There are many products with transparency these days from mobile phone cases to kitchen appliances for either functionality or aesthetic purposes. However, fully transparent materials can be a pain to manipulate, unlike typical prototyping materials such as foam, clay, fabric.
So the question here is – can we 3D print transparent materials the same way as we print opaque plastics and photopolymer to solve design challenges?
Well, the answer is YES!
Multi-material 3D printing technology from Stratasys makes the creation of custom translucent and transparent parts easier than ever. Let’s have a deep dive into the materials and the practical applications.
Transparent, translucent, and opaque – what differentiates them?
When it comes to product development, designers require the use of all material types – and every opacity in between. Some applications may require semi-transparency, while others might need components to be fully transparent.
Opaque materials typically block the passage of light, meaning nothing can be seen through them. Colored plastics, wood, and metal make up the majority of materials that are opaque.
Translucent or semi-transparent materials allow some passage of light, but you can’t see clear shapes through them usually. Wax paper, sheer fabric, and frosted glass are some common translucent materials
Transparent materials allow enough light to pass through so that objects on the other side of the material can be seen clearly. Clear glass, water, and cellophane are some of the common transparent materials.
Ways To 3D Print Transparent Materials
It is really dependant on the application.
For rough prototypes or tooling, one option is FDM technology and transparent filament. With extensive sanding and/or coating, a degree of translucence can be achieved.
However, for high-fidelity models or final use parts, a smooth finish and true transparency may be required. Photopolymer materials like Stratasys VeroClear and VeroUltraClear are engineered for a smooth finish and high light transmission for excellent clarity using PolyJet technology.
Can Acrylic be 3D Printed?
Acrylic or PMMA is a transparent thermoplastic that is often used as a more durable alternative to glass.
For 3D printing, VeroClear and VeroUltraClear can simulate the physical properties of acrylic and also combined with thousands of opaque color options for a full range of colored transparencies.
VeroClear offers similar mechanical properties to acrylic, with good strength, stiffness, and impact resistance. VeroUltraClear provides excellent, improved clarity and a lower yellow index for truly transparent parts.
3D printing clear plastics can provide a whole new way of designing, be it consumer products or for medical research.
Applications for consumer products are endless. Incorporate transparency into prototypes for cosmetics packaging, kitchen products, and food and beverage containers. Tinted transparent components help create model realism, helping designers see their ideas become reality.
For models that need to simulate glass or clear polymers for eyewear, VeroClear and VeroUltraClear are ideal choices for such medical devices. Nidek Technologies, an Italian company specializing in ophthalmology R&D, used VeroClear to prototype a special new optic device.
For surgical training or preparation, anatomical models with transparent components or walls are useful when studying complex anatomies like vascular systems. Clear 3D printed materials allow the creation of custom, transparent geometries, opening up a range of possibilities for medical research and patient care.
With fully custom transparent parts, models can vividly demonstrate internal mechanisms, accurately represent a final product, or allow for functional, real-world testing.