woensdag 23 mei 2018

3D Eksperten Silky Gold and Copper PLA review

I have been looking for a gold-like filament for a while, and it proves difficult to find one that has a convincing metallic appearance. Many filaments with ‘gold’ in their name are merely a yellow or orange colour with perhaps a hint of metallic additives. For instance I bought a spool of Polaroid ‘gold’ PLA and even though it is overall a good material, it proved to be merely a deep yellow with only under ideal lighting conditions a very slight metallic sheen.

A while ago I saw some makes on Thingiverse that looked quite promising, and the author was friendly enough to tell me that the filament was ‘Silky Gold’ from a Danish manufacturer called 3D Eksperten (3DE). At that time 3DE didn't ship to my home country and only offered expensive express shipping. I checked out the store again after a few months and they did ship to my country with an option of more reasonably-priced shipping, hence I ordered both a spool of the Silky Gold as well as Silky Copper. I added the latter not only to reduce the relative shipping cost, but also because it looks stunning on photos. The total cost was about €60, which means €30 per 1 kg spool which is reasonable for a specialty filament. In hindsight I should also have added a spool of Silver to have a full set of shiny metals, so I know what to buy the next time.

Despite the cheaper shipping it still arrived within a mere 3 days with tracking information. The filament comes in stylish boxes and is packaged in resealable plastic bags with of course a packet of silica gel contained within. This is nice but I have learnt that all plain plastic bags are only weak barriers against moisture: they will only slow down the rate at which moisture can reach the spool. For this reason one should refresh the desiccant in such bags at regular intervals, and for longer-term storage it is recommended to use mylar bags instead. Those have a metallic layer that is much better at stopping moisture (this is why all foodstuffs sensitive to humidity are packaged in metallic bags). The desiccant inside these particular bags proved to have absorbed near their saturation level of moisture, so I dried the filament in an oven to be absolutely certain it was in optimal condition. A weight comparison however showed that it hadn't taken up any noticeable amount of moisture.

The spools themselves sure do look promising out of the box, especially the copper one which looks like a big transformer coil. I have never seen such a convincing plastic simulation of a metal. The gold is very nice as well, still obvious it is merely plastic but it comes closer than any other attempt I have seen so far. It wouldn't be the first time that printed objects lose the appearance of the raw spooled material however, so the proof is in the pudding and it's time to load up this stuff and get printing.

The tolerances on the filament are within the typical ±0.05 mm range. On the gold I measured an average diameter of 1.77 mm, on the copper 1.72 mm. These diameters remained consistent over the length of material I have used so far. The filament also appears well wrapped without risk of tangling, something that cannot always be said from the cheaper brands. I used my typical PLA settings of 200°C extrusion and 60°C bed temperature, on a glass bed with 3DLac and moderate cooling fan speed. Adhesion is excellent even with only a thin layer of hairspray. There is no obvious odour during prints, not even the typical popcorn-like smell of regular PLA.

I started out with my traditional test print, a variation on the classic 20 mm calibration cube printed at 0.2 mm layers. This already looked very promising: the surfaces are shiny enough to reflect light like actual metal albeit with a matte finish (a true mirror it ain't). I then printed the 3DHubs Marvin (or rather my ‘improved crotch’ remix, which is a good test for overhangs and rounded surfaces. These looked even better, especially the copper one which from a distance could easily fool someone into believing it is made from actual metal.

The Marvin prints do show it is even more essential to avoid visible seams with these filaments than with most other materials. The glossy effect is visibly disturbed at the places where an outer contour starts. To understand why, we need to make at least a good guess at how the metallic effect is achieved.

