The idea of a 3D printer with one nozzle and four filaments going into it is amazing, and the piece of hardware that comes along it would be as equally amazing because it would be able to print one object with four different and solid colors. This is still a complex area in the world of 3D printing and it would be understandable if the actual printer was not coming out soon. However, at the 3D Printer Display Exhibit at SXSW there was a display of a 3D printers with CMYK printing features. While the display piece itself looks promising the features that it promises at that moment was truly questionable, mainly because perfectly printing every pantone color in CMYK is still not achievable. While most 3D printers came out from kickstarters, it is was a wise choice to keep your eyes open for what you’re going to be getting.
Listen to the podcast here:
What To Watch Out For From The 3D Printer Display Exhibit at SXSW
I want to talk to you about something else that I did at South by Southwest. I went to walk their trade show floor, that’s what they call it. They have very large trade show floor and there’s a wide variety of different kinds of businesses showing there. A lot of it has to do with cutting edge technology and other aspects of disruptive technology and it’s all over the map. I was hoping I would go find several 3D printing companies showing there and in fact, there ended up being only one. I walked on floor and checked that out. I also did a live stream video from the floor right there on that day, which if you follow us on our Facebook @3DStartPoint, you can see that video.
The company that was there and I want to talk about a little bit is M3D. We actually reviewed their M3D original 3D printer, which is a very small consumer home 3D printer. A very small footprint, very lightweight, very inexpensive, easy to operate, it was originally a Kickstarter. We got one in for review and there’s no beating around the bush, we did not give this printer a good review. We had a very difficult experience working with it. Like we do with any 3D printer, we really put a lot of time into it and we gave it our absolute best effort, including reaching out to their customer service multiple times over the course of probably six weeks to try to work with them and see what was it we were missing and why wouldn’t it work? You can go check out that review on 3DStartPoint.com. There’s a blog post there for it and you can also listen to the podcast episode where we discussed all the things. I’m not going to rehash all that now because that’s really not what I’m here to talk about.
M3D was there and while they were still showing that particular printer, they were showing two new printers and one of them is a combination 3 in 1 printer called Snapmaker that is a 3D printer, a laser engraver and a CNC carver. That was interesting to see. It wasn’t operating. I can’t tell you a whole lot about it other than it’s available for pre-order and I have some information on it. It’s listed as available for $799. What was more interesting and noteworthy that I want to talk about is another printer that they were showing and it’s called M3D Promega. Its name would indicate that it’s a more professional printer and they’re calling it mega because it’s really big and it is really big. Its outer case design-wise is made to look very, very similar to their original M3D little plastic cube printer but this one’s made of aluminum. It was not a factory made production unit, but a prototype, it was beat up. The aluminum had scratches, a lot of scratches on the side of it. It didn’t even have a nozzle installed so they weren’t demonstrating it. They were just showing the frame of the printer and showing objects that have been printed on it.
What’s notable is that it has a 15.3-inch cube build volume and it’s got a dual-zone heated bed. I would imagine that means you can use many different materials, not just PLA. Then it says it’s using open source firmware, hardware and software and that’s a big difference. M3Ds original printer, you had to use their own software. Then it said it has a direct drive dual extruder and compound hot ends. I don’t know exactly what all those details mean different things to different companies. I did speak with the person operating the booth and I’m glad to see that the company is still in business and that they are making new 3D printers. They had this one out for pre-order again. Pricing from the low $1,600 range that said it has an MSRP value of $3,500. They were touting it as a machine that has a single extruder that you put four filaments into. He was saying, not only to me but other people passing by the booth that you can put four filaments into it and use Cyan Magenta, Yellow and Black and do CMYK 3D printing.
This is where I stopped and said, “We got to talk about that a little more because I’ve seen other printers and other print companies printer manufacturers say the same thing or go down this path and try to achieve that.” The person operating the booth was touting that, “You could do CMYK printing.” This other person had walked up to the booth, a nice professional woman who was interested in this CMYK printing. He was absolutely definitively saying, you can achieve any color. She said, ” I could match a pantone?”and he said yes. I really just do not believe that from our experience with 3D printers that use more than one color and are using filaments. It just does not correlate from CMYK printing, like in an inkjet printer or in a color laser printer or even in a full color CMYK process printing at a real printer like a digital offset printing service. It just does not work the same way. Printers that are conventional ink or laser or digital offset printers using CMYK or either using a dot screen, an optical mixture of laying down those different colors or different layers on top of each other that when they print on top of white paper, they come and create the same colors and blend those colors and make a lot of colors of the rainbow.
