Dec 04, 2023

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Toner transfer is a commonly-used technique for applying text and images to flat surfaces such as PCBs, but anybody who has considered using the same method on 3D prints will have realized that the heat from the iron would be a problem. [Coverton] has a solution that literally turns the concept on its head, by 3D printing directly onto the transparency sheet.

The method is remarkably straightforward, and could represent a game-changer for hobbyists trying to achieve professional-looking full-color images on their prints.

First, the mirrored image is printed onto a piece of transparency film with a laser printer. Then, once the 3D printer has laid down the first layer of the object, you align the transparency over it and tape it down so it doesn't move around. The plastic that's been deposited already is then removed, and a little water is placed on the center of the bed. Using a paper towel, the transparency gets smoothed out until the bubbles are pushed off to the edges.

Another few pieces of tape hold the transparency down on all corners, and the hotend height is adjusted to take into account the transparency thickness. From there, the print can continue on as normal. When finished, the image should be fused with the plastic. If it's hard to visualize, check out the video after the break for a step-by-step guide.

There are, of course, some caveats. Aligning the transfer and the print looks a little fiddly at the moment, the transparency material used (obviously) has to be rated for use in laser printers, and it only works on flat surfaces. But on the other hand, there will be some readers who already have everything they need to try this out at home right now — and we’d love to see the results!

We’ve covered some other ways to get color and images onto 3D prints in the past, such as this hydrographic technique or by using an inkjet printhead, but [Coverton]'s idea looks much simpler than either of those. If you’re interested in toner transfer for less heat-sensitive materials, then check out this guide from a few years back, or see what other Hackaday readers have been doing on wood or brass.

Here's a quick video of the toner transfer process. from 3Dprinting

Thanks to [Shaun] for the tip.