Mofrel uses light sculpting and special paper to re-create textures on paper. The paper is covered in a special micro-powder that is designed to expand when heated. The printer applies the “ink” and then applies near-infrared light, which generates the heat to activate the “ink” and generate the right bumps in the right places.
The texture is applied in the first run through the printer — then a microfilm is peeled off and a second run applies actual ink to give the textured surface color. The Mofrel can also create double-sided prints for texture on each side.
Textures are designed in Photoshop using a Mofrel Utility plug-in. The plug-in helps designers translate those textured designs into bump data for the printer and shows a preview of the resulting print.
So why print textures? Casio is designing the 2.5D printer largely to use in prototyping and development. The printed textures are both more affordable and faster to use in prototyping a product. While you would probably still want real leather seats in that luxury car, for example, manufacturers could design their prototype with 2.5D printed leather. Casio also says the Mofrel could be used for packaging, apparel, and even construction materials. The company also expects potential uses in education, allowing for tactile learning material as well as potential for designing aids for visually impaired students.
Using heat and specialized paper isn’t a new idea — Zink or ink-free paper uses a similar concept in order to make printers small enough to fit in digital cameras — but Mofrel uses the idea to create textures rather than eliminating the ink cartridges. Mofrel also isn’t the first printer that sits in between a traditional printer and 3D printing. Canon previewed another type of 2.5D printer in 2015, but one that used layers of resin to create the final texture, rather than heat and specialized paper.