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Color 3D printing: What are your options?


Color 3D printing technology is actually more available than you might think. If you’re a designer, 3D artist, architect or hobbyist, you can enjoy it right on your desk or get professional full-color 3D models. Which technologies are most developed? And which multicolor 3D technology is the best for you? 

Advanced full-color 3D printers have the capability to create lifelike product prototypes, precise medical models, captivating figurines, and faithful reproductions of colorful artwork. Technological advancements have simplified the process for a wide range of users, spanning from industrial designers to medical practitioners, enabling them to effortlessly generate vibrant models from their digital designs with minimal effort.

Color 3D printing has been around since 2005, but despite being a very young technology, it already offers a lot of design and manufacturing solutions. Generally, we can divide color 3D printing into direct and indirect technologies. Direct color 3D printing uses a filament that already contains a color. Indirect color 3D printing applies the color from an external source. Which technology will be better for your production? Let’s find out!

Direct color 3D printing

Direct color 3D printing allows you to use a colorful filament to 3D print your models. It works with FDM technology. You can achieve bright colors and nice details, depending on the 3D printer and the quality of filament you buy. Direct color 3D printing, however, won’t allow you to mix the colors, so the effect won’t be photo-realistic.

FDM 3D printing: single extruder

It is possible to achieve colorful prints even if the FDM printer has just a single extruder. What do you need to do to achieve that? When you send your 3D files for 3D printing, set multiple tasks using your slicing software. The software will produce a g-code with instructions for the 3D printer to stop at a certain level. Then you switch out the filament and the printing job is restarted.

While it’s the most obvious way, it can be quite time-consuming and a bit risky. But there are also solutions where you use one extruder to combine multiple filaments. Then, your model needs to contain information about which parts use certain colors, and the device outputs the colors into the extruder. The video below shows this case of multicolor 3D printing.

FDM: multiple extruders

Another solution for direct color 3D printing is 3D printers with multiple extruders. This is not such a new development, a dual extruder is used especially for printing dissolvable supports. But you can also use them to print with two colors of filaments. There are different devices available on the market, some with even 4 extruders.

Indirect color 3D printing

Indirect color 3D printing applies the color from an external source during the printing process. This technology is much more precise and allows for a more realistic appearance of the 3D prints, but in most cases, the process requires professional knowledge. It is important for you to remember that indirect color 3D printing uses CMYK color mode and you need to take that into consideration when preparing your model.

ColorJet technology

colorjet 3d printing

With ColorJet technology you have a choice of 36 000 colors! Your 3D files need to carry the color and texture information before it’s sent for multicolor 3D printing. During the 3D printing process, fine, sandstone-like powder is used. A layer of the material is spread, then the printing heads apply color that adheres to the layer. The next layer is spread and the process repeats.

The results are pretty impressive! Thanks to the wide range of colors, you can achieve so much more than with direct color 3D printing. This solution is especially interesting for designers to present proof of concepts to their clients, architects to produce visual models, and for game character production.

PolyJet technology

PolyJet technology works with liquid resin and prints at impressive 16 microns which assures very fine detail and good surface finish of your 3D models. In between the layers, color is applied and cured with UV light. This technology lets you adjust even the level of transparency of the colors.

HP Jet Fusion

HP’s 3D printing solutions are revolutionary in the world of Additive Manufacturing. HP’s engineers started by studying light and how to use it in order to produce evenly colored 3D printing, at the quality of regular 2D printers. 

Their color 3D printer uses an innovative binding agent to fuse the plastic powder locally. The color is applied at a level of 3D printing DNA called the ‘’voxel’’, a three-dimensional pixel. Thanks to that you can achieve color 3D printing even with very complex objects.




This company is a true champion of color 3D printing. When we talk about full-color 3D printing, they are a real winner, bringing to the market machines capable of using over 10 million colors! Their technology is based on UV light which was originally developed for regular, paper printers.

A layer of powder material is spread, and then pigmented resin is dropped with the inkjet head of the 3D printer. The next step is UV curing the resin into a solid-state. The process repeats and your 3D prints are produced in great, vibrant colors.

Desktop 3D printers for indirect color 3D printing

Some companies take yet another take on indirect color 3D printing in order for it to be reachable from your desk. There are a few ways to deal with that. One of them is actually using paper. CMYK inks are dropped on the paper and then the layer of paper is die-cut and fused with the next one. The downside is a risk of the ink spreading or bleeding.

Another solution is the ink absorbent filament. FDM 3D printer lays a layer of the filament and before the next layer is applied, it drops CMYK ink. This technology is impressive, although the results can be quite soft and translucent. Check out Da Vinci Color to discover more. 

What is your next color 3D printing project?

There are plenty of opportunities for you to start using color 3D printing. From FDM printers to industrial-grade machines, multicolor 3D printing is available for you right now. Depending on your project, one of the technologies will surely meet your needs.

Another option to add color to your 3D printing projects, is 3D printing post-processing! It is possible to add surface finish to your parts, offering a wide variety of colors to your 3D printed parts, even with parts 3D printed with Selective Laser Sintering for example.

Do you already have a color 3D printing project in mind? Don’t wait any longer! Achieve the best quality with an online 3D printing service like Sculpteo. Simply upload your STL files or contact us in case of any questions.

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