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The Ultimate Guide to Achieving Multi-Color 3D Printing

Aug 24,2023 | 3D4Create

I. Introduction

Standard 3D printing has long been limited to single color objects. But with creative techniques and new technology, multi-color 3D printing is now possible for vivid and realistic prints. This guide covers the major methods for achieving multi-color 3D prints.

Multi-color 3D printing provides many benefits:

1. Realistic and Vibrant Results

Using multiple colors allows for more lifelike prints that showcase gradients, textures, and fine details. Vibrant colors make 3D printed objects pop.

2. Expanded Creativity and Customization

With multiple color options, designers have more room for creativity in their 3D printing projects. Custom color schemes make each print unique.

3. Accuracy for Prototyping

When color accuracy is critical, multi-material printing enables prototypes that closely match the final product. This helps evaluate designs.

Multi-color 3D printing greatly expands the possibilities of this exciting technology. Let's explore the main techniques available.


II. Core Multi-Color Printing Methods

These primary methods produce multi-color prints by working directly with the filament itself.

1. Filament Swapping

Filament swapping pauses printing at specific layers to swap in a different color filament. The printer retracts the old filament, loads the new one, and purges before continuing. This can be done manually or by using an automated system like the Prusa Multi-Material Unit.

While effective, swapping involves print interruptions and can be time consuming. It works best for prints with distinct color changes versus frequent switching.

The Autochanger Material Station from Bambu Lab is an auxiliary device that provides integrated multi-color printing capability for filament swapping. It automatically switches between up to four colors loaded into the AMS modules. Four integrated modules allow for printing up to 16 different colors.


2. Filament Splicing

Splicing joins filaments of different colors into a continuous multi-color strand for printing. Specialized devices like the Mosaic Palette perform this splicing automatically based on print settings.

This greatly speeds up color switching and eliminates pauses. However, splicing equipment costs extra. The splicing process can also be done manually but takes considerable skill.


3. Multi-Nozzle Extruders

Printers with multiple extruder nozzles eliminate pausing and purging by assigning each nozzle to a different filament color. As the print head moves, it can deposit the required color from the correct nozzle as needed.

This enables smooth, continuous multi-color printing but requires a specialized printer. It also demands proper nozzle alignment and calibration to blend colors correctly.


4. Single Nozzle Color Blending

On some printers, a single nozzle can blend and mix colors by pulling from multiple filament feeds. The filaments merge and mix inside the hot end to produce gradual color changes.

Blending avoids the complexity of multiple nozzles but offers less precise color control than other methods. Thorough purging prevents color carryover between layers.


III. Supplemental Coloring Approaches

Beyond directly printing with different filaments, supplemental coloring techniques can further expand the multi-color possibilities.

1. Pre-Print Filament Coloring

Before printing, the raw filament can be coated with markers, paints, or dyes. As the colored filament is fed into the printer, it will deposit this color onto the print.

This provides immense customization options. However, it requires manually prepping the filament and resetting the colors.

 Rainbow Silk PLA Filament 1.75mm 1KG

Forest Rainbow PLA for 3D Printer


2. Post-Print Painting and Finishing

Painting a 3D printed object is an easy way to achieve virtually unlimited colors and designs not possible directly from the printer. Painting opens up options like metallics, pearlescents, and more.

The downside is prints require sufficient sanding and prep work to enable the paint to properly adhere. This extra effort is worthwhile for specialty colors and artistic requirements.

Painting a 3D printed Thanos

Painting a 3D printed Thanos (Source: Tianse)


IV. Considerations for Choosing Techniques

With many options for multi-color 3D printing, deciding on the best route depends on factors like:

  • Number of colors needed - some methods limit the pallette
  • Print speed and workflow requirements
  • Costs of specialized equipment
  • Ease of process and setup effort
  • Precision and quality of color blending

For the most cost effective and accessible option, starting with manual filament swapping or post-printing paint are good choices requiring little equipment. For advanced color needs, multi-nozzle printers or splicing devices may justify the investment.

