Light pipes are a type of optical component that is used to guide light from one location to another. They are commonly used in a variety of applications, including lighting, automotive, consumer products, and home use. But, did you know that they can be 3D printed?
In this article, we will explain what light pipes are, the considerations for 3D printing light pipes, and how you can use Rapid Axis to get the best 3D-printed light pipes.
What Is a Light Pipe?
Light pipes are typically made from transparent materials, such as glass or plastic, that are carefully shaped to guide light along a specific path. The light enters one end of the light pipe and is then reflected off the walls of the pipe, traveling through the material until it reaches the other end.
In other words, a light pipe can take light from one area to another.
They can also be used as a means of illuminating a bulb. The same theory goes into making lightbulbs and custom bulbs that fit over LEDs.
One of the key benefits of light pipes is that they can transmit light over long distances without significant losses in intensity. This is because the light is reflected off the walls of the pipe, rather than being absorbed by the material. As a result, light pipes can be an efficient and effective way to distribute light from a single source to multiple locations.
With 3D printing, that’s a little tougher to achieve.
Light pipes can be designed in a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on the specific application. For example, they can be straight, bent, bulb-shaped, or curved to suit the desired light path. They can also be made from different materials, each of which has its own unique optical properties.
How to 3D Print Light Pipes
3D printing light pipes presents a number of unique challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, 3D printing allows for greater design flexibility, enabling the creation of custom light pipe configurations that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with traditional manufacturing techniques.
On the other hand, 3D printing light pipes requires careful consideration of a number of factors, such as material selection, printing resolution, wall thickness, surface finish, and a good design.
Falling short in any of these categories will result in a light pipe that simply won’t work.
Choose the Right Material
One of the key considerations when 3D printing light pipes is the choice of material.
The material used for the light pipe will determine its optical properties. How well can the part transport light, and how well can you see through the bulb? This question is answered by your material choice.
In general, materials with a higher refractive index will be better at guiding light, but may also be more difficult to work with.
We would suggest trying Acura 60 or VeroClear. Both of these materials are transparent, but tough to work with.
Another important factor to consider is the printing resolution. Light pipes are typically made from transparent materials, which are a lot harder to print with. You need a high-quality printer that can handle it.
In addition, the resolution is very important. We’re talking about tiny pipes, here.
When we 3D print light pipes, we change our printer’s variables to maximize the resolution and quality. The result? A light tube that transports light better with less loss.
For a high-quality 3D-printed light pipe, you need the right wall thickness. The wall thickness should be thin enough to allow light to pass through, but thick enough to provide structural support.
Too thin of a wall thickness can result in light leakage, the pipe breaking, or instability during the 3D printing process.
If you go for too thick of a wall, you’ll get reduced light transmission.
Additionally, the surface finish of the light pipe is important for light transmission. A smooth, polished surface will allow light to pass through more easily than a rough or uneven surface.
3D printing technology can produce high-quality surface finishes, but it is important to carefully control the printing process to ensure a smooth finish on the light pipes. After printing, you can use finishing steps to further polish the surface.
A rough exterior means that less light can smoothly pass through.
Start With A Good Design
Finally, the design of the light pipe is important for its performance. Light pipes can be either straight or bent, and the shape and size of the light pipe will affect its ability to guide light.
It is important to carefully design the light pipe to ensure that it can effectively transport light from the source to the desired location. This part can require a lot of trial and error.
The best practice is to use plenty of rounded surfaces inside of the pipe, and ensure the part is concentric. Try printing a few versions and seeing which works the best.
Using the Right 3D Printer
Most transparent materials can’t be successfully printed with an FDM printer. Instead, you need to use a PolyJet or SLA printer. These types of printers are more expensive to own and maintain, so most people don’t have one in their home.
This is where we come in. We have a full-service 3D printing shop that can tackle your 3D-printed light pipes with ease.
Knowing how to 3D print light pipes can open a lot of doors in your DIY application, small business, or operation. If you don’t know where to get started, let our team at Rapid Axis help. We offer plenty of 3D printing services, and we can handle this project for you. Get a free quote today.