3D printing is getting international press and lots of traction. What does it have to offer artists?
3D printing may be as revolutionary today as the printing press was in Gutenberg’s time. This technique is an additive process where successive layers of material are laid down to create a manufactured item, as opposed to traditional subtractive techniques like drilling, carving and sawing.
Designs are created with software and then rendered in three dimensions through use of a special printer, which repeatedly extrudes very thin layers of resin or other materials. These layers are built up until they have produced the desired product.
This new technique offers precision and the flexibility to adjust and customize easily, which has applications for many industries. 3D printing has been used in diverse projects, from Drexel University researchers building scale models of dinosaur bones to medical laboratories creating human organs for transplants.
What’s the application for artists? This process is faster and will ultimately become cheaper than older technologies for designing and making prototypes, which will help artists in developing new designs. No tools or dies are needed to create the original – just CAD software.
3D printing encourages innovation, and is incredibly versatile. New elements can readily be incorporated to existing designs. And, items can be created that are totally customized, making commission work easier.
3D printing saves time and energy – and because of its additive nature, reduces waste to almost nothing. It also creates products which are more durable, being lighter and denser. Materials that can be used for 3D printing vary greatly, and products such as clothing and jewelry made with the 3D process have been introduced. This Pinterest board has some amazing examples of art made using this process.
Sculptor Andrew Werby uses 3D printing in his work. He explains, “Instead of making molds of natural specimens as before, I make 3D scans which capture their surface information as digital models. Rather than welding wax castings together, I can bring my scans into a computer modeling environment which affords much greater freedom in how the individual models can be manipulated and merged, using tools like mirroring, arraying, scaling and distorting to bring out the qualities that make each object unique.”
He adds, “The real magic isn’t in any particular additive or subtractive rapid prototyping process, but in the idea that you can make a model on your computer and transform it into a real physical object more or less automatically. So what’s required isn’t a lot of technical expertise on 3D printing or CNC carving, but a working knowledge of some 3D software, and the ability to express your artistic ideas through it. In dealing with the hardware, the important thing is to form an idea of which system will best realize your particular aesthetic vision, and to design parts in such a way as to take advantage of the particular process you decide on.”
Although presently used by “first adapters”, 3D printing is estimated to be widely in use in the mass market within a few years. Consider whether you may be using this technology in your own studio, to design, create molds, or even make tools.