The Palette turns any 3D printer into a multi-color, multi-material machine


One Canadian startup has developed a way to take 3D printing to the next level.


Over the past couple of years, there has been an upsurge in the number of 3D printing startups and a slew of new machines. However, as great as many of them are, they all too often share the same limitation: they can only print in one color. That’s where one Montreal, Canada startup comes in. From home projects to complex prototypes, the Mosaic Manufacturing team is hoping to enable Makers to create objects that would otherwise have been way too expensive or inconceivable with conventional printers.

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The Palette is a filament feeding system that connects to a single-extruder 3D printer and transforms it into a multi-color gadget, all through the use of a standalone box. This helps avoid the limitations of pricier, bulkier and harder-to-use machines, which require multiple filament nozzles.

What’s nice is that this shoebox-sized accessory, which recently debuted on Kickstarter, provides Makers with the ability to build an unprecedented range of things on the 3D printer that they already own — using up to four colors and a variety of materials. Beyond that, the system eradicates most of the commonly encountered problems associated with regular 3D printers, such as dripping and build size constraints.

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“If you can use a 3D printer, you can build high quality color creations with The Palette. You can skip the upgrade cycle of buying an expensive printer, keep using your favorite slicer, and use whatever filament supplier you want,” the team notes.

Generally speaking, FDM 3D printers run off of plastic filament and the color of the material determines the color of the extruded object. Not anymore! Thanks to The Palette, users can take four filament inputs and combine them together into a single filament output. The device isn’t just limited to extending the possibilities of colors either; instead, given the wave of new filaments, the standalone system allows Makers to use many of today’s most exotic filaments — whether that’s carbon fiber, wood, stainless steel or a conductive material.

“Everything is done automatically, from the order of the filaments, to their exact length, to make sure every color shows up exactly where it should,” the team adds. “All you have to do is go through the simple setup sequence and print like you normally would!”

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To appeal to the diverse landscape of today’s machines, The Palette is configured to function with just about any brand of FDM 3D printer that runs on G-Code/X3G and uses the typical 1.75 mm filament. Simply plug it in, and it’s ready to go. What’s more, it doesn’t require any modifications, wiring or hardware changes, and is cross-platform compatible.

Based on an ATmega2560 MCU, the device is driven by seven NEMA 17 stepper motors, is compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux, and features both an SD card interface and USB connection. The Mosaic Manufacturing crew also went the extra mile by employing open-source firmware and software. This not only makes it DIY-friendly, but lets The Palette fit nicely within the collaborative ecosystem that is fueling the 3D printing community.

The Palette’s software works with existing multi-extruder slicers on the market as well. A user starts by configuring their slicer to prepare a four extruder print and assigns each extruder to the appropriate .stl files. From there, they slice the parts and create four extruder .gcode. Using Mosaic’s accompanying app, this .gcode is then processed to make it ready for a single extruder printer.

“Printing isn’t a perfect science, so we created a feedback loop to ensure The Palette and your printer are always on the same page. Mosaic’s app inputs a series of checkpoints into the .gcode/.x3g file. The Palette reads these checkpoints, and if the buffer is shifting, the Palette makes adjustments to the upcoming lengths of filament to ensure every piece of filament goes back to being perfectly synced,” they explain.

The Palette truly represents a giant step forward for Makers, as we continue to inch closer to an era of ubiquitous consumer 3D printing. Sound like something you or your Makerspace would love to have? Head over to its official Kickstarter page, where the team has already well-exceeded its initial goal of $75,000. Shipment to early bird backers is slated for December 2015, while regular delivery is expected to begin in January 2016. (Not to be bias or anything, but the team admitted to following along with our blog regularly and “would have loved to to be covered,” so a little extra promotion is in store for these guys!)

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