Can 3D printers print multiple colors?
Yes! 3D printing with multiple colors is possible. There are multicolor 3D printers, with two, three, four or even five colors, and there are full-color 3D printers with hundreds and thousands of colors.
Multicolor vs. full-color – what’s the difference?
We use the term “multicolor” to refer to 3D printing with, let’s say, two to five colors. This is generally the case with dual extruder 3D printers, multi-nozzle extruders, and/or filament-switching accessories.
“Full-color”, on the other hand, covers higher-grade 3D printers that are capable of mixing different colors together to obtain a certain tone to produce photorealistic color 3D prints. There are currently three 3D main printing processes capable of full-color 3D printing: material/binder jetting, lamination, and – more recently – extrusion.
A few full-color 3D printed parts made with Stratasys J750 and J735 3D printers.
Source: Computer Aided Technology
Multicolor 3D printers: dual extruders and independent dual extruders
Dual extruder 3D printers
Dual extruders 3D printers allow to 3D print objects with 2 filaments of different colors. These are some examples of 2-color 3D printers on the market:
- Anet A8-M dual extruder 3D printer kit ($330; check price on Amazon)
- Creality CR-X dual extruder 3D printer kit ($799; check price on Amazon)
- Raise3D N2 Dual professional 3D printer ($3,999; see on MatterHackers)
Independent dual extruder 3D printers (IDEX)
These multi-color 3D printers are basically dual-extruder 3D printers but the two extruders can move independently. This allows users to 3D print two identical objects at the same time. Here are some IDEX (Independent Dual Extruder) desktop 3D printers:
- BCN3D Sigma R19 professional IDEX 3D printer ($3,500)
- MakerGear Ultra One professional high-temperature 3D printer ($9,999)
- Sindoh 3DWOX 2X desktop IDEX 3D printer for professionals ($3,500)
BCN3D’s Duplication mode on the Sigma R19.
Four-in-one-out extruder: M3D Crane Quad with QuadFusion
The M3D Crane Quad features a “four-in-one-out” extruder that the manufacturer calls QuadFusion Print Head. This extruder mixes four CMYK filaments together to produce over 50,000 colors. Since the nozzle must purge for each change of color, however, it won’t be ideal (time-wise and waste-wise) for 3D prints with more than a few colors. Thus, the M3D Crane Quad is, in theory, capable of full-color 3D printing but is better adapted to multicolor 3D printing.
The M3D Crane Quad 3D printing multicolor objects.
Multi-material 3D printer add-ons and accessories
Users can transform almost any basic FFF 3D printer into a multicolor 3D printer thanks to special add-ons and accessories.
Prusa multi-material add-on
Prusa Research is a highly-regarded desktop 3D printer manufacturer led by Josef Prusa, creator of the Prusa i3 3D printer model. Anyone with an Original Prusa i3 MK3 or MK2.5 can transform it into a 5-color 3D printer with the Prusa multi-material add-on ($299).
3D printed Josef Prusa with the Prusa multi-material add-on.
Mosaic Manufacturing Palette 2
This filament-splicing accessory is compatible with dozens of 3D printers from brands such as Raise3D, Creality, Anet, Geeetech or LulzBot. The Mosaic Palette multicolor add-on is available at the price of $599 and feeds 3D printers up to 4 colors or materials at a time.
Otherwise, it’s possible to pause a 3D print, manually swap the filaments, and resume 3D printing. This is, however, a little tricky, and won’t work if the colors need to be changed often (i.e. it could be fine for an object whose bottom half is purple and top half is blue).
Mosaic Manufacturing’s Palette 2, a filament-switching accessory for multi-material and multicolor 3D printing.
3D model painting software
SimplyColor3D slicing software allows you to paint your OBJ models via a web-based interface. The Gcode is then sent to you by email, along with instructions for when to change filaments.
SimplyColor3D also features a retractable purging mechanism. Instead of 3D printing large, wasteful purge blocks, only small blobs of material are used to change colors. More information: Painting 3D models for multicolor 3D printing.
Other ways to get multicolor 3D prints: color 3D print post-processing
If a multi-nozzle 3D printer or multi-filament add-on is out of the question, there’s always post-processing. Users can 3D print with white material and paint over the object or even melt crayons (what?)!
For professional color post-processing, the go-to service bureau is DyeMansion; their RAL palette for laser-sintered parts gives customers a limitless choice of colors and finishes.