A cheap solution for multi-color desktop 3D printing is coming

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Credit: Spectrom

The biggest hurdle to bringing full-color desktop 3D printing to all is really a software problem, and a Madison, Wis., startup believes it is close to a solution.

When I first checked in with Spectrom last March, co-founders Cedric Kovaks-Johnson and Charles Haider were able to print each layer of an object in a different color. Desktop 3D printing has long been a one- or two-color affair. Printers that work in two colors tend to have two nozzles, each of which draws plastic filament from a different spool. Not Spectrom. The startup actually uses ink to dye the same strand of filament different colors along its length, opening up a full range of colors.

Since March, the team, which is now composed of four people, has accomplished printing multiple colors in a single layer (a feat that won the team the undergraduate Collegiate Inventors Competition in November). The transition between colors is also now sharp; shifting from yellow to blue does not yield a patch of green in the middle.

But the final hurdle is allowing each tiny pixel of 3D printed material to take any color. Spectrom’s system uses inks to dye filament different colors. Its software designates the exact amount of filament that needs to be dyed for a red layer or a blue square within a layer. It’s much more complicated to build software that can account for the color of each drop of filament, but Spectrom believes it is doable.

A release date has not yet been set for Spectrom, but the startup is working toward an independent release and integrating with partners. Spectrom appeared at CES with ROBO, a 3D printer maker that is considering integrating Spectrom directly into its printers.

Spectrom has patented its software, add-on hardware and custom filaments and inks, but Kovaks-Johnson said the goal is “not to gouge people.”

“We want to make sure this is a really fair and inexpensive way to use color,” Kovaks-Johnson said.

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