Colors for 2017

Graphic Design, Product Design

Designsoul Palette 2017

Here it is! Our new palette for 2017.

A substantial part of the design process is choosing colors. Designers call this the CMF, the Color/Material/Finish specification of a product. Sometimes this takes more than two days for a product. Car companies even hire full-time staff to develop their colors.

To make things simple for our clients we have a set of preferred colors. These simply work the best on the products we develop, and produce striking combinations. These shades are very subtle and carefully selected from over 1,000 colors. Every year this set is updated.

Some of our preferred colors for this year are Sulphur green, Mars red and Oxford grey.
For striking combinations, our favorites are Wan blue + Grenadine red and Royal Blue + Solar Yellow.

And remember, a color’s neighbor is its friend and its opposite is its lover.

I look forward developing more products this year and implementing these striking colors!


Getting On the Move with a 3D Printer

3D printing


The previous article, “3D PRINTING: WHAT IS IT ACTUALLY GOOD FOR?” advised you about how to enable 3D printing to start projects and businesses. This next article is about choosing a 3D printer and getting it up and running. There are now hundreds of brands on the market, quality varies dramatically and installations are not a simple matter of plug-n-play. There are only a few printer brands that have the right experience, customer-oriented approach and know-how to get the fundamentals of the machine in order. So with the guidelines in this article I am pleased to inform you, 3D printing enthusiasts and professionals, about purchasing a new 3D printer for use at home and non-industrial workplaces like offices, studios and schools.

We are only treating FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) printers here, for the following reasons:

  • Some SLA printers are affordable but while they have great accuracy, the shelf life of materials is limited, materials are up to four times more expensive per unit of volume, materials are toxic and/or irritant to the human body. Also these printers use resins that are not suitable for testing mechanical properties often desired in end-use products. These are mostly used for showcase and mother models for secondary processes such as molding or casting.
  • SLS printers are still too expensive with small build volumes, and require an industrial environment.
  • FDM systems such as Stratasys Dimension are in the lower range of professional printers but too large for in the house, with materials being up to six times more expensive.
  • FFF systems are the only ones with a lot of materials available, a lot of them moreover are open-source with a large community base.

The following factors are most important when considering a 3D printer today:

  1. Dimensional Accuracy. Cartesian printers are generally more accurate than the Delta, Scara and Polar systems. A Cartesian 3D printer separates movements of the X, Y and Z dimension so its position can always be controlled. It does so by having three linear rods bearing the print head. A Delta printer nears the target position through three rods that triangulate each coordinate. A Scara printer is a robotic arm that handles movements in the XY plane, and a Polar printer has a rotating XY printbed with the nozzle moving only upwards. High accuracy is paramount because with vibrations above a certain level this will become visible in the print as a Zebra effect. You can somewhat programmatically control this with firmware settings such as XY-jerk and maximum acceleration. Also the belts of the 3D printer are important and while most are good quality, GT2 belts for example are better than standard ones. Make sure the belts are so tight you can stretch them less than one centimeter up or down. You can buy simple torsion springs to adjust belt tension. Some 3D printers have a moving printhead with integrated direct drive filament feeding system, that can influence print quality because of its inertia.
  2. Electronics quality. Controller boards often fail and the best ones come from Europe and the US and are brand-specific. If you have a generic non-EU or non-US board, it is much more likely to fail. Pay attention to the boards having a variable resistor for adjusting the voltage going to the motors.
  3. Steady extrusion. If your printer does not have a reliable extruder, it will require a lot of maintenance. Some extruders leak if not assembled perfectly, some work only for one type of material, others simply do not transfer enough force onto the filament or have too much cumulative friction along the feeder system. While some companies manage to have a well working Bowden tube system, I recommend a direct drive system, especially if you are working with flexible materials.
  4. Multiple extruders. The ability to print with multiple materials is a desirable capacity both for hobbyists, artists and professionals. The thing with multiple FFF extruders though, is that while one extruder is printing, the other one will have some material still running out and still being in contact with the print. That makes a dual extrusion print of less quality than a single extrusion print. Some printers have solved this using a single nozzle and exchange system. This solution requires an exchange tower where the mixed filament gets deposited before starting with clean material on the print. The thing is that, before the nozzle would be completely clean it would require quite a bit of wasted material slowing down the print. Also, filaments have a sweet spot when it comes to temperature so this can only be used on filaments of the same brand. Keep in mind that while most 3D printers use 1.75mm filament, other use the 2.85 or 3.00 mm filament standards. To gain a quick level of expertise I recommend to stay with one brand and choose for one standard to maintain a single inventory.
  5. Build quality. Like a human body, a 3D printer is a quite complex machine with several sub-assemblies coordinated together. A build can appear healthy, but if there are issues underneath the skin these can manifest rapidly or slowly over time. In order to keep it healthy, you need to preventively maintain it by lubricating the rods and axes as well as the Bowden tube, keep the print bed calibrated and as clean as you can, maintain the PCB heat sinks and wires, tighten all belts and screws, and remove rests of filament in the area. Also keep filament dust and moisture free and stored dry. If you buy a printer, check all components for long-term stability. The best printers will make for a good working life of five years or 5,000 running hours. Plastic components, except for acrylic, will slowly disintegrate and as with wood, start bending and distorting. Composite and steel components will be very stable over time so they are worth investing in. Next to a 3D printer you will need basic tools: a pair of tweezers, allen keys, screw drivers, sewing machine oil, blue tape, 600 grit sandpaper, a steel wire brush for cleaning the nozzle, MEK, Magnalube for Z-screws, and a thin palette knife for removing prints.

