Gone are the days of simple monochromatic 3D printing. Now, more than ever, we need a single language to connect product designers to model makers to ensure that prototypes look just as they were intended, and the PANTONE color scheme is the key for creating products and prototypes with 100% color specificity! This allows manufacturers to visualize the exact color of their products or prototypes, and to match their colors to brand or product guidelines as needed. For the past decade, we have seen how the 3D printing industry has evolved to full and multi-color printing and how today, there are multiple PolyJet 3D printers capable of creating full-color, high-accuracy parts with the PANTONE colors. In this article, we explore the different PolyJet 3D printers that can print using the PANTONE matching system (PMS).
The Evolution of 3D Printing Colors
Innovation has brought us from the blending of white and black on the first generation of the Stratasys Connex Printers, to the ability to use three colors with simple CMY mixing on the second generation of the Stratasys Connex3 platform. More recently, technology advancements have led us into the J7 and J8 series of PolyJet machines, capable of blending full CMYKW to produce a brilliant and truly wide spectrum of colors. Now, with the Stratasys J55, full-color 3D printing has become more mainstream than ever as this incredibly office-friendly PolyJet system utilizes the same color capabilities as its bigger J series brothers, but with a smaller print space and smaller price point. As PANTONE color matching is quickly becoming an industry expectation for additive manufacturing, this printer series is making full-color 3D printing more accessible than ever.
What is PANTONE?
Many brands across different industries are known for their emblematic colors and logos and color accuracy is very important when it comes to designing new products for any brand. During each stage of the design process, it’s important that designers and engineers are able to communicate effectively to make sure the end product is right the first time, every time. This can sometimes be a challenge because designers and engineers are focused on different aspects of the product.
Where a designer is free to create designs with little to no constraints, engineers usually must alter these designs to make them suitable for large scale production. Traditionally, during the early stages of the design process, engineers will show multiple samples to designers to make sure they are on the right track. This process usually involves multiple models being painted or dyed to try to hit the right color. This can produce a lot of wasted samples which can be very costly in terms of time and money. Many of these companies will hire outside design firms to get these jobs done which results in additional costs and risks to intellectual property. With the Stratasys J series, utilizing PolyJet technology, designers can create lifelike and full-color models that can be easily printed by engineers. These machines are also the first to be PANTONE- certified to match a wide variety of colors.
Now, you may be asking “What is PANTONE?”. PANTONE is a company founded in the 1950s that created what is known as the PANTONE Matching System (PMS). The PMS is a standardized color matching system, which allows companies to be able to reproduce the same colors across the world at different facilities without ever having direct contact with one another. They can take a specific color swatch and code (aka PANTONES) and use machines validated by PANTONE to accurately recreate the color. These colors are usually a part of a swatch book that designers can look through to find colors they want to use and know exactly what color they are going to get. The swatch books are used by a wide variety of industries such as graphic design, fashion design and product design. Designers all over the world use PANTONE in their everyday designs. Colors like Tiffany Blue, Target Red and even Barbie Pink all have specific (and trademarked) PANTONES that can be used to reference those colors.
3D Printing in PANTONE
So, how does this make sense for 3D Printing? Today, PolyJet 3D printers can print from five to seven materials simultaneously, which allows for the creation of a wide variety of colors, textures and levels of transparency. A downside with this range of options is that it can be a challenge for designers to narrow down what the best color choice is for the job. They would have to correlate an RGB value (a mixture of red, green and blue) from the computer model or image they are working from, and it may take a few prints to really dial in that color, based on what they wanted on screen and how it looks in reality. Now, with PANTONE certification, designers can use the PANTONE swatches to select exact colors instead of trying to guess on an alternative. No matter what the color looks like on a computer monitor or a paper proof, the designer can be assured the final 3D printed output will be an exact color. It’s like we’re all speaking the same language now! And on the engineering side, setting up the color can be as easy as calling it out.
3D printing in PANTONE is easy through the GrabCAD Print software. If you know the PANTONE number that you are looking to print, most of the time all you need to do is select a body, click on the PANTONE tab, search for your PANTONE number and click on it. Do the same for the rest of the bodies on your assembly, and you’re all set!
That said, while we have a great selection of PANTONE colors available to match, some are a bit more difficult for the printer to match. To get a quick idea of how close your selected PANTONE is to the intended color, hover over the small icon on the right side of the PANTONE number that looks like a pie with slices taken out of it, and GrabCAD Print will give you a quick explanation of how close the match will be to the intended color choice.
Since some PANTONE matches are going to be more accurate than others, for those that are a bit less accurate we have a great way to tune your color selection even further to make sure you get the perfect color. The feature is called the Color Swatch Tool, and it allows you to input the Hex color code value for the PANTONE number you are looking for. This creates a long swatch palette file that you can print and compare to the PANTONE color palette book, or to a real life part that is known to have the correct color. From there, you can go back into the PANTONE tab, type in the hex code of the best matching color and select that PANTONE for the correct body or part.
Color matching is an incredibly difficult task when you consider that things such as lighting in the room, the color gamut of monitors from different manufacturers or a wide variety of other factors can impact how two people perceive the same color, as well as how those two people rely on that information. That’s why having a tool to help everyone speak the same language when it comes to color is so helpful. PANTONE selection on the Stratasys J series printers is the perfect way to get a prototyping shop in Los Angeles on the same page with the design team in New York the quickest way possible, and in the end the product will consistently come out just as both teams intended!
The benefits of 3D printing using PANTONE are endless. Stratasys recently launched their newest addition to their J series, the J55. Watch our on-demand webinar to learn more about this machine and how it can help you 3D print prototypes and parts from your office or studio environment.