Left: piece of free-air extrusion, right: normal printed extrusion
Close-up view
A close-up view reveals the usual trick of mixing in little metallic specks is not being used. Instead, there is a shiny effect that varies with extrusion direction. How does it work? There are two important observations: one, both the spools and the printed results reflect light only at angles perpendicular to the direction of extrusion. Second, the filament tends to contract very quickly in the direction of extrusion when extruding in free air, and the end result loses its shiny appearance altogether and becomes a plain dull yellow or orange strand. I can only explain this by assuming that the plastic contains a kind of elastic fibres that become glossy when stretched (like silk indeed). During normal extrusion the material is not allowed to contract, which ensures that the fibres remain stretched. For the same reason you should not print this filament too slowly: if the extruder keeps heating the same part for too long, the shiny material gets too much time to lose its ordering and gloss.

This also explains why seams are especially visible: the extrusion changes direction abruptly at the start of the contour and it takes about a millimetre until the fibres are fully aligned to the new direction.
Vase mode print of thing:415360 by Alphie

There is unfortunately no magic solution to hide seams. If you're lucky, the object has enough concave corners to allow your slicing program to hide the seams inside. If not, a typical strategy is to randomise the starting point of the contours but this will leave the surface littered with quite visible specks due to the effects described above. The only way to eliminate seams is to print in ‘spiral vase’ mode when possible. I have done a few vase prints and they look impressive.

Objects with many different surface orientations are the most rewarding hence I made a vase model with faceted hexagonal outer surface specifically to showcase this filament. Also when printing coin- or medal-like models the best results are obtained when keeping the special properties of the filament in mind. Top surfaces of coins should be printed as one continuous spiral in order to get a finish that has no seams and reflects light in interesting ways.

Left coin was printed with spiral top infill, right with plain rectilinear. Model by FLOWALISTIK. (Too bad these aren't worth actual Bitcoins…)
The material proves quite tough: extruded material doesn't break easily and is not easy to cut up. If my fibres theory is correct, perhaps they also contribute to strength. While I consistently have stringing problems with almost all other PLA filaments in my Micro Swiss all-metal hot-ends, these silky filaments are much less prone to stringing, perhaps again thanks to their tendency to quickly contract in free air.

There is one problem with ordering this filament and it is that the 3DE store is mostly in Danish only. The language is similar enough to my Dutch mother-tongue that I managed to get through the ordering process with the occasional help of Google Translate, but it may prove challenging for people from other countries. Also, no shipping outside the immediate surroundings of Europe. On Amazon one can find similar filaments which might come from the same source (judging from the similar hexagonal pattern on the spools), so it is worth trying if you are not able to order from the 3DE store.

To conclude, this is a great filament for decorative pieces and medaillons or coins. The copper is obviously my favourite because it comes very close to looking like the real thing. The gold may not be able to fool anyone but still it looks better than other attempts at a ‘gold’ filament I have seen.

zondag 15 april 2018

Hacking the 4th generation IXO: white instead of yellow LED

I have a 4th generation Bosch IXO screwdriver and it is pretty good, aside from the measly LED that is supposed to help light up the thing you're working on. The LED is a yellow-orange color and is not very bright. It also has an uneven circular intensity pattern. In other words, it is pretty useless. I have been planning to replace it with a white LED for a while, and it seems I am not the only one with this idea. A bag of Nichia NSPW300DS 3 mm LEDs has been sitting on my desk for more than a year and I finally decided to have a go at it. These are probably not the brightest 3 mm LEDs currently available, but they were available at the shop where I usually buy components, and 15000mcd isn't bad at all.

However, as Joken mentions on his IXO teardown post, one cannot just replace the LED: the yellow LED is only supplied with 2 V through a 68 Ω resistor. Dropping the resistor only gains about 0.7 V, and 2.7 V is still way too low for a typical white LED that requires about 3.2 V.

