Adding multiple colors to 3D-printed parts has been challenging. There was a time that if you wanted to add an extra color dimension to printed parts, you would have to pause the printer, and manually swap the filament to the second color.
Or, failing that, you may have had to get a little busy with a paintbrush.
Luckily, those times are behind us, and multi-color 3D printing is becoming more widespread.
Multi-colour 3D printing is not only great for enhancing the aesthetics of printed parts, but it can increase design flexibility and save time when compared to painting or manually swapping filaments.
There are folks from all walks of life who can benefit from printing in multi-colors, including architects, product designers, and even cosplayers.
So whether you are looking for a solution for printing multi-colored parts at home, or in the workplace, rest assured that there is a range of options for all budgets.
Now, you can create multi-colored prints with ease and give your parts that extra touch of realism.
In this article, we will be taking a look at several options for multi-colored printing to suit different budgets.
How Multi-Color 3D Printing Works
As there are different methods of 3D printing, there are also different means of printing in multiple colors.
The most widespread multi-color 3D printers are FDM-based. FDM printers make use of thermoplastic filaments as their feedstocks.
The most common method of printing with multiple colors on an FDM system is to have two extruders fitted to the machine. Each extruder will have a different colored filament feeding into it and will alternate between extruders according to the instructions sent to the printer.
Some newer FDM systems even have a single hotend into which the two different colored filaments feed, and an internal mechanism in the hotend will switch between filaments as required.
We will take a look at some examples of these machines later in the article.
Multi-color printing can also be achieved with material jetting printers, such as those that use Polyjet technology. Polyjet 3D printing is a type of 3D printing technology that allows for the creation of complex, multi-colored and multi-material objects.
It works by using multiple inkjet-style heads to deposit droplets of photopolymer material onto a build plate.
The print heads can deposit different colored materials and even different types of materials. These droplets are then cured with a UV light source, and the process is repeated until the desired object is built up layer by layer.
Polyjet 3D printing is known for its ability to produce highly detailed and accurate parts with a smooth finish, making it well-suited for a wide range of applications, including prototyping, manufacturing, and product development.
In terms of resin printing systems such as DLP or SLA, there is ongoing research into multi-color printing with these technologies, but there are no commercial solutions available at present.
If you wanted to print with multiple colors on an SLA printer, you would have to stop the print and swap the resin out – this is time-consuming and messy, and will be a headache for most people.
So if you want to print multi-color prints with SLA or DLP, then our advice is to wait until there is a commercially available system that is capable of doing so.
Until then, your best options for multi-color 3D printing lie within the domains of FDM and jet-type printers.
5 Best Multi-Color 3D Printers
So you have decided that you want to add an extra color dimension to your prints. You have come to the right place!
Here are 5 great options that you can use to get printing with multiple colors:
|Printer||Technology||Build Volume||Machine Size (W/L/H in mm)|
|LulzBot TAZ Pro||FFF||280 x 280 x 285 mm||832 x 710 x 520|
|Ultimaker S5||FFF||330 x 240 x 300 mm||495 x 585 x 780|
|Stratasys J750||Polyjet||330 x 240 x 300 mm||1400 x 1260 x 1100|
|Bambu Lab X1||FFF||256 x 256 x 256 mm||389 x 389 x 457|
|Geeetch Mizar M||FFF||255 x 255 x 260 mm||400 x 465 x 484|
Now, I’ll show you why are these machines on this list and what are their capabilities in therm of multicolor printing.
LulzBot TAZ Pro
The LulzBot TAZ Pro is a professional-grade open-source desktop 3D printer made by Aleph Objects, Inc. It is part of the LulzBot line of 3D printers and is designed for high-quality, reliable 3D printing.
It works by switching between the two hotends, meaning that there is no capacity for gradient printing (unless you use a multicolored single filament).
Dual extrusion: The TAZ Pro is equipped with two independent E3D Titan Aero print heads, allowing it to print with multiple materials or colors in a single print.
Build volume: The printer has a large build volume of 280 x 280 x 285 mm, allowing you to print larger objects or multiple objects at once.
High resolution: The TAZ Pro has a minimum layer thickness of 50 microns, allowing for highly detailed and accurate prints. This enables finer color gradients as well as smoother prints.
Robust design: The printer is built with a sturdy and reliable design, featuring a rigid metal frame and high-quality components.
Open source: The TAZ Pro is an open-source printer, meaning that the design and operating software are freely available for users to modify and improve upon.
Overall, the LulzBot TAZ Pro is a versatile and reliable 3D printer that is well-suited for a wide range of professional and industrial applications.
Next on the list is the S5, from Dutch 3D printer manufacturer Ultimaker.
The S5 has dual extruders and swaps between colors by raising or lowering the second print head as needed. This allows you to create multi-colored models without having to pause the printing process to change filaments manually.
This also has no gradient capability, but creates prints with distinct colored sections.
Build volume: The Ultimaker S5 has a build volume of 330 x 240 x 300 mm, for bigger prints.
High resolution: The Ultimaker S5 has a minimum layer thickness of 20 microns, meaning your prints will be very detailed indeed.
Dual extrusion: The printer is equipped with two independent print heads, allowing it to print with multiple materials or colors in a single print.
Reliable design: The Ultimaker S5 is built with high-quality components and features an automated bed leveling system to ensure consistent print quality.
User-friendly interface: The printer has a user-friendly touchscreen interface that makes it easy to set up and control the printing process.
