3-D printing has come a long way since the first rapid prototyping patent was rejected in 1980. The technology has evolved from basic designs to a wide range of highly-customizable objects. Still, there’s a big issue: Once objects are printed, they’re final. If you need a change, you’ll need a reprint.
But imagine if that weren’t the case — if, for example, you could change the color of your smartphone case or earrings on demand.
Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have gotten closer to making that a reality. In a new paper, they present ColorMod, a method for repeatedly changing the colors of 3-D printed objects, after fabrication.
Using their own 3-D printable ink that changes color when exposed to ultraviolet light, the team can recolor a multicolored object in just over 20 minutes — and they say they expect that number to decrease significantly with future improvements.
While the project is currently focused on plastics and other common 3-D printing materials, the researchers say that eventually people could instantly change the color of their clothes and other items.
“Largely speaking, people are consuming a lot more now than 20 years ago, and they’re creating a lot of waste,” says Stefanie Mueller, the X-Consortium Career Development Assistant Professor in the departments of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering. “By changing an object’s color, you don’t have to create a whole new object every time.”
Mueller co-authored the paper with postdoc Parinya Punpongsanon, undergraduate Xin Wen, and researcher David Kim. It has been accepted to the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, which takes place in April in Montreal.
How it works
Previous color-changing systems have been somewhat limited in their capabilities, using single colors and 2-D designs, for example.
To move beyond single-color systems, the team developed a simple hardware/software workflow. First, using the ColorMod interface, users upload their 3-D model, pick their desired color patterns, and then print their fully colored object.