A few weeks ago, we were absolutely excited over the over the prospect of the ProDesk3D, a full-color 3D printer in the works from a New York-based startup named botObjects. Unlike every 3D printer that we've seen so far, the ProDesk3D color palate isn't limited to a handful of pre-colored spools of plastic. This printer promised to create a whole rainbow of colors, not unlike an inkjet printer using a five-color cartridge.
It was an amazing promise accompanied by a pair of computer-generated images of the printer with too many unanswered questions. In fact, there was more we didn't know about the ProDesk3D than what we did know. We didn't know what combination of five colors it would mix together, how it would print, what it could actually print, when it would come out, or how much it would cost.
First off, an answer to the burning question: How does the ProDesk3D pull off its full-color 3D-printing process? According to botObjects, it's all in the mixing chamber. The printer injects five colors of PLA (Polylactic Acid) plastic--cyan, magenta, yellow, black, and white--into a mixing chamber at different proportions to create a wide array of colors. Once the colored plastic runs through the mixing chamber, it's released through one of the printer's dual extruding heads, while the other head extrudes the PVA scaffolding material that supports your model as it prints.
But multi-color printing is only part of the story. BotObjects also hopes to improve the output quality of extrusion-based 3D printing in general. Most current consumer-grade 3D printers have limited printing resolution, with visible layers that make printouts look and feel little rough.
"The thing about fused deposition material [FDM] desktop printers is most people haven't seen 25-micron height layering and they're wondering where the lines are," botObjects co-founder Mike Duma told TechHive. "If you take our contemporaries like the MakerBot, which is printing at 100 microns, you can see lines."
By quadrupling the resolution of filament-based 3D prints, botObjects essentially wants to do to extrusion-based 3D printing what Apple's Retina Display did with smartphone screens with its tiny, imperceptible pixels.
To prove the point, botObjects released a close-up photo of a 3D-printed vase that has nearly perfectly smooth surfaces to show what the printer can do. Martin says that people who saw the image on the botObjects site asked them if the vase was treated with acetone, which melts and smooths most 3D printer plastics, because 25 micron resolution printing has never been achieved with FDM printing before. According to Martin, only stereolithography (SLA) printing techniques--as used by the Formlabs and Nanoscribe printers--have been able to achieve this high of a print resolution.
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