the future of 3D printing could see color-changing technology transform our wardrobes. at least with the work of MIT‘s computer science and artificial intelligence lab who are introducing a new kind of 3D printable ink that makes it possible to recolor 3D objects after they have been printed. the process, known as colorfab, works by using base dyes and light-adaptable or ‘photochromic’ dyes which appear only when exposed to UV light.


the method, developed by lead computer scientist stefanie mueller at MIT’s CSAIL, combines a 3D printing interface where users can create the object they want along with a layer of  the color-changing ink. by using the colorfab interface, individuals can then select areas of the object to revolor before activating them with UV light.

MIT colorfab ink allows you to change color of 3D printed objects
image courtesy of MIT CSAIL



colorfab improves on previous formulas of photochromic inks which could only activate one color and only when exposed to UV light. mueller’s method involves painting a dense multi-color pattern onto objects and then selectively activating or deactivating certain colors with light. the ink can also hold its color after the light source is switched off.


the colorfab system is designed specifically to work with the precision of 3D printers, where photochromic inks have not been used before. as explained in this paper, once the method has been refined, the technology could be developed for use in the garment industry eventually helping to cut down on the waste we produce by creating various options in only one product.