Casio, typically known for its watches or cameras has come up with a new printer and printing technology named Mofrel which outputs 2.5 dimensions (2.5D) color prints that can mimic all kinds of surfaces from leather, to tatami mats to bricks. Now, the technology is already helping industrial designers prototype concepts faster, but in the future, it could very well be used to directly manufacture specific products.
I have held several types of printed textures, and it is true that they are entirely convincing. The leather and the tatami mat were particularly excellent and impressive. The relief and visual perception are near-perfect. When you touch the material, it finally seems a bit plastic (because it is!). You can compare this as touching fake food because your fingers expect a different feel. The more plastic the material is supposed to be, and the more real this seems. The leather felt stunningly genuine, with stitches and all.
The printer is even capable of emulating Kimono cloth to preview what the final product will look like, before actually producing an expensive real one. Finally, we have been shown prints in Braille for the blind, but with the possibility of having “drawings” in 2.5D which would be simply impossible with normal Braille printing.
The technology works as follows: first, all the relief data is printed on a thin, transparent film. The black portions represent the high relief, and the clear areas will stay flat. This film will then be put on top of a plastic sheet (~1mm thick), and electric current will heat the film’s dark areas, making the plastic underneath expand. It comes out cool to the touch, and the film can be removed. And voila, you have your 2.5D “bump” printout. I didn’t get when the color was added because the explanation was in Japanese, but the coloring doesn’t seem to be a big issue.
At the moment, the Mofrel printer costs ~$40,000 and are aimed at design professionals. Casio told me that some car makers are already using it to prototype their next-generation cars. In time, Casio hopes that high volume production will shrink the price to the point where manufacturing and consumers can use this technology at scale. For example, it’s possible to print plastic floor tiles, if the cost is low enough.