Just when you thought you’re up to date on all the new printer types out there, here comes something out of left field: not 3D printing but 2.5D printing. Casio recently demonstrated a 2.5D printer that has automotive manufacturers and industrial designers geeking out pretty hard right now—and the future implications are fascinating for businesses, too.
Henry Ford once famously said, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” While that policy worked just fine in the early twentieth century, it doesn’t quite fit our digital age. We’ve already got sleek, futuristic-looking 3D-printed sports cars now. And soon, you’ll be able to print out the car of your dreams—in any color you like—with fancy, customized interiors to match, thanks to Casio’s new 2.5D printing technology, which it calls Mofrel.
What the hell is a 2.5D printer?
What makes 2.5D printing different from 3D printing? Casio has dubbed it 2.5D, because the maximum depth it can create is only 1.7 millimeters, far less than you’d find in an average 3D printer. It can, however, create a wide variety of textures on printed sheets, applying color to them at the end of the process with a 16 million color inkjet.
The sheets, which Casio calls “digital sheets,” look like slightly thicker pieces of paper, but there’s much more going on under the hood. They feature a layer of micro powder that sits between the inkjet layer and the paper or PET substrate. Each powder particle expands when it comes into contact with heat, retaining its structure afterward.
This gives industrial designers the ability to play with a lot of different textures, creating nuance with surfaces both bumpy and smooth. The level of detail that can be achieved is stunning—2.5D-printed sheets can even display faux stitching that looks like the real thing. And it’s versatile: Although 2.5D printing is especially good at creating leather-like materials, it can even be manipulated to look like wood, stone, brick, and ceramic.
As if this wasn’t exciting enough from a designer’s perspective, 2.5D printing could prove cost-effective, too. While a single-sided 8.5 x 11 digital sheet costs $10—way more than a sheet of regular paper costs—it can create replicas of much more expensive materials. As Engadget reports, select automobile firms are already experimenting with Mofrel for research and development, and a consumer version of this 2.5D printing technology is due out in a year and a half.
Empower your office with new printer types
Apart from creating some sick custom leather interiors for a 3D-printed hot rod—and maybe whipping up an impossibly cool leather jacket to match—what could a 2.5D printer create? For one, it could replace a patch of ripped fabric on that beloved office chair of yours that’s oh so comfy but a little worse for wear. Rather than buying a new chair or waiting for a replacement, you could print out that section of material, make a quick repair, and be back in business.
Your company could 2.5D print stunning custom branded covers for notebooks and leather portfolios, lending the staff extra swagger in their meetings with clients and business partners. You could even dress up the office with 2.5D-printed tiles resembling wallpaper, wood paneling, brick, or tatami mats (if you wanted to go with a Japanese aesthetic—Casio is a Japanese company, after all). With so many decorating options at your fingertips, an office cubicle could become less drab in just a few minutes.
If you were in the market for a new automobile in Henry Ford’s day, you’d get a black car and you’d like it. But thanks to today’s new and innovative printing technology, much more is possible. Consumers can get excited about the prospect of creating a one-of-a-kind car that’s just for them, complete with plush 2.5D-printed interiors, while businesses can apply the technology to cost-effectively fashion entirely new automobiles and other products that were just dreamed about a short while ago. With such a promising beginning, it’s exciting to imagine how we will be able to customize and personalize our 3D- and 2.5D-printed future.