I have a solution though: I bought some booster circuits from AliExpress a while ago, in fact these are buck/boost circuits that provide a steady 3.3 V output from any input between 1.8 V and 5 V. They aren't terribly efficient and I don't need the buck capability here, but the PCB is tiny which makes them a good candidate. They look like the following photo:

I did some tests by connecting the booster instead of the LED+resistor, but it is unable to reach 3.3 V with the white LED on its output. This is because the circuit that drives the LED seems to be a current source, limiting the current to either 11 mA (when pressing the switch without activating the motor) or 20 mA (when the motor is active). Due to P = U⋅I and some loss due to inefficiency of the booster, it can only push either 4.5 mA or 10 mA through the white LED. However, there is a way around this: by reducing the value of the 4.7 kΩ resistor that comes before the transistor, we can make it supply more current.

I simply soldered another 4.7 kΩ on top to reduce the resistance down to 2.35 kΩ:

This shifts the current source to 17 and 36 mA respectively. The booster turns this into 7.5 mA and 17 mA, which is much closer to the nominal current for the white LED, so this is the final configuration I used. There is no series resistor for the LED, I purely rely on the limited current coming from the transistor. I removed the 68 Ω resistor and connected the booster circuit. Instead of trying to solder onto the tiny resistor pads, I picked the connected through-hole pad. The little PCB (with the 3-pin header removed) fits nicely under the battery.

The result is pretty nice, finally the LED is useful! The lighting is also a nice even area instead of ugly concentric circles. It does draw more current now, but compared to the motor, 36 mA is still pretty negligible.

vrijdag 19 mei 2017

Making Prosoft Hear work again with iTunes 12.6

The only reason why I stick with iTunes is that I have been suckered into it from the start when it still was a pretty good application for managing an offline collection of music files. Lately, the app has shifted towards cloud-based stuff and artificial stupidity algorithms that try to suck all the joy out of being your own virtual DJ. It is still usable for its original intent however so I haven't tried to move to an alternative… yet.

Lately, Apple has done two more stabs at endlessly annoying me and making me regret that even my alarm clock is tightly coupled to iTunes by means of Koingo's Alarm Clock Pro. The first thing they did was break the visualizer plug-ins, in the typical Apple fashion that has since many years made me shy away from developing anything specific for OS X. This fashion is of course doing it in total silence, without warning anyone or even mentioning it in the release notes. Starting with iTunes 12.6 the visualizer menu simply only shows the two built-in visualisers, ignoring any installed plugins. I am pretty glad I never took the effort to polish up my now obsolete Spectrograph plug-in. Maybe I unconsciously saw it coming.

The second thing they did, and what this post really is about, is that they also broke the Hear audio enhancer from Prosoft. I heavily rely on Hear to make listening with headphones more enjoyable. When properly set up, Hear can make even the cheapest headphones sound like expensive Sennheisers. Or in my case, make mid-priced Sennheisers sound like an explosion of aural bliss. It can also squeeze extra fidelity out of simple Bluetooth speakers or other sound systems. Great was my frustration when I noticed the controls had no effect anymore after iTunes had sneakily upgraded itself to 12.6.1, and it was even greater when I saw on the Hear product page that Prosoft officially does not support iTunes anymore. That's right, they admit that their product primarily geared towards enhancing your music experience, does not work with the de facto standard for music playback in Mac OS. I commend them for that, but it doesn't make the fact less annoying.

My guess is that iTunes has become yet another application in the row of ‘sandboxed’ apps like Safari, which are nailed shut to avoid exploits from malware and the like. After all, iTunes is linked to a store and the store is linked to credit card details. Why this also has to break the ability to manipulate the audio stream, beats me. I contacted Prosoft and they are looking if the problem can be fixed, but I'm not sure if they'll be able to circumvent the sandbox restriction.

However, I noticed that applications like Nicecast still work fine with iTunes. This made me pretty confident that I can still make the audio go through Hear after all, albeit by means of a pretty clumsy roundabout. And indeed, after the necessary cursing and kludging I made it work as follows.

Making it work

The strategy is quite simple: re-route iTunes' audio output through another non-sandboxed program that plays the stream on standard output. We can do this by means of two different free, open source projects: SoundFlower and Audacity.

