Once 3D printing hits the consumer market on a widespread scale, it has the potential to totally change how we view manufacturing. Many technophiles have visions of creating their own jewelry, housewares, and even mechanical parts with a home unit and plastic or metal materials. But have you ever thought about printing forms that are somewhere between two and three dimensions? 2.5D printing is officially on the scene, with the ability to add texture to printed materials using a simple heat-based process.
Casio’s 2.5D Printer can realistically simulate the textures of leather, textiles, and other tactile surfaces on paper using a “Mofrel” unit, a brand-new device. It works by combining infrared and heat-absorbing black ink with a special layered paper containing plastic microcapsules that expand when exposed to heat. When you use it, your design determines which areas of the paper expand under a halogen lamp, and you can vary the texture patterns and level of embossing. The darker the patterns, the more tactile they’ll be after they’re heated.
The front surface of the paper is the inkjet layer, using traditional inkjet print heads in black and full color to create your design as it would normally look using a conventional printer. The 2.5D elements are “printed” onto the back surface of the paper using infrared light, which heats it up to about 90 degrees Celsius. The inner layer of plastic microcapsules then expands as directed by your design, up to an incredible two millimeters in thickness.
The resulting textures feature natural unevenness and gentle curves and can even convincingly reproduce sewn seams where multiple materials and colors intersect (including thick seams like those in your car upholstery). You don’t need to use any special software to produce your printed designs, working with whatever computer equipment and image manipulation programs you already use for smooth system operation.
This technology will make printed design concepts instantly feel more real, coming in handy for fashion designers, industrial designers, and architects who want to convey a little more physicality when first exploring new ideas. It’ll also have a wide range of applications in education, especially for the visually impaired, and can help capture details of anatomy and complex structures in mathematics and science. Braille and topographic maps have never been easier to create! Graphics and business charts could also get considerably more interactive, so it has potential use in the workplace, too.
Casio first debuted its 2.5D printing technology at the Design Engineering and Manufacturing Solutions Expo in Tokyo in 2016, and Dornob got to see it in action at CES 2017. The prototype currently only supports A4 and A3 sized paper, but it prints surprisingly quickly, especially compared to the often hours-long process of a 3D printer. It’s also capable of downloading samples to be printed from a cloud server.
It’s not clear when or if it’ll be available to consumers, but Casio is currently looking into additional applications for the technology, so all sorts of new and exciting things could be on the way.