But, what if you want hi-resolution patterns, text or the illusion of texture? For those interested in adding graphics, text and images to their 3D printed objects there is an interesting post-process worth exploring called hydrographics.
Hydrographics (aka water transfer printing) is a a method of applying graphics and images onto an object after it has been printed. The process involves lowering the 3D print onto a thin decal sheet of film in a vat of water. As the object is lowered into the water, an activator chemical is sprayed on the film to dissolve it and the decal's image shrink wraps around the object's surface, adhering to it.
Followers of 3D printing may already be familiar with the hydrographic water-transfer technique since it has been getting a bit of press lately with a recently video created by Bertier Luyt, president of le FabShop, a 3D printer service bureau in France.
Bertier discovered the wonders of hydrographics when he found a DIY kit online.
Bringing hydrographics and 3D printing together is great way to add style to a monotone plastic finish. Examples of the process put to use can be seen at Hi-Cases. Jess Licon is the creator of the Hi-Case, a custom-made, specialized Pad enclosure. The Hi-Case prototype was printed at 3D Design Plus, but what was missing were custom graphics. West Coast Hydrographix was brought on board to give the Hi-Case a final look with a metal-textured, hydrographic-printed finish. The hydrographic process used by West Coast Hydrographix is a bit more involved than what appears on Luyt's video since it includes about 10 steps beginning with a primer, then a base coat, and then finalized with a sealant (with several steps in-between).
Russell Soto, co-owner of West Coast Hydrographix describes the process as "getting a new paint job along with graphics."
Soto notes that the water transfer method should only be used on high-resolution 3D printed parts. Lower resolution prints need to be sanded down and/or smoothed out in an acetone bath.
Soto speculates that 3D printing will be an increasingly important part of his business and is researching new methods to create custom graphics with the hydrographic process. Eventually Russell hopes to have 3D printing as a service along with hydrographic printing and become a one-stop shop for fully customized and detailed motorcycle parts.