Pastel-coloured 3D prints using Sharpie-brand markers
Filament can be dyed during printing by passing it through a permanent marker. This article outlines the colours you get from dyeing opaque white filament with different Sharpie colours.
In 2014, Mathew Beebe published something he called the Ultimate Filament Colorer on Thingiverse. It’s a technique of colouring plastic filament by passing it through the ink sponge inside a Sharpie marker before it feeds into the hotend of a 3D printer. The pigment mixes with the plastic inside the hotend, producing a permanent colour that doesn’t rub off.
If you want to get in on this technique, I wrote a step-by-step guide to help you out.
When ‘clear’ plastic is coloured, the result is generally the same colour as the Sharpie was. However, no one has documented the colours that result when opaque white plastic is coloured. The answer is that it creates pastel colours (Fig. 1)! In this article, I tested all the Sharpies I could find and documented their final printed colour.
It’s a good question. Why make your own coloured filament when you can just buy the stuff?
In short, there are three reasons:
That last point is the big one for me. Filaments from different manufacturers have different temperature profiles. Within a manufacturer’s line, every colour also has its own temperature profile — it might want a hotter first-layer temperature, for example, or it might start stringing at a lower temperature. And due to variations in the manufacturing process, each spool will have a slightly different average filament diameter. You would normally tweak your settings and find a compromise for all of the filaments you want to use, but if you use a single type of white filament and colour it on demand, you don’t have to.
I designed a Sharpie holder for this job (Fig. 2). Its most important function is to hold the Sharpie vertically above my printer’s extruder so that the filament has a straight line through the Sharpie and into the hotend, reducing friction and dragging. By printing each Sharpie’s holder using filament coloured by that same Sharpie, I can also use these prints as a colour reference in the future.
Sharpies, annoyingly, are not labelled with their colour or even a colour code. I have therefore used Cheryl Shireman’s Sharpie colour reference diagrams to find both the name of the colour and the colour of its cap — Cheryl’s photos are somehow a truer reproduction of the cap colours than the photos on Sharpie’s own website.
I tried to photograph the final prints but I found it really difficult to represent their colours accurately. Instead, I did my best to mix the colour in GIMP’s colour picker while holding the finished print against my screen and under a strong white light. This was much more dependable.
The filament I used for all of these prints was Bilby3D white opaque PLA. It’s advertised as
Pure, bright white (not cream in colour).
Which makes it a nice base for this research. I printed it at 200 °C on alcohol-cleaned blue tape.
GORGEOUS PASTELS OH MY GOSH
I have been wanting to print in pastels since forever, so this is great!
Pastels, yes! It sure saves me from importing some of Faberdashery’s great pastel filaments.
You’ve probably noticed a few oddities, like how some Sharpies produce very similar colours (Turquoise/Lime Green, and Pink/Magenta/Berry). I was also very surprised that none of the Sharpies produced a clean primary colour. Even Red Sharpie created an orange print when I expected it to just dilute and turn pink. I suppose these colour changes come down to the formulation, so markers from other manufacturers should have different formulations and produce their own particular colours.
Also note that all of the Floral Colours markers (the ones that came as pastels to begin with) produced so little colour in the final print that I could barely differentiate them from each other. It seems that the stronger the colour of the Sharpie, the better the printed result.
Because so many of the Sharpies produce nearly-identical printed colours, we can omit most of them and just buy a few specific ones to form a pastel palette. Here are the ones I’ve settled with.
The Neon Sharpies came out with some great colours, but only the Neon Blue print remained strongly fluorescent under UV light (see image below).
The Metallic Sharpies failed to produce the expected metallic look under normal operation. It seemed like the metal particles were resistant to being extruded from my 0.4 mm nozzle. The metallic colour could be forced to come out by loading the printer with heavily-coloured filament (the filament was pulled through the Sharpie by hand to leave a thick coating on it), but the printed result was patchy and unreliable, and the nozzle became loaded with metallic particles that took nearly 7 cold-pulls to clean out (although the nozzle never jammed).
Finally, do note that these results are for 1.75 mm filament. 1.75 mm filament has more than twice the surface area of 3 mm filament per unit area. This means that when the outside of the filament gets coated in ink, there is less plastic inside to dilute the colour.
If you wanted to do this with 3 mm filament you would need to piggyback at least two Sharpies, one after the other, to get the same intensity of colour. Note that you cannot mix colours or intensify a single colour by feeding filament into more than one Sharpie. The solvents in the last Sharpie will always scrub the old colour off completely.