Even if you wanted to choose a color from the pantone color library, even CMYK in and of itself isn’t capable of achieving every pantone color out there. There are certain ranges that cannot be achieved unless you’re going to do a different kind of a four color process. If you’re working in Photoshop, if you’re creating something in RGB versus CMYK there are different color images you can achieve. Now, we get back to the difference between printing CMYK on paper and printing CMYK with plastic filament. The concentration of the dyes in the filament is just not capable of achieving all the same color ranges, mixing them together that the conventional CMYK printing does. You would at minimum have to do CMYK and add a fifth one white because you’re certainly not mixing this filament and printing it on white paper and on any white-based material. There’s a one initial flaw in that scenario. Even with the concentration of the pigments in the plastic, it just doesn’t work the same way. You’d have to create such highly concentrated filament, having so much more pigment in it and then precisely mix those different filaments to try to achieve those colors.
Honestly, to achieve the whole range of color spectrum, you’d probably have to use seven or eight different filaments going into create a mixture of plastic that would achieve any color. Even that would be quite difficult to achieve and probably not very practical at all. It’s much more practical, and I love the idea of a printer that has one nozzle and four filaments going into it because you can print with four different solid colors in one object and use one and then stop extruding that one and start using another one and you only have one nozzle so you’re not going to have problems with multiple nozzles needing to be coplanar and calibrated to the build service. I’ve got no issue with the actual hardware of this new printer, if it eventually achieves what it wants to.
The idea that you’re going to be able to print with CMYK on an FFF 3D printer that has four filaments going into it and achieve much other than the primary colors, one of each going into it or certain shades of certain colors you’ll be able to achieve, a lot of the time what you’re going to achieve is probably something pretty muddy and not on target with the color that you want to create. My issue is really more with how the company was promoting this printer at a trade show and what they were telling people than anything else. I just don’t think that you’re going to be able to do real seem like you’re printing. Maybe the people engineering this printer back at the home office really understand that. There’s probably still a great value to this printer platform, but in terms of CMYK printing, that’s not it.
The guy in the booth said, “I’ve got this sample I’m going to show you. It’s a cube that has a range of different colors and it’ll show you we can achieve any color we want to on this printer.”He finally brought it out he said, “This is proof that we can achieve any color in CMYK. I looked at this thing and it’s a cube clearly that is printed using two filaments, not four. It’s using a yellow filament and a blue filament and it’s printing a gradient, starting with yellow at the bottom, slowly changing the percentage of each filament and toward the top of the cube where it’s all blue. In the middle there are some mixtures and some shades of green. Even on two different faces of the cube, two different vertical faces, it’s printing layer by layer going up. You have a one side that’s in the X direction and one’s in the Y direction, you can even see that the printer wasn’t even consistently laying down the yellow and the blue from one side to the next.
That’s probably because the mixing chamber and the nozzle was not really fully mixing the material before it extruded it. That’s probably because the material was not fully mixed in the nozzle before it extruded it. On some faces you get a little more yellow, on other faces you get a little more blue because those filaments are extruding out of that nozzle like Aquafresh toothpaste, if you’re familiar with how that looks. Obviously, they’ve got multiples of two or three different colors coming out of the toothpaste. This is just two colors, but think of extruding yellow and blue out one nozzle with blue, primarily on one half of that theoretical cylinder being extruded and yellow, theoretically on the other half of the cylinder being extruded and because the way our nozzle works, on one side you’re going to have more yellow showing and the other side more of a mix and on the opposite side, more of a blue showing because again, it’s not really mixing them.
This cube proves my point that they’re not really fully mixing these colors in the nozzle and printing the true mixed colors and that it’s not as easy as they may think it is or think it’s going to be. I got no problem with the printer or what they’re trying to provide in terms of a good piece of hardware that has more capabilities than any of their other printers, but don’t try and promote it as a CMYK printer because it’s just not going to be. If anybody out there disagrees with me on this, have some other experience, I would love to hear it. I’d love to have what I would call a reasonable, professional conversation about it. I’m willing to be convinced if you think I’m wrong, but in my experience is just not going to happen and I stand by that as of now anyway. The other thing that I was surprised that is M3D is taking pre-orders for this. They mentioned that the pre-order time period was going to end really soon.