The Stratasys J750 is an industrial-grade printer that makes use of the aforementioned Polyjet technology.
It uses multiple print heads to deposit different colors and different materials onto the print bed before curing each layer with a UV curing system.
It also has the capability of printing textures thanks to its texture mapping feature, which creates models of frankly staggering realism.
The company behind the J750 printer called Stratasys Ltd is one of the first 3D printer manufacturers and also the company with the first FDM printer in its portfolio.
Multi-material printing: The J750 is capable of printing with up to six different materials in a single print, allowing for a wide range of creative possibilities.
Wide color range: The printer has a palette of over 360,000 colors, allowing you to create highly detailed and realistic models with a wide range of colors.
Build volume: The printer has a build volume of 330 x 240 x 300 mm, allowing you to print larger objects or multiple objects at once.
High resolution: The Stratasys J750 has a minimum layer thickness of 16 microns, allowing for highly detailed and accurate prints.
Automated support generation: The printer features an automated support generation system that creates custom support structures as needed, making it easier to print complex designs.
Multiple color options: The J series can print in RGB, CMYK, Pantone, or virtually any pattern. In fact, the J750 and J735 are the first 3D printers to be officially certified by Pantone.
$ 250000 USD
Bambu Lab X1
The Bambu Lab X1 is a fairly new printer from the Chinese company Bambu Lab, and it is a technological wonder.
It is a CoreXY design capable of multi-colored printing, and even features a micron-level mini LiDAR and vision camera which both level the bed, calibrate the flow and detect faults in the print job.
It features a single extruder, but the colors are switched by means of a filament cutter in the extruder. When it is time to switch color (or material), the cutter chops the filament before the hotend, and switches to another. Smart!
Build Volume: The X1 has a build volume of 256 x 256 x 256 mm.
mini-LIDAR: The X1 is the first commercial printer to feature mini-LIDAR for fault detection and bed leveling.
4 Filament Rolls: The X1 has 4 filament rolls, which can be blended to mix 16 colors.
Full metal hotend: This printer comes with full metal hotend allowing printing of up to 300 degrees Celcius, meaning you can print with not only multi-colors but with a wider range of filaments including PA, ABS, PC, ASA, and more.
CoreXY: The CoreXY motion system allows rapid printing, and can boost speeds by 8x, resulting in a 70% reduction in print time when compared to other FDM motion systems of the same price.
Artificial Intelligence: The Bambu Lab X1 has AI at its heart, and is powered by a Quad-core SoC with a dedicated 2TOPs Neural Processing Unit for managing its 40 sensors.
Geeetch Mizar M
The Mizar M from Chinese manufacturer Geeetech features dual hotends.
But these aren’t just the same hotend repeated twice. No, each hotend is designed to provide different color modes. The first is for gradient color printing, and the second is designed for separate color printing.
In gradient mode, the 3D printer will feed 2 filaments into one hotend, mix the colors in the channel and create a gradient between the two colors on the same object.
The Mizar M’s Separated Color Module allows you to switch between colors quickly and easily without mixing them together.
This is useful when printing objects that require two distinct colors, and it also allows for faster printing speeds.
2x Color Mode Printheads: It has a gradient module and a separate module for graduated color printing and for quick switching between colors. They are both installed at once, so you can even not only have different modes, you can have different modes in the same print.
Two Leveling Modes: The Mizar M features automatic and manual bed leveling.
Silent Motherboard: “The Mizar S motherboard is equipped with a high-performance 32-bit MCU to guarantee smooth and reliable printer operation.”
Compatible with most slicers like EasyPrint Lite, Chitubox or Cura.
Advantages of 3D Printing in Multiple Colors
So we have seen a variety of options for printing in multiple colors. Let’s just have a quick recap of what the advantages are.
Greater design flexibility and customization
Single-colored prints have their place, but they can have limitations.
Printing in multi-colors allows customization like never before.
Depending on how many filaments your printer can handle, you could be printing multiple copies of the same part in the same print run.
Ability to produce more realistic prototypes
3D printing is great for form and fit testing, but aesthetics is an important part of product design.
And many products are not simply one color.
Adding that extra dimension of extra colors can really help your designs to pop, which may come in very handy for clients or investors.
Increased efficiency in the design process
Having an automated multi-color printing solution isn’t just a nice thing for aesthetics.
It also reduces the time for color-switching when compared to the old methods (such as hand-painting prints).
The time saved by having an automated process can be invested back into what designers love best – designing!
In terms of options for multi-color printing, we are generally limited to FDM or various jetting processes.
And the jet printers are very expensive, as you have seen.
So when considering a multi-color 3D printer, the vast majority of consumer-level printing fans will be opting for an FDM printer.
Overall, we would recommend either the Geeetech Mizar M, due to its dual mode printing (and incredibly low cost), or the Bambu X1 for its incredible smart features (and 16-color printing capability).
Both of these printers offer a lot of bang for their proverbial buck.
For this reason, it’s hard to recommend the Ultimaker (or Makerbot) purely on the basis of multi-color capability alone.
And besides, these are really 2-color printers, and expensive ones at that. You can get a lot more for a lot less these days, as you can see.
Of course, if you have $250,000 lying around, and you want the highest fidelity, eye-popping aesthetics in your prints, then you should definitely opt for the Stratasys J750.
There are no printers on Earth that can print with such realism as the J-series. But naturally, such technology comes at a price.
Choose wisely, and happy printing!