Adding Color to Your 3D Prints – Tips and Techniques

Natural PLA is transparent and is difficult to photograph or see details. Natural ABS is a soft beige color or slightly transparent.
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The easiest way to increase your color options is to buy more filament. There are a wide range of color options available with prices ranging from $20-70 per kg. The cost to have an assortment of colors can quickly cost more than the 3D printer.

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More colors adds variety to your prints. 3D Hubs reports that the most popular color choices for 3D prints are white, black, blue, red and green. (http://www.3dhubs.com/trends) Contrasting colors like school or logo colors are a great place to start.

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A quick and classroom safe way to add color to your prints is using Sharpie markers to color transparent or white filament. There are a number of 3D printable adapters for coloring filament as it enters the extruder but you can also color the filament by hand. 3D prints can also be colored afterwards, this is a great technique for making raised text readable.
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Another technique for adding color to a 3D print is the mid-print filament swap. Most printers have a method for pausing the print and swapping the filament to change colors. Design your model so that different color parts are at different heights. Try to pause the print while it is doing infill. See Multicolored Rainbow filament test by RichRap for one of the most famous examples. http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:10770

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3D prints can also be painted. Gesso makes a great classroom safe brush-on primer. Craft acrylic paints work nicely over a properly primed model.

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Printing parts in different colors and assembling a model creates sharp color boundaries. Designer Carla Diana used this technique to great effect in her LEO the Maker Prince models.

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Adding color is a great way to experiment, every trip to the craft or art store is ripe with possibilities from alcohol based ink to metallic wax finishes.

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There are other options for 3D printing color models such as a dual extruder printer or commercial services such as Shapeways. There are a few FDM style 3D printers in development that claim the ability to print in full color. Currently the software and hardware for full color 3D printing are in the experimental stages and not yet ready for the consumer market.