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MIT’s New ColorFab Process Recolors 3-D Printed Objects

If you need to see the way forward for 3-D printing, ask Stefanie Mueller for a demo. A pc scientist at MIT, Mueller’s work has concerned initiatives like creating a laser-cutting system to make delicate, 3-D printed origami. Now, Mueller and a group at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab are introducing a brand new sort of 3-D printable ink that makes it attainable to recolor 3-D objects after they’ve been printed.

The technique, referred to as ColorFab, combines a 3-D printing interface and a particular kind of 3-D printable ink that modifications colours when activated by gentle. Together, the system makes it attainable to dynamically change and customise an object’s look many instances. “This basically works in the same way as an E Ink display,” says Mueller.

Stefanie Mueller


In the ColorFab interface, customers can create a 3-D mannequin of the article they need to print together with a layer of Mueller’s color-changing ink on prime. Once the article is printed, customers can change its shade—and even recolor sure components or patterns on the article—by returning to the ColorFab interface, choosing the areas to recolor, after which activating these areas with UV gentle.

The particular sauce is the ink. Mueller’s system combines a base dye, a photograph initiator, and dose of photochromic ink, or ink that may change colours when activated by gentle at a sure wavelength. Photochromic inks aren’t new, however earlier formulation may solely activate one shade and that shade change solely lasted so long as the article was uncovered to UV gentle—so, an object may flip from clear to blue in daylight after which return to clear when indoors. The ColorFab technique includes portray a dense multi-color sample onto objects after which selectively activating or deactivating sure colours with gentle—solely activating blue, for instance, whereas deactivating all different colours—which makes it attainable to alter a single object to many various colours. Mueller’s ink may also maintain its shade after the sunshine supply is switched off.


Since portray the extremely particular multi-color sample by hand could be inconceivable, the ColorFab system is designed particularly to work with the precision of 3-D printers, the place photochromic inks have not beforehand been used. Right now, the recoloring course of takes about 20 minutes, however Mueller says it may doubtlessly get sooner with a extra highly effective gentle supply or a barely totally different ink system that features extra of the photochromic ink. As the recoloring course of accelerates, Mueller hopes to see extra objects manufactured utilizing strategies like this one, which permit customers to customise the issues they already personal.

“Imagine you want to match your iPhone case to the clothing you’re wearing today,” says Mueller. With ColorFab, she says, “you don’t have to consume new materials. You can repurpose the stuff you already have.”

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