3D printing with multiple colors allows for more vibrant and detailed prints. While single color 3D printing is more common, printing with two or more colors opens up many possibilities for creative designs and functional prints. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll look at everything you need to know to start 3D printing objects in full color.
Adding different colors to a 3D print allows you to emphasize certain design elements, incorporate color coding, or just make your print more visually striking. Printing in multiple colors does require some additional considerations compared to single color printing, but with the right setup it’s relatively straightforward.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- The different methods for 3D printing in multiple colors
- What kind of 3D printers support multicolor printing
- How to set up your slicer software for multicolor prints
- Tips for designing multicolor 3D models
- Common issues and how to troubleshoot them
Follow along to learn everything you need to start taking your 3D prints to the next level with multiple colors!
Methods for 3D Printing Multiple Colors
There are a few main approaches for creating multicolor 3D printed objects:
1. Multi-Extruder 3D Printers
Some 3D printers come equipped with multiple extruders, allowing you to print with two or more filament colors simultaneously. This allows the printer to seamlessly transition between colors by simply switching the active extruder.
2. Single Extruder Printers With Filament Swapping
Many standard 3D printers have a single extruder, but can still print multicolor designs by pausing the print and allowing the user to manually swap filaments. This takes more effort but allows almost any 3D printer to print multicolor.
3. Color Mixing Extruders
Special multi-nozzle extruders can mechanically mix and blend filament colors, allowing smooth color transitions without having to pause and swap filaments.
4. Post-Print Painting and Assembly
Printing the model in separate pieces and assembling and painting them after the fact is another option for obtaining a multicolor finish.
Below we’ll look at the key pros and cons of each method.
Multi-Extruder 3D Printers
Dedicated multi-extruder 3D printers allow for the most seamless and hassle-free multicolor printing experience. They work by having multiple hotends mounted to the print head, with each hotend connected to a different filament color.
Here are the main benefits of this approach:
- No pausing/restarting print or filament swaps needed
- Easily intermix colors within a single print layer
- Consistent extrusion with dedicated nozzles per color
- Wide selection of multi-extruder printers available
The downsides primarily come down to increased cost and complexity:
- Requires purchasing a dual-extruder capable 3D printer
- Typically costs more than single extruder printers
- Requires more skill to properly calibrate and tune
Overall, a multi-extruder setup is the most advanced option that offers the best results, but also requires a larger upfront investment. Even basic dual extruder printers typically start around $1000 or more.
Single Extruder with Filament Swapping
If you already own a standard single extruder desktop 3D printer, you can still print multicolor models by pausing the print and swapping filaments manually at the appropriate layers.
Here are the pros of the manual filament swapping technique:
- Wide material compatibility – use any colors you want
- Works with any printer with removable build plates
- Lower cost since multi-extruder printer not needed
The downsides include:
- Need to babysit print to swap filament when prompted
- Higher chance of errors if swapping isn’t done quickly
- Limits color mixing within single layers
With some careful setup in your slicer software, manually swapping filament can produce good results. Just be prepared to actively monitor longer, more complex multicolor prints.
Color Mixing Extruders
Specialty multi-nozzle extruders are available that allow you to seamlessly mix and blend colors within a single print layer by combining multiple filament feeds into a single hotend.
Benefits of this color mixing approach are:
- Smoother color transitions compared to discrete layers
- Don’t have to purchase whole new multi-extruder printer
- Works with your existing slicer software
Some limitations include:
- Color mixing range more limited than full multi-material
- Requires purchasing specialty extruder (approx $200-$300)
- Some colors mix better than others
While not as full featured as a true multi-extruder machine, a color mixing extruder can be a good middle ground in terms of capability versus cost.
Post-Print Painting and Assembly
For very basic color combinations, you can print objects in separate pieces and use painting, bonding, or assembly to combine them after printing:
- Allows practically any color combinations
- Works with any basic single color 3D printer
- Very inexpensive approach
The limitations are:
- Seam lines where parts are joined
- Much more hands-on labor
- Requires painting skill for good looking results
- Not practical for complex color patterns
Post-processing is best for simple two tone prints, while full color 3D printing is better suited for more complex multicolor models.
Slicer Setup for Multicolor 3D Printing
To prepare your model for multicolor 3D printing, you’ll need to adjust your slicer settings accordingly. Here we’ll outline what you need to configure in your slicer software, using the popular Cura program as the example:
1. Add Color Change Codes
Place the gcode command
;COLORCHANGE in your Gcode file at the layers where you want to switch colors. For single extruder printers, this will prompt the user to pause the print and swap filaments.
