May 25, 2017

Adding Color to 3D-Printed Parts with Painting and Dyeing

By Protolabs
Mixing stereolithography paint
At Protolabs we offer dyeing and painting, which not only adds color to 3D-printed parts, but also improves surface finish quality.

Once a 3D printing build is complete, there are a few steps we can take to improve the cosmetics and performance of the part. Our standard post-build process includes removing support structures when applicable and then applying a bead blast to remove excess material and achieve a consistent texture. But additional measures can be taken to improve part aesthetics, like adding color for example.

If you’re 3D printing a part and color is crucial to your design, we recommend focusing on our 3D printing processes: stereolithography (SL) and selective laser sintering (SLS). These technologies offer the most flexibility in terms of colors and finishing to improve cosmetics.

The fastest and most affordable method to selecting part color is going with the material’s natural color. If color isn’t critical or the material already matches your desired color, this will help keep your costs down. We can apply some extra finishing to improve surface finish, but no extra processing is required. These are the available material colors across our processes: black, white, clear, lime green, sandy natural, and light gray.

But don’t fret if you need more options. When the natural color of 3D printing materials won’t meet your application’s requirements, we can dye parts to a variety of colors. SL and SLS parts can be dyed several colors: blue, green, red, yellow, and black. Additional color options—like orange or purple—can be supported but they are not included in our standard offering, so will be more expensive as they are mixed on a per-order basis.

A non-painted and painted stereolithography part
Painting will result in the highest quality parts and offers several surface finish options.

As a rule-of-thumb, dyeing is a less expensive option to achieve color parts than painting and will often be sufficient for prototyping. There are a few design considerations to keep in mind when dying parts. Designs with especially thin walls or fine features can be damaged or may warp during the dyeing process, so try to avoid any fine features when not necessary. Note that out of our available 3D printing materials, Nylon PA 650, available through our SLS process, is going to dye the best since its natural color is white.

The third and final approach to coloring 3D-printed parts is painting. This will be a more expensive, time-intensive process compared to dyeing but offers higher-quality results as you will see improved cosmetics and have more surface finish options. This is ideal for injection molding prototyping when you’re trying to mimic the look and feel of a final part. We prefer to match the color with a pantone number or a supplied sample to ensure you’re getting the exact color you wish for. And, as mentioned earlier, painting offers multiple surface finish options like matte, semi-gloss, glossy, and soft-touch.

Have more questions about our 3D printing capabilties and post-production processes? Our knowledgeable application engineers are here to assist you and can be contacted at [email protected] or by calling 877.479.3680. We have additional resources and design tips for 3D printing that can be found in our library of design tips.