Breakthrough can help you 3D print OLED screens at home

You may not have to send in your devices (or buy replacement parts) if the screen breaks – you can just make new screens yourself. Twin Cities researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed what they believe is the first fully 3D-printed flexible OLED display. In theory, you wouldn’t have to rely on panels made in big, distant factories to build or repair your gadgets.

The new approach combines two methods of 3D printing to print the six layers necessary for a functional representation. The team used extrusion printing to make the electrodes, encapsulation, insulation and connections, while spraying active layers at room temperature. Previous attempts by several teams either had problems with light uniformity (consistency across the panel) or relied on techniques beyond 3D printing to get some components in place, such as spin coating or thermal evaporation.

The prototype was only 1.5 inches wide and used only 64 pixels. Practical use requires much higher resolutions (a 1080p display requires more than 2 million pixels), and the scientists also want to improve the brightness. It may also take time to adapt the technology for home use. The university used a custom 3D printer that costs as much as a Tesla Model S — it may take a while for the method to be viable on standard printers, even with advanced models like FormLabs’ $4,850 3B+.

However, the nature of the technology makes those goals relatively achievable, opening the door to countless possibilities if and when home-printed OLED displays are practical. In addition to DIY repairs, it can help you build homemade gadgets with custom screens. While this effort doesn’t quite represent the democratization of engineering manufacturing (after all, there are many more parts than displays), it could reduce your reliance on pre-assembled components from companies.

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