2. Define Extruders
In your printer definition, set the number of extruders to match your printer hardware.
3. Assign Colors to Extruders
In the extruder settings, define which extruder should use which color filament.
4. Set Retraction Settings
Tuning retraction helps prevent oozing when transitioning between colors. 5-6mm at 25mm/s is a good starting point.
5. Custom Supports
Use interface layers to color match supports to your model.
That covers the basic slicer settings needed for multicolor 3D printing! Inputting just those few adjustments will have your slicer outputting perfect color change Gcode.
Design Tips for Multicolor 3D Models
Here are some helpful tips for designing 3D models specifically for multicolor 3D printing:
- Plan where support structures are needed to minimize visible material transitions.
- Orient the model to reduce overhangs which require supports.
- Minimize component self-intersections to avoid surface artifacts.
- Shelled/hollow models showcase color differences through the outer walls.
- Moving parts like hinges can be made functional via multi-material.
- Important features can be emphasized by assigning them separate colors.
- Consider both form and function – color coding can aid assembly or indicate components.
With some planning during the design stage, you can maximize the visual impact and benefits of printing with multiple colors.
Troubleshooting Multicolor 3D Print Issues
Here are some common issues that can occur with multicolor 3D printing and how to resolve them:
Stringing at Color Changes
Oozing filament can leave stringy artifacts at color transition layers. Try increasing retraction distance and/or lowering temperature.
If layers look offset from each other, the extruders likely need to be mechanically aligned. Follow printer calibration steps.
Molten plastic can mix between colors in multi-material printers. Lower temperatures and increase print speed.
Delamination Between Colors
Poor bonding between layers can cause splitting. Level your bed and use compatible materials at overlapping regions.
Paying attention to these potential issues will help you recognize and resolve them early on.
Multicolor Printing Materials
There a wide range of filament materials compatible with multicolor 3D printing. Here are some of the most popular options:
|Strong, low warp, easy to print
|Durable, chemical resistant, mild flexibility
|Flexible, rubber-like, impact resistant
|Tough, heat resistant, suitable for mechanical parts
|Excellent layer bonding, fatigue resistant
PLA is ideal for multicolor prototyping while materials like ABS, PETG, and nylon work better for functional prints. Always use compatible materials at color change regions for proper layer adhesion.
Specialty Multicolor Filaments
Beyond basic colors, there are also unique filament materials to create interesting multicolor effects:
- Gradient Filaments: Contain color shifts along the filament for smooth fades between hues.
- Pearlescent: Contains pigments that shift color depending on viewing angle.
- Glow in the Dark: Absorb UV light and emit over time for a neon glow effect.
- Temperature Color Change: Changes from one color to another when heated or cooled.
- Hydrographic: Displays wooden, camouflage, or carbon fiber-like textures.
Specialty filaments like these showcase 3D printing’s unique ability to fabricate objects unattainable through other manufacturing methods.
Post-Processing Multicolor Prints
Post-processing techniques can enhance multicolor 3D printed parts both visually and physically:
- Sanding – Smooth rough layer lines and improve paint adhesion.
- Priming and Painting – Apply custom paint schemes not limited by filament colors.
- Vapor Smoothing – Dissolves outer surface to blend colors and smooths edges.
- Epoxy Coating – Glossy clear finish enhances vibrance and provides scratch resistance.
Combining 3D printed objects with traditional finishing techniques expands the possibilities for stunning end results.
Applications of Multicolor 3D Printing
Here are some common uses and applications that benefit from multicolor 3D printing:
- Toys & Figurines – Add details like faces, clothing, accessories.
- Functional Components – Color code parts for simplified assembly or visual cues.
- Art Pieces – Create intricate sculptures and designs.
- Education – Vivid anatomy models, molecular structures, etc.
- Maps & Engineering Diagrams – Differentiate components and highlight key features.
- Products and Packaging – Eye catching prototypes and models.
The product possibilities are endless when leveraging multiple colors in 3D printing.
From visually stunning models to functional color coding of components, multicolor 3D printing opens up many new techniques and applications. With some planning and configuration, both multi-extruder and single extruder printers can produce quality multicolor results.
Understanding the various approaches to multicolor printing, how to properly set up your slicer, and which materials and post-processing techniques work best will give you all the knowledge needed to take your prints to the next level. Print away and let the full spectrum be your canvas!