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I'm trying to find a way of applying graphics to my ABS printed parts.

I need a robust method which can produce a decent amount of detail with true color and legible fine text . I also was hoping to avoid the use of stickers and opt for something that's slightly more permanent.

I was wondering if there are ways in which a vinyl decal or other types of decal material could be pressed into the face of a plastic part and then thermally fuse the two layers together using heat transfer method?

Most of the surfaces I work with would be flat, but there are some parts that are slightly curved and it would be totally amazing if I could somehow apply graphics to those areas as well.

Thanks for any hints

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    $\begingroup$ Computational Hydrographic Printing seems like what you're looking for, but given that it's quite experimental and not generally available, I'm not sure if it would make a good answer. $\endgroup$ – Tom van der Zanden Jul 24 '16 at 6:47
  • $\begingroup$ Well that was just awesome! A little beyond what I'm hoping to accomplish, but thank you for sharing that $\endgroup$ – Logic1 Jul 25 '16 at 8:40
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    $\begingroup$ I'd look into silk screening. $\endgroup$ – StarWind0 Aug 4 '16 at 9:03
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Industry has for years used a 'pad printer' to put images on complex shapes, like plastic or ceramic travel mugs, etc.

I have observed these, but never used one. I see no reason why there couldn't be a DIY version made.

Best of luck, and I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

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  • $\begingroup$ jcoats, welcome to the 3D Printing Stack Exchange site. I think your answer could be greatly improved if you have a design of one of these 'bad printers' in mind. To me, from your answer it is not clear how to proceed given I wanted to print graphics on an ABS part. Could you elaborate? $\endgroup$ – kamuro Jul 29 '16 at 7:36
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    $\begingroup$ @kamuro Pad printing is extremely common. $\endgroup$ – Tom van der Zanden Jul 29 '16 at 12:07
  • $\begingroup$ ups, misread that completely, as seen in what I wrote in my answer. Apologies. I would still want to encourage a written outline on how to build such a printer DIY. $\endgroup$ – kamuro Jul 29 '16 at 14:38
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I think this will work for you...

Laser Printer Image Transfer:

  1. Print reverse image with color laser printer on regular paper.
  2. Apply Mod Podge or artist arcylic or artist matte gel to the 3d printed surface. You may need to sand it first to get it nice and smooth.
  3. Apply same to picture and put picture, face down, onto the surface that you're transferring to.
  4. Let dry.
  5. Wash and rub off paper with water.
  6. Apply protective clear coat...polyurethane or some other waterproof sealer.
  7. ...
  8. Profit

This method has been popular in the DIY craft world for years so you should be able to google around for more tips. My wife transferred pictures onto coasters this way...pretty easy. Also, since paper is flexible, I think this would work on a simple curve.

Hope this helps. :-)

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  • $\begingroup$ This does sound like a neat idea to try. And I do currently have parts to do toner transfer (as I make PCBs this way). Just need a color laser printer.. Were the colors bright even when on black plastic? Does it scratch easily (reason for clear coating)?. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – Logic1 Oct 14 '16 at 4:13
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    $\begingroup$ Yep, very similar to toner transfer with PCBs...but without heat. I've done PCB toner transfer with iron. That process might work well if heat doesn't damage part. Either way, dark parts would show through so black plastic may require a white or light colored coating under the image. The final clear coat could be skipped, but it does make the image more scratch resistant. $\endgroup$ – Chris Thompson Oct 14 '16 at 13:38
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You really can't. That said the only group that has this kind of tech is .. Disney of all companies. That said their tech is good at simple shapes. Nothing more.

I have seen some hydro transfer techniques. However that will not let you position a graphic as it is all done with a stretch transfer material ontop of a water bed. No one has a hand steady enough.

Realistically you either need a high end full color powered base 3d printer, or simple designs that you can apply with you hand, or paint by hand.

Well. Rereading your question... If you just want readable text. Then use a 2+ nozzle printer and print in colors that are contract. IE white model and black text. A lot more work but an order of magnitude cheaper than other options.

Disney article

Hydro transfer video

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