Have you ever touched that velvety lining inside of a jewelry box, or that fuzzy logo on a t-shirt? What about that fake white snow on Christmas trees? These are just a few examples of Flock fibers, which are almost always mistaken for other materials.
In fact, it seems most people have never even heard of Flocking before (myself included). Until I stumbled across the term a few weeks ago, I would have guessed it was some sort of fabric. Which is a shame, because this finishing technique is quite easy to do and creates stunning results with little effort. It’s nothing more than coating an adhesive base with thousands of tiny fibers to give it texture.
The problem? These products aren’t cheap. Buying the Flocking powder, adhesive and applicator tool will run you close to $50… for a single color. On the upside, we as Makers can 3D print the tool ourselves, and substitute a more affordable adhesive to achieve beautiful results.
Purchased Parts List1 LB Flocking Fibers (Choose Color) - $24.99 8 oz Rustoleum Enamel Paint (Same Color) – $4.27
The inhalation of Flocking particles can cause a respiratory condition known as Flock Worker’s Lung. Pick up a respirator mask from your local hardware store’s paint department. Otherwise, a quick sneeze can send a cloud of these flying up in to your face.
Disposable Mask (5-Pack) – $2.48
Printed Parts List
With so many gorgeous colors available, we could empty our wallet trying them all. Since the larger 1 pound bags are a much better value than the 3oz sample packs, it’s best to start with just one or two colors that will work best for your style of projects.
Red and Champagne are great for lining boxes, Green works well for vegetation and terrains, while Black is perfect for just about any purpose. The more unique colors are absolutely stunning, but may have limited use case scenarios. If you can’t find one that you want and don’t mind forking out the cash, FlockIt will even create a custom shade for an additional $20 per pound.
Over the course of this article, we will look at the best options for an undercoat adhesive, different types of flocking fibers and the individual steps to flock your own 3D prints.
The adhesive base is the absolute most important part of the Flocking process. Use the wrong type and those beautiful fibers will just fall off, leaving bare spots on the surface. Only so many fibers will stick, so it’s important to use an adhesive that will give the best coverage possible.
Unfortunately the official Flocking Adhesive prices are rather high, around $18 for an 8 oz can. It wouldn’t be so bad if we just used a single color, but we always want the base coat to match the color of our Flock, and variety can drive up the total costs quick.
As a cost effective substitute, Rustoleum Enamels run about $4 bucks for an 8 oz can and work extremely well. Color match it as close as possible to the Flock, where it will mask any thin spots that the fibers didn’t cover completely.
With Enamel paints, we want the base to be thick and tacky, and it can help to leave the can open for a few hours before use. When ready to paint, lay it on thick, using multiple coats if needed for complete coverage.
Rayon vs. Nylon Flock
There are two primary types of Flocking material to choose from, Rayon and Nylon. For the purpose of finishing 3D prints, we will almost always use Rayon.
Made for interior use, Rayon fibers have a smaller diameter and are softer to the touch, making it the ideal choice for decorative projects such as box linings, screen printing and fuzzy animal furs. Known for a variety of bright, intense colors, there are quite a few more options available and it’s often cheaper than the alternative.
Nylon fibers on the other hand are a bit larger and more flexible in terms of application, but should always be used for outdoor projects. This material is water resistant, fade resistant and overall more durable to the environment than Rayon. They are frequently used for hunting decoys, automotive interiors and fishing rod grips.
Flocking 3D Prints
For Valentine’s Day this year, I decided to make a heart shaped box out of Hatchbox Wood and Silk Copper PLA. This particular design was the perfect chance to try Flocking a 3D printed object, where the removable bottom insert could be remade if I botched the first attempt.
Once you have collected the basic supplies, we can go ahead and get started. At the bare minimum, we need the Flock material, a matching colored adhesive and paint brush. Don’t repeat my mistakes though, make sure to grab a decent mask!
If there are any areas that aren’t going to be flocked, spend the extra few minutes and mask them off. Blue painter’s tape works great and doesn’t leave any residue on the part when removed afterwards. It’s also a good idea to cut off edges where the tape’s adhesive backing is exposed, otherwise the fibers will stick to it and waste flocking material.
At this point, we can go ahead and start painting our undercoat adhesive on to the printed part. For enamel paint, just grab a cheap paint brush and start coating it on thick. Two or three coats should provide more than enough coverage.
Inspect the surface afterwards and smooth out any areas where the paint has started to pool, especially around the edges. A nice even coat will give the best results.
Now, Flock is like Glitter 2.0 and can make a very colorful mess of the surrounding area. To keep it from getting everywhere, grab a storage container that’s big enough for your part to fit inside of. Since we can save and reuse any material that doesn’t stick, something like Tupperware makes it easy to pour the excess back into the bag when finished.
If you printed or purchased the applicator tool, go ahead and load up the solid side with Flock. The larger tube (with holes on the end) slides over the top, enclosing the material inside. When we pump the tube, it will force air out of the holes and blow the flock in the hard to reach crevices.
For simple prints like my heart shaped insert though, the tool isn’t always needed. Since it’s just a flat surface, we can sprinkle the flocking material by hand instead. Rubbing your fingers together helps break up any large chunks into a fine mist. It will still cake to some degree, but this is perfectly normal and won’t cause any problems.
Now the most important part… we wait.
The adhesive base needs to completely dry before it can be touched, otherwise we run the risk of flock coming off and creating bare spots. Complete coverage is absolute key here, so gently spreading it around immediately after application won’t do any harm, but once you are satisfied, leave it to set for at least 24 hours (2 days is recommended).
After literally watching paint dry, we are finally ready to reveal our results. Shake off the excess Flock in to the container and brush away any loose bits, lint rollers are great. An air hose or compressed air can work too, but if you go that route, blow from a considerable distance and don’t blast the part at point blank range.
The remaining fibers that stuck should leave you with that soft, velvety texture that looks and feels amazing. If desired, you can brush it out for a more silk like appearance, or keep it as-is for a textured look.
Until a few weeks ago, I had never even heard of flocking before. Like most people, I had always assumed it was some sort of fabric lining that was used. In fact, after asking several friends that do frequent crafting projects, it turns out no one had a clue what it was.
Considering how much potential there is for finishing 3D prints, it’s a shame this option has gone overlooked for so long. It’s one of the absolute easiest ways to get a professional looking part. No need for sanding, primer and paint to conceal layer lines and print defects, just some adhesive and the flocking material.