Although consumer 3D printers can do some pretty amazing things, the objects that they create do tend to have kind of a low-resolution look to them. This is because of an issue known as surface ribbing, in which there are grooves visible between the deposited layers of material. While there are methods of smoothing down the ridges on either side of those grooves, scientists from Japan's Waseda University have developed a technique that they say is superior. It's intended for use on objects made of resin.

One of the existing methods of addressing surface ribbing involves grinding the ridges down, while another method involves exposing the object to a mist of vaporized solvent that melts the ridges so that they fill in the grooves.

The former wastes resin, however, and it generates dust which must be dealt with. The latter, on the other hand, involves dealing with large amounts of potentially hazardous solvent, plus it indiscriminately treats the surface of the entire object, sometimes melting away desired details. Whichever method is used, the scientists say, it involves adding complexity – and thus a higher price – to the 3D printing process.

Led by Kensuke Takagishi and Prof. Shinjiro Umezu, the Waseda team created a technique known as 3D Chemical Melting Finishing (3D-CMF).

It involves using a felt-pen-like tool to manually apply solvent only in the areas where it's needed, and in carefully controlled quantities. Additionally, different sizes and shapes of tips can be used on the tool, to more accurately control the application of solvent.

As a result, ridges are smoothed down and grooves are filled in as needed, there's no dust or wasted resin, plus less solvent is required and fine details don't get lost. What's more, the tool itself should be relatively inexpensive if produced commercially.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.