Multi-immersion hydrographic printing for complex shapes.
There are a range of techniques for both industrial and professional users, to tinkerers and makers, with the likes of Mcor’s system which prints a bitmap image onto a part down to the colourful single head extrusion techniques we have seen from Spectrom.
A team of researchers at Zhejiang University and Columbia University have come up with a new form of applying colour which can effectively place any image onto a 3D printed object with a technique known as 'water transfer printing'.
Image printed onto PVA film.
Computational hydrographic printing builds on the hydrographic printing method which sees a printed pattern on clear PVA film placed onto a liquid and sprayed with a chemical formula. A 3D object is then immersed into the water and as if by magic, the image bonds to its surface.
Repetitive patterns and wrap around colours are well suited to this method. Traditionally immersed by hand, these types of designs can afford a little freedom because they don’t require precise positioning. But what if we wanted to print something a little more complicated like a face or an animal?
Reserved for transferring patterns onto simple surfaces, this method lacks a great deal of precision and can result in images on more complex objects becoming distorted. To overcome this, researchers have enlisted the help of an Xbox Kinect camera and unique software to accurately align surface textures to 3D surfaces. The software uses texture tracking to map the points on the colour film and ensure the surface locations are transferred to the correct location. The process is joined by a unique 3D vision system which measures the objects orientation and dripping location and allows them to virtually simulate distortion.
Traditional hydrographic printing, even with its limitations, is pretty impressive to watch as it is. You can immerse an entire car part and within seconds, have a glossy finished, custom piece. It might look like magic but partnered with this computational approach, the possibilities for customisation and rapid application of colour to 3D printed parts have been made all the more real. With the demand for figurines and lifelike 3D prints from scans dominating the market, this technology could prove to be the next big step.