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Brief Published: 4 Feb 2019

3D-Printing Innovations: Replicating Colour & Materials

Columbia University 3D printed 'wood'

In a quest for accurate colour reproductions and alternative materials, researchers are pioneering 3D-printing technologies to closely replicate fabrications, textures and hues. Here, we spotlight two innovative projects.

  • Researchers at MIT in the US have created a system that uses 3D printing and artificial intelligence (AI) to accurately reproduce artworks. The RePaint tool is capable of authentically recreating paintings from a 2D image under any lighting conditions.

    Using a 3D printer and a deep learning scanning algorithm that understands which colours to use, transparent inks are layered up to form a pattern of the painting. Colour is then added through a process similar to the pointillist technique, where dots of colour in certain sequences form an image.

    Although the system currently struggles to produce certain shades, such as cobalt blue, it offers exciting opportunities for colour and finish reproduction for different applications outside of the art world.
  • Researchers at Columbia University in New York have developed a 3D printing method that replicates the internal and external structure of wood. They’ve used it to produce a realistic copy of a piece of olive wood, 3D printed in resin.

    Currently, multicoloured 3D printing is typically used for external colour textures wrapped around a single-material core. The development aims to improve mimicry capabilities for 3D-printed objects, where such complex structures, colour gradients and textures have previously been impossible.

    To achieve the internal pattern, the team used a destructive imaging technique, whereby natural wood was finely sliced hundreds of times using a CNC machine, while a camera captured each cross-section. The images were then pieced together to create a printable 3D file.

    Other textures, such as granularity, are limited by printer resolution at present. However, the researchers hope these printing capabilities will become more widespread – offering “significant implications for both designers and manufacturers”. See also Material Direction: Reframing Wood.