MIT's ColorFab can 3D print jewelry that changes colors

You just need to expose them to light.


3D printing can already turn your amazing ideas into tangible objects, but a new technique out of MIT CSAIL could lead to even better results. The method, called ColorFab, gives you the ability to create objects that can change colors after you print them out. You can use it, for instance, to create a phone case or a pair of earrings that matches your red dress today and will also match your blue pantsuit tomorrow. ColorFab's magic lies in the CSAIL team's custom-made ink, which has base dyes and light-adaptable or "photochromic" dyes. The light-adaptable dyes bring out the color in the base dyes when exposed to UV light. Under visible light, the colors disappear, and the ink turns transparent.

To use ColorFab, you'll have to upload your 3D model to its interface and then pick a color pattern. The parts of the object that can transform have a pixelated design, and you can choose which pixels to activate (change color) or deactive (switch back to transparent) within ColorFab's interface. Based on the team's tests, it takes the system 23 minutes to change an object's colors, but they believe they can make the wait time shorter by using more powerful lights or adding more light-adaptable dyes. In addition, the team is also working to conjure up a design that allows a ColorFab object to create secondary hues.

Once the method has been refined further, the researchers might adapt it for use by the garment industry, since they envision a future wherein the technique can be applied to to clothing, as well. The researchers' goal isn't just to enable the creation of color-changing goods, though -- they're also hoping that ColorFab can lessen the waste we produce:

MIT professor and team member Stefanie Mueller explained:

"Largely speaking, people are consuming a lot more now than twenty years ago, and they're creating a lot of waste. By changing an object's color, you don't have to create a whole new object every time."