While most 3D printers have very little in common with traditional 2D printers, Mcor is combining the concepts of the two, using paper to print full-colour replicas of whatever you can imagine. By using paper, Mcor’s ARKe printer aims to reduce both the environmental impact and potential health risks of 3D printing.
The ARKe cuts, inks and glues layers of paper together to create high-quality, full-colour images in a process known as LOM, or Laminated Object Manufacturing — the first of its kind in an accessibly priced, desktop printer. While the concept is similar to a traditional 3D printer, it comes with a couple of key differences.
For one, while the ARKe can print STL files like most 3D printers, it isn’t the recommended file type, as it doesn’t include colour information. Instead you can print from a number of formats, most notably OBJ files but also VRML, DAE or 3MF Instead of selecting a layer height as you might in a traditional extrusion printer, the ARKe’s default layer height is the thickness of a sheet of paper, resulting in highly detailed models.
This isn’t Mcor’s first printer to use this technology, but it’s the first at a consumer price level, where previous models could cost more than $30,000. The ARKe, while still expensive, is far more accessible on an individual creative’s budget, around $6000.
As far as the applications for this technology go, Mcor seem to think that the possibilities are endless. For rapid prototyping, the ARKe offers an attractive alternative to traditional PLA or ABS, putting out biodegradable prototypes that can easily be recycled. If designers do need a more durable item from the printer, however, Mcor points out that the structure of paper is quite open, meaning the models can be impregnated with resin to create a solid object.
Because its process doesn’t release as many potentially harmful emissions as traditional PLA or ABS printers, the ARKe can be used in schools, at home, or even in hospitals where medical parts need to be prototyped, or doctors need to visualise something from an x-ray or CT scan that they will later operate on. It could even be used in the field of cosmetic surgery, so that patients can be shown a photorealistic vision of the proposed outcome before they undergo what can be serious surgery.
Mcor’s printer also has the ability to create beautiful, full-colour architectural scale models, simplifying the design process. The technology has already been used by a Maltese inventor, for one, designing statuary and architectural features to revitalise the country’s architecture.
With a heavy focus on creative professionals, the ARKe will also be releasing in a number of different patterns and styles, from a simple brushed chrome to faux-wood panelling, and even bright patterns and designs. The ARKe will be available from Q2 2016, though there’s no word yet on Australian resellers.