  1. First install SoundFlower, the current 2.0b2 release from mattingalls' GitHub seems to work fine, at least in El Capitan. Don't bother with trying to get the Soundflowerbed application to work, you don't need it.
  2. In your Sound system preferences, set the ‘Soundflower (2ch)’ device as output device.
  3. Open Audacity and select the ‘Soundflower (2ch)’ device as the microphone device. Select the ‘Built-in Output’ as your output device.
  4. In Audacity's preferences, Recording, enable ‘Software Playthrough’.
  5. Drag both the input and output volume sliders in the top-right corner of Audacity's main window to maximum. Now press ‘Click to Start Monitoring’ and start playing some music. You should see Audacity's VU meter start to move, and hear the sound as usual. You may need to give the Hear control panel a kick by toggling the on/off button or nudging a slider to make it hook itself to the audio output, but it should work.

Of course this has some disadvantages, like needing to keep Audacity open, and a noticeable extra delay on the audio as well. You will have no sound at all if you break any component in the whole chain. This can be pretty annoying if like me, you use your Mac as an alarm clock (it will be trying to wake you with silence which results in you being late for work). Moreover, when you switch back to direct playback through internal speakers, two things require attention. First, your volume will be at 100%, which can lead to unpleasant surprises if you forget to turn it down. Next, when you have switched back to internal speakers in the Sound control panel and plug or unplug something from the headphone jack, OS X will once more switch back to Soundflower output, and you must again select internal speakers.
In other words, not only do you need a whole ritual to set up this workaround, you also need to do a little dance to tear it down. For all these reasons I hope Prosoft manages to find a solution. I wouldn't mind if it would simply implement this workaround under the hood and have some extra delay, if only it is reliable.

This hack does have some extra advantages however, for instance Hear will also work with Safari or any other sandboxed application's audio. And, if at any time you would want to record what's playing, all you have to do is hit the record button in Audacity.

maandag 23 januari 2017

Dark Sky / Forecast.io: avoid using the temperature, humidity, or pressure values of the first hourly block

Here is yet another post about something highly specific that is totally unrelated to everything else on this blog. Enjoy!

If you rely on Forecast.io to obtain weather prediction data, you may also have implemented fancy things like a graph of how the temperature will evolve over the next few hours. Or maybe just a rising/falling trend indicator. This seems very easy to do: just take the “hourly” data block and take the “temperature” values of each entry, and either plot them or compare them. This will work, but you may notice that as the time gets nearer to the next hour change (eg. 09:57), the first point in your graph starts wobbling around wildly every time you refresh the data. Why is this?

A plot made at 16:55, current reported temperature was 0.1°C.

The first hourly data block represents the current ongoing hour, for instance if you retrieve predictions at 09:57, the first block will represent 09:00. One would expect that the folks at Dark Sky would rely on their historical data to fill in the values for that block, given that it represents a moment in the past. However, for some reason they merely take the current observations, in this example from 09:57, and extrapolate them into the past using the data for the next predicted hourly block. For instance, if it is currently 15.12 degrees and the temperature for 10:00 is predicted to be 15.79 degrees, then the value for 09:00 will be calculated as (15.12-15.79*57/60)/(1-57/60) = 2.39 degrees.

Extrapolation works fine for data that is known to be relatively stable, if the extrapolated point is near the interval of known data. In this case, only one point is an actual observation though, the other one is a prediction: also an extrapolation in its own right. This makes it doubly dangerous to extrapolate another value out of it, especially if it lies so far away from the two given points. The morale of the story is, do not rely on the temperature, humidity, or pressure values from the very first hourly data point, unless the hour has only just started. If you want to make a temperature graph, it makes more sense anyway to start the plot at the current time, and not at the start of the current hour. Even if at some point the people at Forecast.io update their system to really put historical data in that block, if you would merely dump the values from all blocks in a graph, visitors would still be seeing a curve that starts almost an hour ago when they load your page 09:57, which is not very intuitive.

