I have a 3D model that I'd like to print. This is my first project, so I'm trying to decide if I'm getting in over my head. Here's the model rendered with Blender:

enter image description here

If I throw it at a commercial printing shoppe, is it going to be fairly straight forward? Or is it unlikely to be able to get the colours fitting together like this to work well?

  • $\begingroup$ Hi, @ajwood! I'm not fully understanding how your model works; are all those colored sections supposed to be printed individually, or printed as a whole? $\endgroup$ – Tormod Haugene May 14 '16 at 5:37
  • $\begingroup$ @TormodHaugene I actually don't really care, as long as it looks like this in the end. I assume I have a fair bit of work to do to the meshes before they're printable; they're separate objects right now, but I could merge them if necessary. $\endgroup$ – ajwood May 14 '16 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ The answer to your question, 'can this be printed', is dependent upon a few more factors on your end, such as: Do you want the various colors to be printed as shown, together as one piece or multiple pieces put together? How much are you willing to spend, what size is the model, and what is your desired roughness/for the finished product? Which online printing shop, in particular? $\endgroup$ – J. Roibal - BlockchainEng Jun 12 '16 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ A lot of people at the hobbyist level work with FDM (rolls of plastic) printers. This would be a challenging print to print directly via FDM in color. You will see this bias in the answers. Not many people in the hobby have access to 'Full Color' printers. This can be printed in color, but you likely won't have the vibrant colors displayed here, more of a pastel version of them. This is an excellent example of something certain types of 3d printers can produce easily. $\endgroup$ – creuzerm Jun 17 '16 at 14:46

Here is a set of options you can get:

  1. print the object on multi color printer

Unfortunately we got some limitations here (on the market). Printers have limited set of heads which are in fact printing in one color at a time. So we usually have 2 colors, there are also 4 color heads. If there are more then they are rare, expensive or rare and expensive.

here are examples of such color printouts:

click to go to the projectproject click to go to the projectproject

  1. print object splitted

In this case you can have single color printer. You print parts in one color then you change filament and print other color and so on. The issue here is to have well formed object which is designed for such print method (it's connectable in some way) or you can stick printed parts with the glue.

here are examples of such puzzled printouts:

click to go to the projectproject click to go to the projectproject

  1. print and paint

here are examples of such painted printouts:

click to go to the projectproject click to go to the projectproject


All above assumes that you are gonna print your object in FDM technology. You can also take a look on other technologies such as:

  • Stereolithography(SLA)
  • Digital Light Processing(DLP)
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
  • Selective laser melting (SLM)
  • Electronic Beam Melting (EBM)
  • Laminated object manufacturing (LOM)

Getting this printed at a professional print shop will be quite straightforward, given that you prepare the model nicely for printing (i.e. make it a watertight, manifold mesh).

You could print the pieces separately and assemble them later. You might also look in to getting this printed in one piece with the colors already in place on a ProJet machine, which is available as "Full Color Sandstone" on Shapeways. This might be a nice option for you.

With regards to printing the pieces separately you could go with pretty much any printing process, bearing in mind that FDM will offer the greatest range of available colors but the worst surface finish. You could try SLS instead (White Strong&Flexible on Shapeways) which is a white material that can be dyed with fabric dyes (such as RIT and Dylon) to achieve any desired color. Of course, anything you get printed (regardless of the material) could also be painted.

If you decide to get this made in FDM then make sure to choose a nice orientation for the pieces (minimizing overhangs) so you get the best quality possible. The print shop may be able to help you with this.

Getting the parts to fit together will not be a problem if you keep a little bit of clearance (around 0.2-0.5mm) between parts that interlock.


You would need to ask around shops to see what they think about this 3d file. What I have heard is that colors of prints end up blended together, and that the print resolution is low. How many colors are you using? You could probably get a quality print, but it would come with a high price. Print quality is dependent on the expensiveness of the machine used.

  • $\begingroup$ I could imagine printing multiple pieces and assembling them. Would that be a factor to consider? $\endgroup$ – ajwood May 14 '16 at 5:16
  • $\begingroup$ the other guy wins. $\endgroup$ – Dan Powers May 14 '16 at 6:49

The simplest and cheapest method to have this object printed would be to have individual STL files for each part and give these to the print shop with the color of each piece.

Printing as a single piece would be much more expensive as more advance methods would be needed as mentioned in the other answers.


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