Top 10 FFF 3D printers

  1. Artist’s choice: Ultimaker 3
    The printing quality of the UM3 is unrivaled and this being the third machine, the Dutch engineers have further perfected the extruder system. It has a 8 inch cubed build size and the only perfectly working dual extruder system with interchangeable heads that retract when the other is printing. Also electronics are of great quality with open-source firmware. This is the only printer that can produce objects that are nearly smooth enough for artistic display. It comes with a pricetag of over $3,500.
  2. Designer’s choice: BCN3D Sigma
    A great quality dual-head printer. You can consider it the UM3’s little brother, except for the 8 x 12 x 8″ build size, at a lower pricetag and less features.
  3. Engineer’s choice: Wanhao Duplicator s5 Mini
    Wanhao is the only Chinese brand that has created a great reputation and a separate USA based office. After the success of the Duplicator i3, the s5 comes with a build volume larger than that of the UM3 and Sigma, and great quality prints, with a price multiple times lower and higher possible printing speeds. If time-effectiveness is of prime importance, I recommend using multiple Wanhao machines over all other printers. You can adjust printing properties like speed, cooling and temperature on the fly. The downsides of these machines are that some need minor modifications, plus with proprietary software it can take a while to start printing. Nozzles are brand-specific and there is less online community and support than with the other brands. The extended version comes with a price tag but lets you create objects up to 600mm in height, making it ideal for architects and engineers.
  4. Maker’s choice: Snapmaker
    Having been the most successful 3D printing crowdfunded campaign so far, this compact printing partner has yet to prove its mark within the 3D printing space. For a sub $500 price it is a steal given that it has interchangeable heads for CNC milling and laser engraving. With specific software it will also be the most plug-and-play of all printers.
  5. Tinkerer’s choice: Velleman K8200 / 3Drag
    This is the machine if you want to experiment with everything a 3D printer can do. It is fully open-source, software that lets you adjust settings while printing, and with an aluminum frame open build with standard components. This lets you transform the printer for low-budget and time investment into for example a food printer, laser engraver or CNC machine. It is fairly easy to control, has a good direct drive extrusion system and therefore very suitable for educational purposes. The BCN3D+ is a slightly better quality but similar type printer at a higher price tag.
  6. Desk rat’s choice: Wanhao Duplicator i3
    For the 8” cubed build volume and quality you get, this is the best value-for-money printer.
  7. Prosumer’s choice: Flashforge Creator Pro
    The FFCP is a great and reliable machine for the beginning 3D printing enthusiast. With a dual extruder, 9” x 6” x 6” build size and 1.75mm filament it is good for numerous applications.
  8. Beast’s choice: Stacker S4
    The truly good way to do multimaterial prints is to employ at least three printheads: two for the dual materials and one for support. The Stacker S4 with a 14” x 20” build plate lets you use up to four heads in one print so you can make a dual-color product with flexible and soft touch features, faster infill if you use a wide nozzle for the second extruder, as well as perfect smoothness with dissolvable support structures.
  9. Innovator’s choice: Symme3D Original+
    Symme3D is a promising startup and has won several international prizes already. Their Delta machines come in different sizes and are customizable in features, supporting multiple extruders, CNC milling, laser engraving, and multiple filament sizes.
  10. Traveller’s choice: Lewihe Play
    If you are purely getting into 3D printing out of curiosity, have little budget and little requirements for your printing projects, this is the machine for you at $69 cost price and 4 inch cubed build volume.


