We have seen hydrographic film used in the past to give your 3D prints some color. Now, a group of researchers from Columbia University and Zhejiang University have released a research paper showing how they can precisely place full-color texture maps onto 3D printed objects using the same technology, some off the shelf parts, and lots of math.
The team has created a piece of software that simulates how the hydrographic film will be stretched as it is applied to a 3D model. The data created by the simulation is used to alter the texture map image, which can then be printed onto a clear sheet of hydrographics film. A jig with a linear actuator is then used to precisely dip the printed part into the water bath holding the printed film. The result is a full-color texture map on your single color 3D print. To get all the details, read the full research paper.
While this process is currently just a research project, all of the technology used is well within the reach of Makers. Hopefully this project won’t live out a short life behind university doors, and will instead be released to flourish in the wild.