There are many nuances required to successfully 3D print EVS models.  Our current success rate is the result of having spent a lot of money and paid to print many failures.  We do not disclose the printing vendor we use, but for those companies interested in doing 3D printing in house, I will share our experiences with various 3D printer manufacturers.
To date we have done tests directly with the manufacturers of many different full-color 3D printers, with very limited success.  C Tech’s models are not only more complex than most, but since we only export VRML as a suitable export format, the printer controller software maturity and capability has been a stumbling block for many companies.
1) 3D Systems (acquired ZCorp technology): This company’s printers are the only ones that we have ever successfully printed complex full-color 3D models.  Their technology was originally developed and patented by ZCorp.  C Tech worked with ZCorp’s engineers and helped rewrite their software to successfully print our models under a contract funded by Sandia National Laboratories in 2004.  The legacy of our joint cooperation is likely the reason that their technology works on our models while no others (to date) have.
2) Stratasys: I consider Stratasys’ technology the most promising of all 3D color printers (when cost is not a factor), but in multiple attempts working directly with Stratasys and with print vendors, we have never been able to successfully print our standard Coastal model without some (significant) errors.  Their color printers use tougher, stronger and a wider variety of materials than any other vendor and the colors are the most vibrant.  They also have two clear materials that open the possibility of printing disjoint objects “floating in space”.  I believe their problems are related to software vs. hardware limitations.
Below are photos of our best and final attempt to print the Coastal model on Stratasys printers.  Note the following problems:
  • The outer edges of the plume should be dark blue, but printed as magenta.
  • The model was supposed to be 3 separate layers.
    • The layers were fused together by the print operator.
    • Other attempts to print objects 4mm thick or less resulted in substantial distortion
  • No explanation or reason was ever given.
3) MCOR: I had been interested in MCOR’s technology because their 3D printed outputs are based on copier paper as the primary structural component, giving them the lowest print cost per cubic inch.  However, the technology is limited in the complexity and detail of objects and we have never been able to successfully print our standard Coastal model without very significant errors after multiple attempts spanning more than a year.   I believe their problems are related to both software and hardware limitations.
4) Hewlett Packard HP Jet Fusion 580: HP’s entry into full-color 3D printing is quite new and we have not done any testing at this time.  Their specifications state that it supports VRML and it therefore looks encouraging.  But note that Stratasys and MCOR both claim to support VRML also.
5) Da Vinci Color: A very interesting low cost (consumer level) printer.  Does not support VRML as an input format, so testing is not possible at this time.