Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) scientists have developed a new seaweed-based colorful 3D printing ink called ArtSea Ink.
Unlike rigid, plastic-based 3D materials that require high heat for workability, this new ink is composed of mica pigments in alginate, a sugar from seaweed that can form a stable gel without heat.
According to the PNNL team – Anne M. Arnold, Zachary C. Kennedy, Joshua A. Silverstein, Jacob F. Ellis, and Janine R. Hutchison – alginate has already been explored as an inexpensive bioink for 3D printing prior to this research.
Alginate is known to form a viscous gum while in water. This transforms into a robust hydrogel when cross-linked with calcium ions.
But while plastics are available in many colors, alginate is almost colorless. This doesn’t bode well for artists as color is a vital component of art.
What Arnold and her colleagues aimed to do was add mica powders to alginate to create a new, vibrant ink for 2D and 3D compositions.
The scientists first prepared an 8% alginate solution in water and added one of eight different colors of mica pigments.
The mica powders in turn dispersed completely in alginate solutions, creating vibrant, pearlescent colors.
One can control the consistency of the media by adding more or less of the calcium chloride crosslinker, says the scientists.
In order to demonstrate the versatility of their ArtSea Ink, the scientists made use of the bioink to 3D print 2D art of a firefly, with a glow-in-the-dark additive to depict its abdomen.
They also created a colorful 3D structure showing the anatomy of the human brain.
According to the scientists, the 3D structures were proven to be stable over a period of several weeks if kept in a neutral, 200 mM calcium chloride solution.
Though the alginate art isn’t yet stable over the long term, Arnold and her teammates contend that it could actually be an advantage because the material, unlike plastic, degrades quickly when discarded.
Image and content: ACS Omega/ACS