The same plot as above, but now starting at the actual observation.

After figuring this out, I now start my plot with the current observation, and I calculate the trends by comparing the current observation to a linear interpolation at the current time plus one hour. Interpolating also is not ideal, but a lot more defendable here than a wild extrapolation.

zaterdag 14 mei 2016

Another illustration why mandatory IP changes for DSL subscribers are a royal PITA

Originally this was a different article, where I wrongly accused OpenDNS of blocking perfectly harmless websites, more specifically my favourite internet radio station, Radio Paradise. Eventually it proved to be a case of utter confusion caused by factors that only became apparent after some sleuthing.

Long story short, I was suddenly locked out from certain websites due to OpenDNS filters that some other customer of the same DSL service had set up. This customer may have been unaware that IP addresses on this service are forcibly changed every 36 hours, and did not take the necessary steps to keep their OpenDNS account up-to-date. When I received the same IP from the dynamic address pool, I also inherited the blocks. Eventually my only way out was either removing the OpenDNS servers from my config, or waiting 36 hours, or resetting the modem to get a new IP. This again makes me wonder why ISPs still enforce this idiotic IP change on customers. It is ineffective in preventing people from running servers, because that can be mitigated mostly through a dynamic DNS. I guess this is simply another case of artificially degrading a product in order to be able to sell a ‘premium’ product with a static IP, at a higher price.

Here's the entire detective story for the interested. On a certain day, I suddenly saw the following when I tried to visit the Radio Paradise site:

OpenDNS: This domain is blocked due to content filtering.

The OpenDNS servers and have been in my system settings for many years, and never had I seen this kind of block. Actually I had specifically switched to those servers to circumvent some idiotic blocks that were implemented in my ISP's DNS servers.

Radio Paradise being blocked made no sense at all. At first sight, there were only two plausible explanations:

  1. Somehow I was now being defaulted to one of the OpenDNS flavours that filter potentially offensive content.
  2. Some law prohibits listening to USA radio streams from within Belgium, and OpenDNS enforced this.
The second explanation was very implausible because I have never heard of any law like that, it certainly would have caused a ruckus on the Web. The first explanation seemed plausible, because from a quick glance at the OpenDNS home security plans, it appeared that ‘Family Shield’ is the default when merely using the OpenDNS servers without configuring anything. Then I noticed this actually required configuring different servers, but nothing changed when I did: RP was still blocked. Hence I assumed that using OpenDNS without creating an account, had become equivalent to Family Shield.

This (incorrect) assumption implied two things: first, RP would somehow have been considered ‘adult’ content, and second, many visitors would suddenly be locked out. They would need to go through the effort of creating an OpenDNS account to choose what is being blocked. For DSL subscribers whose IP is forcibly changed at regular intervals, this would be particularly annoying because they also need to install a daemon that keeps their IP address up-to-date with their OpenDNS account.

Even though the apparent ‘adult’ categorisation of RP still made no sense, this angered me enough to write an article where I accused OpenDNS of behaving like the great firewall of China. I also posted this on the Radio Paradise forum. However, no other OpenDNS users could reproduce this problem, they did not see certain websites suddenly being blocked. In the meantime I also had created an OpenDNS account, which requires registering the network you're currently on. This proved impossible: the IP address was already registered! These two things lead to the ‘eureka’ moment and the conclusion I started this article with. I immediately reset the modem to force it to obtain a new IP, and indeed: everything worked as before.

