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Colleen Jordan is an Atlanta-based industrial designer and founder of Wearable Planter
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3D Printing is currently a big buzz word in the design, arts and crafts, and technology worlds. We make all of our jewelry with 3D Printing, and in the time we’ve been making 3D Printed creations, we’ve learned a lot about ways to manipulate the material to change its color and appearance. 3D Printing, also known as additive manufacturing, produces objects from CAD files by building up material layer by layer to create the final form. You can 3D Print in a wide range of materials from squishy rubber to hard metals.

Have you created something with 3D Printing? A lot of design students and hobbyists now have access to the technology thanks to services like Shapeways and Ponoko. If you printed your object in polyamide, you can dye them at home to whatever color you want. Polyamide is a porous material that accepts color really well. Some companies offer dying of your prints for you, but that adds extra processing time and is only available in a small range of colors.

If you’re tired of the boring white that many 3D Prints come in, we will show you how to add color to your prints. This is a tutorial for dying nylon (or polyamide) 3d Prints with fabric dye. This material is known by different names at different printing companies. Shapeways calls it “White Strong and Flexible”, Ponoko calls it “Durable Plastic”, Sculpteo “White Plastic”, and iMaterialise “Polyamide”. We’ll use Rit brand dyes in our tutorial since it is easy to find in craft, fabric, and grocery stores. You can also dye your prints with Jacquard brand acid dyes with a similar process, but that will require carefully measuring vinegar to change the acidity of the solution and constantly heating the solution.

This process is similar to dying fabric, and we learned a lot about how dye 3D Prints by reading this article on dyeing techniques by Rit.

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

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The first thing that you will need to do is gather your materials. You’ll need your nylon 3D Prints, your desired color of fabric dye, a bowl to do the dyeing in, measuring spoons, and boiling water (not pictured). We also recommend having access to a microwave to reheat your solution while dying as needed.

Decide which color you would like to dye your prints. Rit has a great guide to tell you which colors you can dye your prints with; other brands of dye will have similar guides. Nylon absorbs the dye really quickly, and we usually use slightly less dye than the guides recommend. For this batch of bike planters we will be dying them using Rit’s Sunshine Orange. We’re using 1.5 tsp of powdered dye to 1.5 cups of boiling water.

Remember that you are working with fabric dye that will stain clothes and shoes. So if you care about the clothes that you are wearing wear an apron or change into something that you don’t love so much. Fabric dye can also stain your skin, so wear latex gloves if you don’t want tinted hands. Rit dye will come off easily with scrubbing, so if you do get some on your skin, it can be easily removed.

Step 2: Soak Your Pieces

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Before you begin the dying process, soak your prints for at least 30 minutes. We recommend doing this overnight if you have the time. Having your prints saturated will allow the dye to color the piece more evenly. This will also help remove any dust on the surface of your prints left over from the printing process. If there is residual powder on the surface of your prints, it will affect the color of piece. The powder will be dyed, and will come off easily when the piece is dry, leaving a white spot underneath.

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This piece had some leftover powder stuck to it when it was dyed, and you can see the large white area left behind from removing the powder.

Step 3: Add Color

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Carefully measure your required amount of dye and add your boiling water. Stir it really well so all of the powder is dissolved in solution.

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Add your prints to the the solution and stir. Agitate the solution frequently to ensure that your prints are colored evenly. The longer that you leave your prints in the solution, the more saturated the color will be. These prints stayed in the dye for about 6 minutes to achieve the color. If you need to leave your prints in the solution longer, microwave it at 15-30 second increments to reheat the water to near boiling temperatures. We’ve noticed that some dyes require higher temperatures to stay in solution than others. In our experience pink and blue dyes require hotter temperatures and longer dying times to achieve their desired colors.

Step 4: Rinse

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Rinsing your prints is very important. You can rinse it with cold water to remove the excess dye. We also like to let the pieces sit in boiling water for a few minutes for any excess dye to soak out. If you’re going to be dying jewelry or anything that will be worn close to the skin, this is a very important step as excess dye could stain the skin or clothes.

Step 5: Dry

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Step 6 (Optional): Seal

Nylon is a porous material that will readily absorb particles and dirt it is exposed to. We recommend sealing your prints with a polymer varnish (like liquitex) or clear acrylic paint to protect the color and your piece from getting dirty.

Step 7: Show it Off!

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One of the bike planters in action

You just put all of this hard work into your 3D Printed object- show it off and tell everyone about it!

This post was originally published on the Wearable Planter blog.

Colleen Jordan

Colleen Jordan is a designer and maker who likes to create objects that make life more interesting. She is the founder of Wearable Planter (wearableplanter.com), and dreams of one day having a pet dinosaur.


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