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Layered paper 3D printers: Full color, durable objects at a fraction of the cost

By

July 9, 2014

Full color printed model from the Mcor IRIS machine

Full color printed model from the Mcor IRIS machine

Image Gallery (24 images)

Irish company Mcor's unique paper-based 3D printers make some very compelling arguments. For starters, instead of expensive plastics, they build objects out of cut-and-glued sheets of standard 80 GSM office paper. That means printed objects come out at between 10-20 percent of the price of other 3D prints, and with none of the toxic fumes or solvent dips that some other processes require.

Secondly, because it's standard paper, you can print onto it in full color before it's cut and assembled, giving you a high quality, high resolution color "skin" all over your final object. Additionally, if the standard hard-glued object texture isn't good enough, you can dip the final print in solid glue, to make it extra durable and strong enough to be drilled and tapped, or in a flexible outer coating that enables moving parts - if you don't mind losing a little of your object's precision shape.

The process is fairly simple. Using a piece of software called SliceIt, a 3D model is cut into paper-thin layers exactly the thickness of an 80 GSM sheet. If your 3D model doesn't include color information, you can add color and detail to the model through a second piece of software called ColorIt.

Next, a regular CMYK inkjet printer prints each slice of the model onto a separate sheet of paper, with a ~5 mm-wide outline of the required color of the bit that will end up showing once it's assembled. The stack of printed slices is then loaded into the Mcor IRIS machine, which uses a process called selective deposition lamination.

Geoff Hancock with the Mcor IRIS machine (Photo: Loz Blain)

Each sheet is laid down, and its slice shape is cut into it. Then a print nozzle lays soft glue all over the non-essential parts of that sheet that will be broken away after manufacture. A second, high density glue is applied to the sections of the paper that will be used to form the final model. Then, the next sheet is drawn over the top of it, and the stack is pressed up against a heat plate that seals the two layers together.

Once all layers have been cut, glued and pressed together, the object comes out of the printer as a chunky sheaf of paper. But the waste material, with its softer glue, is slightly flexible and pre-cut into little cubes, so it pulls away quickly and easily from the much tougher, denser material of the object itself. The process can be seen in this video:

Even without an outer coating, the final objects feel very solid – something like a medium density wood feel – and the print detail can be truly fantastic, miles ahead of what some other 3D printers are able to achieve. Some of the samples we looked at had started to peel apart a little bit – but then, these were road-weary trade samples that had been handled by hundreds of people. In general they felt very solid.

Geoff Hancock, CEO of DGS 3D, the Australian supplier of Mcor machinery, told us that while the paper-based print process was broadly useful in parts prototyping, presentation modelling, architectural modelling, sand casting and a range of other business use cases, one of the most successful areas of the business is in printing out miniaturized cityscapes, complete with topographical data.

Topographical map, 3D printed in full colour by the Mcor IRIS machine (Photo: Loz Blain)

"We can take the topographical map of an area, and then overlay a satellite photo to produce a 3-D model," said Hancock. "No other process can produce something that's both topographically accurate and printed to such fine resolution. Councils are going mad for it, and there's a guy in the US running around making full models of golf courses to put in the lobby. They look fantastic."

Shape layering becomes more visible when the slope is gentle (Photo: Loz Blain)

The Mcor machines are being installed in 3D print outsourcing centers, such as Staples in the US, in which there will soon be a service where customers can bring in their 3D models to be printed and sent back to them, or have themselves scanned and photographed on site and reproduced as their own miniature 3D figurines.

The materials are all so common and so affordable that a fist-sized object can be printed for as little as US$10-12. Cheap, durable, and full-color, full resolution prints make this a significant technology in 3D printing. Mcor can be expected to do well out of it!

Lots more sample items can be seen in the gallery.

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz has been one of Gizmag's most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical and military technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production, and he remains the only Gizmag contributor willing to put his name to a sex toy review. A singer by night, he's often on the road with his a cappella band Suade.   All articles by Loz Blain
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13 Comments

Neat!

Now why didn't I think of that!

xs400
10th July, 2014 @ 12:03 am PDT

Clever process - Pity about the awful video though - people seems to have forgotten on how to make viewable videos. Everything seems to have to be an Apple style ad or music video.