About the author: Ralph Zoontjens (1984) is a product designer with a Master’s degree in Industrial Design and 5+ years of studio and startup experience, mostly related to 3D printing.

3D Printing: What is it actually good for?

3D printing

We are in the middle of a 3D printing hype, with technologies, materials and platforms becoming more and more accessible and affordable in order to spread the technology into studios, offices, schools and homes all around the globe. As appealing as it may seem to invest in a 3D printer, now is the time to take a critical look at 3D printing and evaluate what its true value can be and what we truly need it for.

3D printing is an additive manufacturing technique, constructing three-dimensional objects layer-by-layer. These are some inherent pros and cons vs. other manufacturing techniques:

Additive Subtractive
(CNC, cutting, lathing etc.)
(injection / vacuum / rotation / blow molding)
Part complexity ++ 0 – – ++
Surface finish – – ++ ++ ++
Lead time ++ + 0
Build time small object 0 ++
Build time large object – – – – ++ – – –
Available materials – – ++ + ++
Fixed costs per product ++ + +
Durability – – + + ++
DIY suitability + 0 1 ++
Batch suitability – – ++ – –

There are various processes to 3D print objects, the most important ones being:

  • FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) / FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling where a strand of material is released onto a building platform and partially fuses together with the already deposited material. This technology enables low-power and low-budget solutions so anyone can start 3D printing for a few hundred dollars. There are plenty of resources and materials available to print a plethora of objects. How about your own cookie cutters, glow-in-the-dark personalized wall hooks, or wooden sculptures? The most important downsides of this technology are part strength, surface quality and print deformations/failures since prints are constructed in the air from a print bed upwards and therefore are vulnerable to influences such as support structure, bed adhesion, fluctuations in room temperature and ventilation as well as in the flow of material. Also prints can take much longer than expected and operating and maintaining the machine is not as straightforward as it may seem.
  • SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) / SLM (Selective Laser Melting) / EBM (Electron Beam Melting) where a laser successively melts precisely targeted areas in layers of a powder bed. This is good for creating strong parts with complex geometries, thin walls and a nice surface finish. Part deformations are minimal since the printed objects are supported by the surrounding powder. Materials range from metals, engineering plastics, flexible materials and ceramics. These machines cost many thousands of dollars, the cheapest ones coming at $10k, they are mostly used by engineering firms and online 3D printing fulfilment services.
  • SLA (Stereolithography) printers transform liquid resin into solids using light. Imagine a pool being filled in steps, and after each step a part of the liquid inside is hardened by a light from above.The unique advantages are precise and strong parts with an excellent surface finish and low-power operation. Objects need to remain connected to the bottom of the pool so freehanging parts are not possible. Also the material is expensive, limited in range and liquid so not as suitable for home use as compared to FFF.


An excellent article was recently published on the Toptal engineering blog (1), offering a critical look at the potential of 3D printing for developers. The author makes a good point:

3D printing is not going mainstream any time soon, if at all. The technology is immature, build speed remains slow, part quality is unregulated, aesthetics hardly curated, and there are only a few niches of applications that offer significant value to have customers invest in the technology. As far as home printing goes, it is mostly for the hobbyist who does it out of a love for his or her craft.