Candy Rainbow PLA Filament 1.75mm 1KG for 3D Printer

Candy Rainbow PLA for 3D Printer


V. Achieving Multi-Color on Standard Printers

With some constraints, it's possible to print multi-color on standard, single extruder machines:

1. Manual Filament Swapping

Pausing to swap filaments manually provides basic color switching at low cost but with reduced print speed. It works best for prints with distinct layers per color. Allow time for filament load/unload and purging.

2. Splicing with the Palette System

Using the Mosaic Palette paired with a standard printer streamlines splicing different color filaments into a single multi-colored strand fed into the printer. This automates color switching for faster prints.

3. Multi-Part DIY Blending

Design separate components in different colors, then print them together in layers to blend the colors. Large flat areas work best for this technique. It takes design effort but no special equipment - just a standard single-extruder 3D printer. The following video demonstrates printing a multi-color Mario model by splitting it into separate parts of different colors.


VI. Applications of Multi-Color 3D Printing

Some key uses cases that benefit from multi-material 3D printing include:

1. Prototyping

Full color and accuracy is critical when prototyping products for design evaluation and testing. Multi-color printing approximates the final product.

2. Art and Figurines

Vibrant original artworks and highly detailed figurines are possible with an expanded palette of colors and materials. Additionally, 3D printing allows for the creation of customized and unique 3D-printed cartoon figurines.

3. Education and Training

Models like anatomical prints or engineering components greatly benefit from realistic colors to clearly illustrate the object for learning.

4. Manufacturing and End-Use Parts

For final parts, multi-material printing allows combining desired properties like strength, flexibility, transparency, electrical conductivity and more into one part.

3D cartoon character

3D cartoon models on Gambody


VII. Future of Multi-Material 3D Printing

As the technology continues advancing, we can expect:

  • Wider mainstream adoption of multi-color capabilities
  • Expanded range of printable materials and colors
  • Better integration and ease of use for color switching
  • Hybrid printing with combined 3D printing and inkjet coloring
  • Functional multi-material components spanning electronics, optics, mechanics, and more

The future possibilities are wide open when not limited to single color printing. We can look forward to ever more vibrant and dynamic 3D printed creations!


VIII. Conclusion

Multi-color 3D printing greatly expands the possibilities of this technology and adds realism, customization, accuracy, and functionality. A range of techniques exist from using multiple filaments on specialized printers to post-print painting. With some creativity, even basic printers can create multi-color prints. As the capabilities grow, we can expect multi-material printing to open up new avenues and applications.

The world of 3D printing is now vividly colored thanks to the exciting advances in multi-color capabilities. This guide covers the key aspects of the technologies and methods currently available to produce eye-catching and functional multi-color 3D printed objects.



1. How do you make multi colored 3D prints?

There are a few methods for multi-color 3D printing. The easiest is using a printer with multiple extruders that can print different colored filaments. You can also paint printed objects. For more advanced options, full color binds jetting printers are capable of CMYK mixing for full color prints.

2. Can you 3D print multiple colors?

Yes, there are several 3D printing technologies that allow multi-color printing. The most accessible option is a dual extrusion printer that can print two colored filaments. High-end binder jetting or PolyJet printers can mix colors for full CMYK printing.

3. Which 3D printing technology can easily print in multiple colors?

Fused deposition modeling (FDM) printers with dual or more extruders make it straightforward to print multi-colored objects in two or more filament colors. The different extruders can be precisely positioned.

4. What is the best way to 3D print multiple objects?

For printing several copies of an object, a printer with a removable build plate is recommended. Apply a brim or raft to each object for bed adhesion. Adjust the orientation to minimize support material. Use the printer software settings to duplicate the model into separate parts.


See Also:

All You Need To Know About Rainbow PLA Filament

How Do Filament Color Influence 3D Print Strength?

All You Need To Know: Silk Filament for 3D Printer