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Colour changing 3-D printed objects

CSAIL system uses custom ink and ultraviolet light to repeatedly change an object’s colour.

MIT professor Stefanie Mueller led the development of the new ColorMod system.(Photo: Jason Dorfman)

Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed ColorMod, a method for repeatedly changing the colours of 3-D printed objects, after fabrication. With this technology, using colour changing 3-D printable ink, an object can be recoloured in a few minutes using UV light. While the project is currently focused on plastics and other common 3-D printing materials, the researchers say that eventually people would be able to instantly change the colour of other items like clothes.

After printing, changing the multicoloured objects involves using ultraviolet light to activate desired colours and visible light to deactivate others. Specifically, the team uses an ultraviolet light to change the pixels on an object from transparent to coloured, and a regular office projector to turn them from coloured to transparent. The team’s custom ink is made of a base dye, a photoinitiator, and light-adaptable dyes. The light-adaptable (photochromic) dyes bring out the colour in the base dye, and the photoinitiator lets the base dye harden during 3-D printing.

“With the amount of buying, consuming, and wasting that exists, we wanted to figure out a way to update materials in a more efficient way, which was largely the motivation behind this project,” says MIT professor Stefanie Mueller, who led the project.

“By changing an object’s color, you don’t have to create a whole new object every time,” adds Mueller, who co-authored the paper with postdoc Parinya Punpongsanon, undergraduate Xin Wen, and researcher David Kim. It has been accepted to the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, which takes place in April in Montreal.

“This work is a true breakthrough in being able to change the colour of objects without repainting them,” says Changxi Zheng, an associate professor at Columbia University who co-directs Columbia’s Computer Graphics Group.

Mueller says that the goal is for people to be able to rapidly match their accessories to their outfits in an efficient, less wasteful way. Another idea is for retail stores to be able to customize products in real-time.


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