The following niches are where the true value of 3D printing lies:

  • Multi-material objects such as gradual transitions in flexibility, complex composite parts, and the integration of conductive materials to create electronic components and PCB prototypes. For example, for the Ara project Google partnered with 3D Systems to integrate conductive components into the phone housing.
  • Small-batch manufacturing of up to 1,000 pieces may prove competitive in price and lead time compared to other manufacturing processes. It is recommendable to use an online fulfillment service since they will offer economy of scale, good quality, better lead time when compared to using a non-professional 3D printer and developers have the ability to integrate an API into their website so as to automate the order and delivery process.
  • Intelligent geometries which save weight and enable part count reduction. An example is GE’s titanium fuel injection nozzle for its next generation CFM LEAP turbofan engine. 3D printing allowed it to be constructed 25 percent lighter and 1 piece instead of an assembly of 18 parts, making a 5 times more durable part.
  • Tailoring of clothing, sports equipment and medical parts such as prostheses, joints and training models.
  • Customized goods such as modular toys derived from computer games and movies, jewelry, fashion and household appliances. See (2) for a more in-depth study.
  • Art. 3D printing affords unique geometries to render any object, be it fashion, furniture or food, into a reproducible work that can be sold as art. There are opportunities for online platforms, that instead of offering an enormous quantity of unchallenged objects, pursue a highly curated approach with only a select number of submitted objects, after careful review and testing, make it to online status.
  • Replacement parts. For example, for NASA, having 3D printers on-board to replace malfunctioning parts can prove critical.

If you are considering investing in 3D printing, my advice is:

If you want to invest in a home-based 3D printer, have a specific long-term plan for it. Even 3D printing simple objects may prove not very easy since you will have to learn a lot about the machine you are working with. This is a manufacturing machine more so than a consumer appliance like your inkjet printer. Also the material is better compared to a porous wood than to a molded plastic. The quality of available items is not regulated so it may not be safe, durable, usable or printable at all. The ratio of failed prints is very high so for some items you may have to tweak and reprint a dozen times. If you have to modify or create 3D models, you will need to learn to use various software programs that require users to practice for months. So if you are only thinking of occasionally printing something, use an online service or contact a local designer.

If you are a school, minimize the amount of 3D printers you invest in and go for quality and versatility. A 3D printer in every classroom is not necessary. If you are considering purchasing several small 3D printers, instead consider to buy one large 3D printer with multi-material option, more durable construction and better build time and quality. It is better to have one 3D printer in a central workshop location since then one person can be assigned to handle and maintain the machine, students will learn to make best use of it and plan their creative endeavors well because of its scarce availability, and no waste products will enter the classrooms. For printing educative objects 3D printing is excellent, but it can also be done on a single printer during the weekends or holidays or done by an external service or your local designer.

If you are an entrepreneur developing your own product, be prepared for the necessity have several prototypes created, in some cases hundreds, before a satisfactory quality is reached. If there are significant challenges in your product design process, be it mechanical or visual (such as in transportation, product and character design), it will in many cases be worth investing in a 3D printer since every physical prototype is worth much more than a sketch to serve as a tool for discussion. Instead of having your designer send the prototypes to you, it is of great value to be able to print the same model as your designer at the same time and discuss it the next day.

If you are a designer, I recommend you to invest in a 3D printer since it will enrich your practice and allow you to do some prototyping. Even if it is a limited amount of prototyping, it will give you more insight into your own work if you can make your results tangible. In most fields, such as toy design, character design, game design, graphic design, industrial or interaction design, there are substantial benefits to integrating a 3D printer into the workflow.

In case you want to use 3D printing to manufacture your products, realize that there are many untapped opportunities as well as challenges where you will need professional developers with experience in design and 3D printing. For most projects I recommend investing in a 3D printer for early prototyping and doing quick tests, since this can provide critical information already early on in the process. I recommend making the step to using the printer to be used for the manufacturing stage early on in the process as well since many iterations may be needed. If you plan to have an online sales platform where products can be customized, I recommend hiring a professional with experience not just in web design, but also in user interaction, experience or interactive product design since online customization adds some extra challenges in development and interface design. You can view customization not just as an addition but as a paradigm change in that you are not selling products, but also the data behind these products, which are to a specific extent accessible, and with that come some fundamental questions about the relationship between your company and your customers.

In conclusion, the main points of this post are that investing in 3D printing is in many cases not what you want to do since the real potential of 3D printing is limited to a very specific range of niches, that within these niches there is a lot of room for further development and unique value to be created, and that this may require the coming together of people from multiple disciplines.

  1. Reeves, P. and Mendis, D. (2015). The Current Status and Impact of 3D Printing Within the Industrial Sector: An Analysis of Six Case Studies. The Intellectual Property Office, UK: Newport.
  2. Designsoul. Creative studio specialized in product development and 3D printing.