How to Dye Your 3D Prints - Finishing Techniques - Make: 3D Printing (2014)

Make: 3D Printing (2014)

Part VI. Finishing Techniques

Chapter 12. How to Dye Your 3D Prints

How to add color to your nylon (or polyamide) prints with nylon with fabric dye.

Colleen Jordan

Have you created something with 3D printing? Many design students and hobbyists now have access to the technology thanks to services like Shapeways and Ponoko. If you print your objects 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 dyeing 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 (Figure 12-1). This is a tutorial for dyeing 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 they are 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.

The author’s Wearable Planter

Figure 12-1. The author’s Wearable Planter

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

If you have a desktop 3D printer, you can dye filament (see Nylon) prior to printing to achieve a “tie-dyed” look. Check out RichRap’s seminal tutorial on how to dye nylon filament.

1. Gather Your Materials

The first thing that you will need to do is gather your materials (Figure 12-2). 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 dyeing as needed.


Figure 12-2. Supplies

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 dyeing 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.

2. Soak Your Pieces

Before you begin the dyeing process, soak your prints (Figure 12-3) 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 pieces 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.


Figure 12-3. Soaking

The piece shown in Figure 12-4 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.

A blotchy piece

Figure 12-4. A blotchy piece

3. Add Color

Carefully measure your required amount of dye (Figure 12-5) and add your boiling water. Stir it really well so all of the powder is dissolved in solution (Figure 12-6).

The dye in the container

Figure 12-5. The dye in the container

Stirring it well

Figure 12-6. Stirring it well

Add your prints to the solution and stir (Figure 12-7). 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 six minutes to achieve the color shown. If you need to leave your prints in the solution longer, microwave it at 15- to 30-second increments to reheat the water to near boiling temperature. 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 dyeing times to achieve their desired colors.

Adding the prints to the solution

Figure 12-7. Adding the prints to the solution

4. Rinse

Rinsing your prints is very important (Figure 12-8). You can rinse them 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 dyeing 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.


Figure 12-8. Rinsing

5. Dry

Next, dry everything out (Figure 12-9).

Drying your prints

Figure 12-9. Drying your prints


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.

6. Show It Off!

You just put all this hard work into your 3D-printed object—show it off (Figure 12-10) and tell everyone about it!

One of the bike planters in action

Figure 12-10. One of the bike planters in action

This post was originally published on the Wearable Planter blog.

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