to put this thing through its paces when it comes out and it’s actually live and we’re able to review one. That would be great.
It may or may not let us. It’s not a criticism. The machine looks really sound from an engineering standpoint. It’s conceptually the fact that doesn’t translate to be able to do any color. It could be “Challenge accepted!” We’ll give them a color and try to and see if they can. I hope you can do it. It’s all in good time.
- RoVa4D Full Color 3D Printer on Kickstarter
- RoVA3D 5 Nozzle 3D Printer
- Double Dutch Builder 3D Printer
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