With FDM printing there’s a good range of colours to use for common materials, but the ability to combe those colours has to date been rather limited. There are several printers that can use 2 colours in a print, the Prusa i3 Mk2 and Mk3 can use a multi-material update for as many as 4 colours, but they’re still separate elements of the print, not a mixing option. There have been experiments to mix filament once melted, but none have made it to market.
However, now XYZ Printing have announced the arrival of their Da Vinci Color, which can print using their proprietary PLA and ink cartridges to produce full-colour 3D prints. So, is this a revolution?
The promotional images of full-colour models certainly look impressive, but how useful is this going to be? There are limitations here. Firstly, the process only works with PLA and XYZ’s proprietary PLA at that. PLA is a popular material, easy to print with and relatively cheap, but it’s not appropriate for all uses. Then there’s the “inkjet” colouring system, anyone that’s put an inkjet printed poster in their window will know that the Sun will make short work of those vibrant colours; will the same happen with these prints? This is also FDM technology, with the same limitations of all FDM prints – limited detail, the need for supports on overhangs, etc.
One good application for this technology is likely to be in character and human modelling (and it can be no coincidence that the majority of the models shown in the above image are animals/characters). 3D prints of human beings, both head only and full body are becoming increasingly popular and being able to apply full colour to those prints is likely to only increase their popularity. It will also be useful for game/CGI designers who will be able to show a full-colour version of their creation to hold in the hand without the need for a long and complex painting process.
However, at €3,500 (price as at September 2017), this printer is in the same bracket as the Ultimaker 3 and Form 2 machines and unless there’s substantial demand (I have yet to be asked, even in a casual enquiry, about full-colour printing), it’s debatable how sensible a business purchase this will be.