Brian M
10th July, 2014 @ 01:40 am PDT

Umm, can I point out that this is not additive printing and is incredibly wasteful. They are taking a ream of paper, cutting and gluing the sheets together and throwing away all of the the excess. Its along the same lines as gluing layers of aluminum foil together and then milling away all excess.

Part of the beauty of 3d printing is that we waste very little material (usually only in post processing).

DStar1
10th July, 2014 @ 04:28 am PDT

Judging by the photos, I assume that the size is not limited A4 and some 'stitching' software is used to make larger items. If that is the case, I imagine that there will be quite a few model railway enthusiasts keen to get their hands on one of these, or a printing service that employs them. One also can imagine the police being attracted to having models of crime-scenes for use in court.

Just a quick thought: any coating had better be waterproof, or these models will not last long in wet or humid conditions.

Mel Tisdale
10th July, 2014 @ 07:04 am PDT

It's no more wasteful than other modeling processes; the waste paper is recycled and the model itself when no longer needed is recyclable.

Nothing wrong with the video; it gives a very clear description and overview of the process.

Stuart Wilf Wilshaw
10th July, 2014 @ 08:20 am PDT

OMG! The millenium has arrived from a graphic standpoint.

What great site models these are!

If they are smart enough to handle the graphics meticulously then I'd expect to see them solve the waste problem.

b

Island Architect
10th July, 2014 @ 08:26 am PDT

@DStar1: It might appear wasteful, but what is the cost of a ream of copier paper? And of course the waste can be recycled (if the soft glue is not a problem)

One of the best features of this idea is the full-colour detail of the finished objects. One of the disadvantages is that the objects will not be as durable as those 3-D objects created using ABS plastics or metal dust. So they will not be so good for mechanical prototypes.

It will not be possible to create intricate 3-D sculpture, because of the difficulty of removing unwanted material, so it's use has to find a particular niche, which will not be difficult to discover.

I think it is a brilliant concept. It would be very good for making very realistic 3-D models of people's faces (watch out wax work museums!)

windykites1
10th July, 2014 @ 08:38 am PDT

@DStar1, They don't call it 'additive printing', it's 'Selective Deposition Layering'.

The hammer is only a demonstration piece - there's absolutley no statement that you can ONLY print one piece per ream (admittedly, there's also no actual mention of being able to print more than one). The number of pieces per ream should only be limited by their overall area subtracted from that of a sheet which already has the area(s) of the 'cubes' subtracted.

Did you not see the waste thrown into the recycling bin? If the 'soft' glue is/can be bio-degradeable, then it's easily recycleable. Can 'traditional' 3D-print waste be as easily disposed of?

Personally, I'm gutted that the printer is so big (no home-based version, I assume) and probably too expensive (no home-affordable version yet, I suspect), but I'm sure they'll come.

leafygreen
10th July, 2014 @ 08:46 am PDT

I didn't check out all the photos before I made my previous comment.

windykites1
10th July, 2014 @ 08:52 am PDT

Great concept in a 3D printer.

Now, if only I could get a module that is compatible with it and SolidWorks 3D CAD software.

The way to lower the per piece cost would be for the printer and the software to be smart enough to not just layer sheets of paper but also layer strips of paper. Take the hammer example in the video. No need to build the whole hammer as a solid. How about the printer gluing a certain thickness of "ribbons" of paper to just make the outline of the hammer. Inside, the hammer would be hollow ...

cucotx
10th July, 2014 @ 10:05 am PDT

I think these guys would make more money developing golf courses than manufacturing printers.

noteugene
10th July, 2014 @ 01:05 pm PDT

I would stik to "traditional" 3D printing with plastics and then print the last layer (top and bottom) on a laser printer with transparent laser printable plastic :)

Nick Heidl
11th July, 2014 @ 06:27 am PDT

People come on, let's be realistic. No single 3D printing process is going to make all others obsolete. Like any good craftsperson will tell you—"PICK THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB".

I have no stake in this enterprise, but to those dismissing this process or decrying it, show us ANY other 3D printing process that can render out this level on naturalistic color variation—AND—at the costs Mcor is claiming. Otherwise . . .

yrag
12th July, 2014 @ 02:26 pm PDT
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