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This wild new 3D printer uses UV light to grow objects out of liquid

3D printing technology has been progressing at a fairly steady pace for the past few years, but now, thanks to California-based startup Carbon3D, the technology is about to take a massive leap forward.

The company has developed a radical new technique called Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) that is anywhere from 25 to 100 times faster than most 3D printers. Instead of depositing plastic layer by layer onto a substrate, CLIP uses a light projection system to “grow” objects out of a pool of UV-curable resin.

Carbon3D_CLIPThe key to the whole process is carefully balancing the interaction of light and oxygen. UV light triggers photo polymerization (hardening) in the resin, while oxygen inhibits it. CLIP is essentially a chemical process that leverages this interaction in order to eliminate the mechanical steps and layering of traditional printers.  It works by projecting light through an oxygen-permeable window into a reservoir of UV curable resin. As a continuous sequence of UV images are projected through the bottom of the reservoir, the object hardens in certain spots, and the object is slowly drawn from the resin bath.

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This approach has a number of distinct advantages over traditional 3D printing techniques. In addition to being dramatically faster, it also produces higher-resolution prints. Objects produced via CLIP look almost like injection-molded plastic, and come out of the bath without any noticeable layers.

This process also makes it possible to print with a wider range of materials. Carbon3D is able to draw from the entire polymer family, meaning they can make objects out of everything from silicone to rubber to polyester. The range of potential applications is staggering.

Carbon3D’s printer tech isn’t on the market quite yet, but the company is backed by some of the biggest venture capital firms in the game, and has raised over $40 million to commercialize the technology as soon as possible. Keep your fingers crossed and we might see CLIP printers out in the wild by the end of the year.