Complexation-induced resolution enhancement of 3D-printed hydrogel constructs

Nat Commun. 2020 Mar 9;11(1):1267. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-14997-4.


Three-dimensional (3D) hydrogel printing enables production of volumetric architectures containing desired structures using programmed automation processes. Our study reports a unique method of resolution enhancement purely relying on post-printing treatment of hydrogel constructs. By immersing a 3D-printed patterned hydrogel consisting of a hydrophilic polyionic polymer network in a solution of polyions of the opposite net charge, shrinking can rapidly occur resulting in various degrees of reduced dimensions comparing to the original pattern. This phenomenon, caused by complex coacervation and water expulsion, enables us to reduce linear dimensions of printed constructs while maintaining cytocompatible conditions in a cell type-dependent manner. We anticipate our shrinking printing technology to find widespread applications in promoting the current 3D printing capacities for generating higher-resolution hydrogel-based structures without necessarily having to involve complex hardware upgrades or other printing parameter alterations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biocompatible Materials / chemistry
  • Biomechanical Phenomena*
  • Bioprinting / methods*
  • Chitosan
  • Gelatin
  • Humans
  • Hydrogels / chemistry*
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Methacrylates
  • Mice
  • Polymers / chemistry
  • Printing, Three-Dimensional* / instrumentation
  • Tissue Engineering / instrumentation
  • Tissue Engineering / methods*
  • Tissue Scaffolds / chemistry


  • Biocompatible Materials
  • Hydrogels
  • Methacrylates
  • Polymers
  • Gelatin
  • Chitosan