This does illustrate that maybe OpenDNS could have done a better job at detecting that someone tried to register a static network with an address that belongs to a dynamic address pool, although I do realise this is not a trivial task. I now have added my home network to the OpenDNS account and installed an update client to keep the dynamic IP in sync, but I'm not sure if this will prevent this same scenario in the future. Well, at least now I know how to fix it, and how I can use OpenDNS to block the things I want, like spam domains or annoying ads that slip through Adblock, so this whole story does have a happy ending.

zaterdag 16 april 2016

The ‘manual feed’ icon on printers: less than helpful

Only seldom I need to use the manual feed on printers. The interval is generally long enough that I have totally forgotten how I need to insert the paper in order to get the image printed on the correct side of the paper. When using the manual feed, it is almost always crucial to know what side will be printed on. In an attempt to clarify this to users, manufacturers provide an icon on the manual feed tray:

Manual feed icon

The problem with this icon is that it is less than helpful. What does it mean? It shows a page with apparently a blank and printed side. This can either mean:

  1. The printer will print on the side shown as having print in the icon, in this case the bottom side.
  2. If you insert a page, make sure the blank side, which will be printed on, is pointing upwards.

Both interpretations make sense and no sense at the same time. The first interpretation fails because it does not match with reality: the underside of the real piece of paper will generally not have anything printed on it at the moment it is inserted in the tray. In the very common case of using the manual feed to print on the other side of an already printed page, reality is opposite from what the icon depicts. The second interpretation fails in the cases where one wants to print on a truly blank piece of paper, e.g. on the glossy side of photo paper.

The last time I was faced with this conundrum and failing to find anything useful about it in Google, I simply tested it, and the first interpretation proved correct: this printer (HP) will print on the bottom side of the paper. Mind how I say: “this printer,” because I deem it possible that there are other manufacturers who use the second interpretation. Because as we all know, the only thing printer manufacturers want, is to piss off consumers.

This icon also fails to clarify what the top side of the page will be, except for those people who have a habit of folding dog ears on the top of every piece of paper they insert into a printer. Common sense however dictates that the side that first enters the printer will be the first to be printed on.

If I would have a go at designing a better icon, it would be something like this:

Proposed improved icon

The disadvantage is of course that this icon is not universal and may need to be adapted to the specific printer model.

vrijdag 11 maart 2016

Undoing yellowing on ABS plastic like LEGO® bricks and old computer cases

Every owner of vintage computer hardware or older LEGO® sets will know the problem: the plastic that used to have a bright white or neutral grey colour, tends to turn yellowish or even brown over time. I used to believe this was an irreversible ageing process, until I did some research. My first find was a YouTube video presenting a rudimentary way of bringing back the bright white colour of LEGO® bricks. Further research led me to the Retr0bright project which presented a more advanced technique than the video.
Original photo by Jurii (license)

The culprit proves to be the flame retardant inside the ABS plastic. It is based on Bromine, which is not a big surprise because it has the same typical brown colour as gradually appears on the affected plastic parts. When exposed to UV radiation (which is present in sunlight), the bromine compound reacts with oxygen, causing the colour change. Ironically, the method to reverse this discolouration relies on the same UV radiation. The trick is to add hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) to the mix, which encourages the bromine compound to release the oxygen atom and put hydrogen in place, which undoes the colour change.

That is the basic idea behind the process. A refinement can be made with a chemical called TAED which can act as a catalyst to greatly speed up the reaction. This chemical happens to be an ingredient of typical “Oxy” laundry booster, so it is readily available.

I did some experiments of my own on some old LEGO® bricks of which I assumed they were doomed to be eternally bereft of their original bright white colour. As you can see in the above photo, the results are quite spectacular. Those are the same bricks (if you look carefully, the legs still have the speck of dirt on their left side). The above experiment was done with H2Oonly, and it took several days to obtain those results. The next experiment was done with Oxy added, which provided results much quicker:

The Retr0bright project used to have a wiki explaining how to make and use an optimal mixture for restoring old ABS plastic. Unfortunately this wiki is now down, and accessing it through the Internet Archive is slow and often incomplete. Therefore I will try to summarise the essential information here for easier reference, backed up by my own experimental results.

