Most 3D printers let you create colorful objects, provided that you're willing to print out multiple pieces and connect them to each other. Artists and designers craving a little more variety in their palettes may want to take a look at the ProDesk3D printer, which can print in full color like an inkjet.
The ProDesk3D comes courtesy of botObjects, a New York- and London-based company that aims to deliver a consumer printer that's both feature-rich and affordable.
"Most [3D desktop printers] will extrude one color," Martin Warner, CEO and co-founder of botObjects, told TechNewsDaily. Warner explained that 3D printers employ technology called "extrusion heads," which emit filaments of different materials in the same way that inkjet printers produce ink.
"That allows you to have two or three predominant colors. We call those 'multicolor printers,'" Warner said. "A full color printer allows you to create your color of choice before you extrude." The ProDesk3D has two extrusion heads and provides five primary colors — including black — to allow for a much wider range of colors than the harsh pinks and muted whites that consumer-level 3D printers have traditionally used.
The ProDesk3D's creations possess fine detail in addition to rich color. "The highest resolution — the most accurate so far — had been 100 microns," Warner said, referring to how granular a layer on a printed object could be. "We can print at 25 microns, [which gives a] smooth finish."
Printing objects with realistic color gradation and no rough edges could be a boon not only for 3D printing enthusiasts, but for everyday consumers. "One of the interesting areas [for expansion] is at home. We're calling it home utility replacement," said Mike Duma, chief technology officer and co-founder of botObjects. "When you think about lightbulbs or anything with a plastic fixture, these things can be printed."
Changing lightbulbs may not be much fun, but games are. "Gaming is huge," Duma said. "Gaming consoles will start to release blueprints for their controllers." Video game controllers are sophisticated objects, and the ability to print unique controllers could be useful not only for design enthusiasts, but also for children, disabled players or pro gamers, for whom the traditional button setup may prove inefficient.
Home users may also find the device useful for building toys (RC cars are already a popular choice) and household objects that you never need until you need them, like picture frames and bookends. At 25-micron accuracy, people could even print dentures with firm enough material (although they should probably avoid the color printing feature). [See also: 10 Incredible 3-D Printed Products ]
The most exciting development that consumer-grade 3D printers could foster, Duma and Warner said, is the advent of household robots.
"[3D printing] enables you to enter that world of robotics, which was always very difficult to get into," Duma said. If users can iterate designs and develop prototypes rapidly, they could develop simple, functional robots for household tasks. "That really makes robotics accessible to the end-user, to the consumer, to the average person in the home."
Warner believes that 3D printing will make waves in the tech world similar to desktop PCs in the 80s and tablets in the last few years. "Tech is about to take a huge leap," he said. "I've never seen the advent of a new era like 3D desktop printing where the opportunities are exponential, both in terms of breadth and depth."
The ProDesk3D ranges from $2,849 to $3,749, depending on model and whether or not you pre-order: not cheap by any means, but also affordable for hobbyists who sell their work or small businesses. Warner believes that the device's speed, granularity and color palette make it an attractive choice, but acknowledges that the market for 3D printers is changing rapidly.
"We're quite a long way ahead of our competitors right now," he said, "but who knows where we'll be in two years?"
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