The folks at Disney Research, in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon, are doing interesting work with 3D printing clear resin, light-guiding “light pipes.” The details are documented in their newly released research paper, “Printed Optics: 3D Printing of Embedded Optical Elements for Interactive Devices” (PDF).
From their site:
Printed Optics is a new approach to creating custom optical elements for interactive devices using 3D printing. Printed Optics enable sensing, display, and illumination elements to be directly embedded in the body of an interactive device. Using these elements, unique display surfaces, novel illumination techniques, custom optical sensors, and robust embedded components can be digitally fabricated for rapid, high fidelity, customized interactive devices.
Printed Optics is part of our long term vision for the production of interactive devices that are 3D printed in their entirety. Future devices will be fabricated on demand with user-specific form and functionality. Printed Optics explores the possibilities for this vision afforded by today’s 3D printing technology.