Caveats and general remarks

You will be working with hydrogen peroxide. Any solution between 3% and 30% strength can be used. The 3% variety is easily found in the pharmacy section of supermarkets etc, and won't do any harm if you only leave it in contact with your skin for no longer than a few dozen seconds. Up to 10% can be obtained from hairdressers, it is used for bleaching hair. This is more dangerous and skin contact should be avoided, also ensure it does not get into your eyes: wear goggles. Stronger solutions are more dangerous: 30% can produce instant painful burns, so never handle it without proper precautions. Needless to say: if you are a kid, you should not attempt any of this without adult supervision.

As with many chemical reactions, this one is dependant on temperature too. From my experiments, this proves to be an extremely important factor. It seems the reaction only really provides any results at all from 15°C (60°F) on, and only really starts to catch on at 20°C (68°F). Warmer means faster, but I do not recommend going above 30°C (86°F) if you want to leave the parts unattended for a longer time period. Certainly avoid going above 40°C (104°F) because parts could start to deform.

Ensure the parts are submerged at all times. Any part that is partially submerged risks developing a white sheen at the liquid-air boundary. If this does happen, it might be possible to remove the sheen by ‘burnishing’ it, i.e. rub another smooth and hard object against it. For LEGO, you could try a slightly harder plastic object like the brick remover.

More is not always better: do not be tempted to add more Oxy, stronger peroxide, heat, or stronger UV light. At some point you will be damaging the plastic beyond repair if you do.

Basic method

This method is easy and cheap, but not always practical.

  1. Find a transparent recipient large enough to hold the plastic parts you want to restore. Cover the bottom outside with tin foil, preferably with the matte side up (this will reflect light more evenly). You can also apply tin foil to the side of the recipient that points away from the UV source. If you really want to provide the most uniform lighting, put the recipient on a slowly rotating turntable.
  2. Pour the hydrogen peroxide solution into the recipient, enough for the parts to be submerged.
  3. Submerge the parts and ensure they cannot float up again, e.g. by placing a glass plate or something else transparent over it. Do not stuff too many parts together: ensure the light can reach every part.
  4. Place it in direct sunlight, or under a UV lamp that outputs a decent amount of light. For a 15 W lamp, do not put it closer than 25 cm (10 inches).
  5. Wait, stir up the recipient occasionally to let bubbles escape and to turn around parts, and take out and rinse the parts when they appear to have bleached sufficiently.
This method works OK, but may be slow, although it can go surprisingly fast when the liquid is warmed up to about 30°C. On a hot summer's day, parts can go from brown to bright white in a few hours. The advantage is that the peroxide solution will generally last long and can be reused. As long as you see bubbles forming on the plastic parts, the solution is still active. If no bubbles form within 5 minutes even when the solution is warmed up to 30°C, it has decomposed into plain water and must be replaced.

Faster method

  1. Do the same as above, but add a small amount of “Oxy” laundry booster to the mix. You should not add more than about 1/4 teaspoon per half litre of solution. Ensure it is well-mixed, you could dissolve the Oxy in a bit of warm water before adding it.
  2. Ensure the solution stays at about 25°C, or 30°C if you want it to go really fast.
  3. Monitor the solution carefully at regular intervals. As soon as it stops bubbling, remove the UV light source and take the parts out. If they are not yet sufficiently bleached, make a new solution.
This method can provide spectacular results within hours, even at moderate temperatures. The problem is that the solution will break down much faster, and as soon as the peroxide is gone, the UV light will again start the yellowing process. It is therefore essential to stop when the peroxide is exhausted.

Only add the Oxy when you're going to start using the solution. It cannot be stored for a long time with the Oxy added, unless perhaps you cool it down to near-freezing temperature, but I do not guarantee this.

The disadvantage is that the Oxy generally also contains detergents which will cause foam, especially with the peroxide bubbling. This will stop after a while though. The detergents may also leave a dull residue which needs to be washed off the parts. Also, see my comments about coloured parts below.