I just want to make a statement sort of as a public service to all of you out there on WTFFF. If you’re going to put down a significant amount of money somewhere in the minimum of $1,600 here, but by the time you’re shipping it, you’ve got to be over $2,000, minimum. They said MSRP values $3,500 so I’m sure they’re thinking, “You’re buying it for roughly half of that price. It’s a deal, “and it may very well be. If you’re relatively early in your 3D printing experience, I would not recommend pre-ordering, prepaying for a 3D printer that is so new, it’s unproven and they’re not even demonstrating it actually printing at a trade show like this. They’re showing a rough prototype that has a lot of potential and that’s great. I would never buy a printer like that unless I actually was seeing it printing and could understand a lot more detail about it. I saw a lot more parts being printed off of it and had more faith that this is going to come to fruition in anything close to what is being promised. I think it’s just a risky proposition and it’s a lot of money to plunk down. Unless you happen to be someone that has a lot of money and you’re willing to spend that money on an experiment, on the hope that this printer will achieve what you want to achieve.
There’s another company that we’ve been following and talked a little bit about from time-to-time on this show that has been developing a similar size build volume, FFF 3D printer with a nozzle that has four filaments going into it. They’ve been working on this for a couple of years and it’s still not out being delivered to the customers yet. This is complex stuff in the world of 3D printing. It takes a very long time to work out these details and they’re building a hardware frame and structure with a big build volume is one thing. That’s I think a known quantity and you can have faith that someone can build a large more heavy duty printer, open sourced software and hardware firmware, that’s great because you’re going to be able to customize it to meet your needs. When it comes to the details of the software in terms of slicing and printing, especially when it comes to changing filament colors within that nozzle in the middle of a print and how’s it going to purge that stuff out to get from one color to another. What about the software that’s going to do gradients and blends? It’s complex stuff. Even if the hardware is capable, the software may still have some issues.
You might remember we did a review of the Builder Dual 3D printer. If you go to 3DStartPoint.com, you can actually search on 3D printer reviews and find it. It did a similar thing. That was only putting two filaments into one nozzle, but this gradient issue and mixing of colors we found was very much the same as what I described I was seeing here in this sample cube that they had at M3Ds booth at South by Southwest. There’s a lot of work that’s been done in this area already. I can predict a lot of the issues, they’re probably having, a lot of the challenges they’re facing and these are not easy things to solve. I’m not saying the printer is going to be worth anything at the end of the day. It may very well be and again, the hardware will probably be in a lot of ways, maybe more capable than the software or the application to that hardware.
In this case, M3D is reinventing a wheel that others have already been working on and are much further ahead on it. I do question the merit of pre-selling it. I know a lot of companies like to go to Kickstarter or use other ways to pre-sell things to fund their product development because that’s very easy to fund it and not have to make that investment yourself before you have sales. That’s great but that’s a tall task you’re delivering and I think it’s going to be fraught with setbacks and potential for consumer dissatisfaction. I’m just wanting to say this, “Buyer, be aware if you’re one of the people that’s looking into pre-ordering one of these 3D printers. If you already have, just make sure you’re going into it with your eyes open. That’s all.
3D printers have been purchased on Kickstarter for a long time. Some of the greatest successes in desktop 3D printing have happened through a Kickstarter and that’s great. Just be aware, you’re not buying a proven product at this point. You’re hoping you’re going to get something that might be usable and just make sure you go into it with your eyes open, as I said. That was the only 3D printing experience other than our live recorded episode with Jay Samit and now has been released on our podcast feed and also the video on Facebook. Check that out @3DStartPoint on Facebook. I was sorry I didn’t see more 3D printer companies there because it’s a disruptive technology conference and 3D printing is still very disruptive and continues to be in many ways. I’m still very bullish on 3D printing, obviously. I’m so excited about it, but too bad there wasn’t more.
Send me a comment, reach out to us on Facebook. I’d be interested to hear what some of you think about M3D and this effort of pre-selling this printer out there and what they’re saying about the CMYK. Do you think I’m wrong on this or do you agree with me what I’m saying has merit and you’d be cautious to, or maybe you know something I don’t know. I’d love to hear about it. Tracy and I will be back next time with another great interview episode. Until then, this has been Tom on the WTFFF 3D Printing Podcast.
- South by Southwest
- live stream video
- M3D original 3D printer
- blog post – review on M3D original 3D printer
- M3D Promega
- Builder Dual 3D printer’s review
- Jay Samit’s interview
Listen | Download | View
Hear the episode of the WTFFF?! Podcast by using the player above OR click to download any episode.
Help Us Help You!
Have some feedback? Leave a comment below. We will read and respond