Using a 3D Printer to Turn Straw PLA into Gold

Using a 3D Printer to Turn Straw PLA into Gold

Mark Lanctot
June 25, 2024

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Last time I talked about the joy in my first beautiful 3D print. Not all 3D prints have to be functional - there can be beauty in 3D prints. They can also be cool and just fun. They don’t have to do anything but give you or others a smile or even a gasp of amazement.

Some of the coolest filament out there is silk PLA. I grew to be interested in it and it was a new challenge. Silk PLA is translucent PLA surrounding a TPU-like core. The two differing materials create an interface within the filament. This interface creates a shiny layer, causing the print to gleam like silk.

Silk PLA is available in many colors, but one of the most interesting is the gold color. It may take some searching to find just the right color, but it really can look like gold.

This filament is purely cosmetic and doesn’t have any positive functional properties. It’s more brittle than regular PLA and bed adhesion can be tricky. It should be printed slowly for maximum brilliance, otherwise it will turn out dull. It doesn’t hold detail well either. Another challenge, but it’s worth a try! I purchased some affordable CC3D silk yellow PLA - it was maybe more yellow than gold, but let’s see.

A temperature tower seemed to turn out OK, and so did a Benchy. It looked a lot like bright, polished gold. Following recommendations, both of these completed quite slowly at 40mm/s, but they did complete. Just to see if this speed was appropriate, I also printed a speed tower, both to see if the detail would turn out but also to see if the print turned dull. And yes, 40mm/s was the sweet spot. Both detail and brilliance deteriorated at speeds faster than 40mm/s.

So now to print some gold! First I wanted to impress my nephew with some Robux:

Gold Robux

Not bad! Shiny and bright gold. A little too yellow, maybe. There’s lots of debate online what the perfect gold color should be. Some prefer a darker, deeper luster - less brassy.

I knew I could make something much cooler. My wife and I are both fans of Raiders of the Lost Ark and when I saw the Ark of the Covenant (which is also a small box and a chopstick holder), I knew I had to try it, even though I didn’t really need to hold chopsticks. But that’s not the point!

This would be challenging. The bottom half is completely buried in supports and the lid is printed separately, also with supports. The angel wings are very thin and fragile but also needed to be printed with supports. The lid was printed with 0.1mm layers for high detail. It took 5 hours and removing the supports was…fun.

The lid as printed

Interestingly the gold looks more like gold this time. Encouraged by the lid, I went on to print the body. It took about 15 hours and 2 attempts - there were some initial bed adhesion issues.

Some stringing inside. Corners and underside encased in supports. Supports have warped at the corners.
Another view showing the supports along the side, corners and bottom.
This material is brittle and 3 of the 4 bottom feet broke off when removing the supports. Easily fixed with a bit of superglue. And the end result was worth it.
Ooh wow
It does hold chopsticks, but not The Ten Commandments
It’s impressive but I did not want to look inside, no matter what happened.

This was addictive and I wanted to see what more I could do. Oh, how exciting - how about the idol Indiana Jones takes at the start of the movie (replacing it with a well-judged bag of sand, which turned out not to be so well-judged). Unfortunately the model has been taken down. Cura showed that it would have taken 48 hours of printing on my former Creality Ender 3 V2 Neo, taking up almost the entire print volume. That would be too risky. I reduced its size by 50% which made print time more reasonable. It needed to be buried in supports too, but let’s give it a go.

Amazing! The flash shows how reflective it really is and how much it can look like gold. It even shines reflected beams across the print bed.
Supports removed, which was fairly easy compared to the previous print
The supports were easier to remove than before since they were large and chunky. The filament’s brittle tendency actually helps, they just crunched right off.
Showing the detail in the hair

Everyone I showed it to was impressed, even if it was a little small - just a little larger than fist size.

Oh, and how about the headpiece to The Staff of Ra?

“this says ‘six Kadan height’ “

You get the idea. This filament can be a lot of fun and can make very cool, surprising prints that everyone will appreciate. Try out an interesting filament just for fun. It may fire up your imagination and the imagination of family and friends - they may start making requests.

3D printing is fun and it doesn’t have to be all technical stuff. But the best is yet to come.

Read more from the An engineer gets artsy series

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Previously I wrote about my experience with gold silk PLA and the amazing prints that I was able to make with it. Could it get any better?

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