Efficient method for large parts

The above methods are unpractical for large parts like computer cases, keyboards, or LEGO® baseplates. For those, it is better to create a gel as proposed by the Retr0bright project, which can be applied to the surface with a brush. Simply place the parts with gel applied to one side in the UV light (or sunlight) and check on them regularly. Then repeat for the other side. On the Retr0bright website you can see a spectacular example of what this method did for a horribly discoloured Commodore 64, with repeated applications within a timespan of only eight hours.

I have not tried this myself yet, but a good recipe for the gel seems to be the original Retr0bright one:
  • 500ml of 10% to 15% hydrogen peroxide solution (dilute it down with distilled water if you have a stronger solution).
  • 2 heaped tablespoonfuls of Xanthan gum
  • 1 level teaspoon of Glycerine
  • 1/4 teaspoon of Oxy. Again, do not add the Oxy until you're about to apply the gel.
The same remark about temperature holds: try to keep the parts between 25 to 30°C. Ensure the gel does not dry out, replace it if it starts to dry.

Although in theory it could be omitted, the Oxy is very helpful for this method because the gel dries up within hours, therefore we can really use the extra speed from the TAED catalyst to save us from having to reapply new gel too many times.

If you do want to omit the Oxy, you will need to ensure the parts are kept at a temperature between 30 and 40°C while being exposed to the UV light, otherwise the gel will work unpractically slowly. You may be lucky that the sunlight provides exactly the right amount of heat, but for an indoor setup with UV lamp, you would need to find a way to warm up the parts to the right temperature without causing the gel to dry up quickly (a heater with a fan is obviously not a good idea).

What about coloured parts?

For LEGO®, the parts that suffer the most from yellowing tend to be the white, blue, and grey ones (obviously, on colours like yellow or red, a lot of additional yellow needs to be added for it to become visible). For white, there is not really a problem: you cannot overdo the bleaching. For colours however, the story is different, and from my experiments I can only conclude that results are unpredictable.

The hook and bottom blue plate were treated, and ended up too pale.

I tried the second method (with Oxy) on both a blue brick and grey hook that had badly discoloured. At first it got better, but in the end both parts were bleached beyond their original colour. However, I do have obtained quite good results by only using peroxide, with other bricks that were less yellowed to start with. I suspect two things: first, the pigments themselves were already damaged by the exposure to sunlight, making it impossible to restore the colour of really badly yellowed parts (unless someone would find another clever chemical process to revert that reaction). The yellow or brownish tint can be removed, but the original colour cannot be fully restored. Second, chemicals in the Oxy might further damage the pigments. I would avoid using Oxy with coloured parts. My intuition tells me that the risk of damaging the colours will be lower, the less chemicals you add to the mix, so the peroxide-only method seems safer.

If you have a really badly yellowed blue or grey part, I recommend using peroxide only without Oxy, and regularly checking on its status. Avoid strong UV exposure because it could further damage the pigments. Take the part out of the liquid as soon as it looks good enough. Maybe a slightly yellowed darker colour is preferable over a yellow-free bleak colour. You will have to accept that it may not be possible to get back the original appearance. Anyone who has more experience with restoring coloured parts, be sure to leave a comment.

As for imprints and stickers on the plastic, these will generally not be harmed by the peroxide, although I cannot give any guarantees. If you want to err on the safe side, your best bet is to use the gel method and avoid applying gel over printed logos or any other non-ABS parts.

Do ABS parts made today still suffer from yellowing?

Wikipedia states that the use of bromine-based flame retardants is declining in the Western world. I have no concrete information about this, so I did a small experiment on a recently bought LEGO® part from Pick-a-Brick. I placed it under the same UV lamp used for the above experiments, for several days. The result was no visible effect whatsoever, so I am inclined to say that recent LEGO® parts are less susceptible to yellowing than the ones from the nineties and earlier. Nevertheless, if you plan to exhibit your favourite LEGO® models in a sunlit room, it may be wise to provide some kind of UV shielding.