When you think of making something out of silicone, you usually think of using a mold and injecting it with the material. Can you 3D print it? [Kimberly Beckett] answers that very question in a recent post. The short answer is yes, but you need specialized printing equipment.
Most consumer or hobby printers use either filament deposition or photoresin. Neither of these processes are good for printing silicone. For one thing, silicone doesn’t melt and reform like a thermoplastic. After all, that is why we like making hotend socks and oven utensils with the material. If you do melt silicone, you get a gooey mess, not a nice fluid you can push through an extruder nozzle. As for resin printing, silicone is resistant to UV so the chances of coming up with UV curable silicone are pretty small.
So how do you print silicone? There are a few methods. Aceo is a technique that is sort of like an inkjet. It deposits a solution of silicone and a binder that activates on exposure to UV. After placing a layer, a UV light activates the binder and you repeat for the next layer. There is also a technique for drawing a layer of silicone liquid and then curing it with a halogen lamp.
There are several companies that make photosensitive resins that mix with silicone. The resulting print is resin impregnated with silicone. A trip through an oven can burn away the resin and leaves a silicone part. Some companies offer this as a service and others make resin for high-end printers.
Of course, you can always produce a mold with your 3D printer and then use that mold to create a silicone piece in the conventional way. Or, you can go full injection molding on the cheap.