Have you heard of computational hydrographic printing? If not, take a look at the picture above from Columbia University and keep reading!

The topic of 3D printing remains at the forefront of a lot of discussions. However, most 3D-printed objects, not including 3D-printed food, are usually printed in monochromatic colors, such as red, white and blue. Though these objects might be highly-detailed, they lack originality.

Researchers at Zhejiang University and Columbia University found this to be a problem, so they did something about it.

In fact, they found a Better Way to attach complex colors to objects to make them look somewhat real.

The method that the research team developed is known as computational hydrographic printing.

Let’s break computational hydrographic printing down into simpler terms.

First of all, hydrographic printing is not a new method; in fact, mass manufacturers have used it to add repetitive patterns onto cheaply-manufactured objects. This sort of printing involves both a vat of water and a thin, pre-printed film, which is sprayed with a softening agent.

Next, the object is lowered into the water and presses against the film, which then stretches around the object.

Once the object is removed from the water, it gives the illusion that it was part of the 3D-printing process.

However, the researchers discovered a flaw in the system and wanted to perfect it. The flaw was during the dunking phase and at this point of the process, the film stretches and, in turn, does not work on jobs that require precision.

After much thought and experimenting, they realized that they could use a 3D scan of the original object and pre-dip it into a simulated bucket of water and thinly-printed film. From this point, they could determine how to then position and align prints onto objects.

The researchers then used Microsoft Kinect 3D image mapping to improve the process.  The Kinect measures the exact position and orientation in relation to where the 3D-printed film will be placed on the object.

Though this is a Better Way to 3D-print in color, there are some limitations. Objects that feature highly concave surfaces or any surface might be hidden from view or scanning. Additionally, blending and precision still continue to be a challenge because when the film stretches out significantly, some color may become distorted.

The future of computational hydrographic printing hangs in the balance, however the research team does believe that this technique could be an easy way to add custom color to 3D-printed objects.

Here’s a better look at computational hydrographic printing in action:

Copyright Inventionland, 2015