BBC Culture

3D printing that’s off the page

  • Universal adapter

    Since the patent on one of 3D printing’s essential processes expired in 2009, it has moved from functional tool to creative outlet for artists and designers. German publisher Gestalten’s new book Printing Things rounds up some of the technology’s most surprising uses. Theo Jansen was able to reproduce his giant Strandbeest kinetic sculptures as 8in-high (20cm) models. The Free Universal Construction Kit from FAT Lab and Sy-Lab offers nearly 80 adapter bricks that bridge the gaps between ten popular construction toys. Children can now build their own hybrid creations, unhampered by competing copyrights. (FAT Lab)

  • Ashes to ashes

    For their Consume or Conserve project, Dylan van den Berg and Wieki Somers of Studio Wieki Somers in the Netherlands printed three still lifes out of human ash, asking whether we might one day be discouraged from discarding objects made from the remains of loved ones. Everyday domestic items like a toaster or a weighing scale are paired with references from vanitas paintings of the Dutch Golden Age that symbolise the ephemeral nature of life, such as birds or dung beetles. (Studio Wieki Somers)

  • A new mould

    Belgian designers Unfold and Tim Knapen have reinvented the wheel for their project L’Artisan Électronique. By connecting a digital potter’s wheel to a 3D ceramic printer, they give an ancient artisanal skill a new spin. Users pass their hands through a laser to shape a virtual cylinder on a computer screen; once they’re finished, the customised model is printed layer by layer, in a process similar to coil pottery. (Liesje Reyskens, Kristof Vrancken, Peter Verbruggen, Unfold)

  • Pen and blink

    The 3Doodler pen by Wobble Works Inc allows users to draw in midair, as the lines they form are printed in plastic. Its prototype raised more than $1million on Kickstarter in just a few days, and won an award for Kickstart of the Year in 2013. The 3Doodler’s wobbly, imperfect creations reintroduce the feel of the hand-made into 3D printing, reacting against the perfect, sleek forms of digital drawing. (3Doodler)

  • Living doll

    Tokyo-based designers PARTYLab transformed the humble photo booth (‘shashin kan’ in Japanese) with their Omote 3D Shashin Kan. After scanning a model for 15 minutes with handheld tools, they can recreate sitters as miniature figurines, capturing family portraits in 3D. (PARTYLab)

  • The seed of an idea

    Brazilian designer Jorge Lopes dos Santos began his Foetus 3D Project while a student at London’s Royal College of Art: he aimed to create a new form of sculpture by creating life-sized models of babies in utero. Combining CT and MRI scans with 3D printing techniques, he found a way to transform images of developing embryos into 3D art. His technique has had unexpected medical consequences, offering an alternative to conventional sonogram images for blind parents and aiding doctors as they prepare for operations. (Jorge Lopes)

  • In your face

    American artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg collected objects from the streets of Brooklyn for a project that gives a face to current DNA testing techniques. Taking traces of saliva from cigarette butts and chewing gum, she used a biology lab to model faces from their DNA samples and had them 3D printed in coloured gypsum. The sculpture portraits were displayed as Stranger Visions at exhibitions in New York, Dublin and Sydney, raising questions about the genetic trails left behind during everyday activities. (Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Thomas Dexter)

  • Touching is believing

    It could be a vending machine for novelty toys but the Hands on Search (Sawareru) device offers a new way of making the visual tangible. A child shouts a word; moments later the machine prints an object representing that word in 3D. Touching it becomes a way for blind children to understand the meanings of words more immediately, in a twist on the online search engine. (Yahoo! Japan)

  • Hot seat

    Swiss company Vitra produces its own miniature versions of the iconic furniture it manufactures, such as Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair. But designer Kevin Spencer has made a series of the same models (including the lounge chair by Charles and Ray Eames, pictured) available as 3D-printed miniatures at a scale of 1:24, raising questions about intellectual property rights for 3D printed objects. While Vitra often pursues producers of unauthorised life-sized copies, Spencer’s models seem to occupy a legal grey area. (Kevin Spencer)

  • A head for numbers

    Sculptor Josh Harker raises questions about artworks as unique objects with his piece Crania Anatomica, pushing the limits of 3D printing to create an intricate filigree skull. He promised to make as many skulls as were ordered during a 45-day Kickstarter campaign before submitting the work to a gallery; after an initial goal of $500, he earnt $77,271 in pledges (with 894 pre-orders), becoming the highest grossing sculpture on the the crowdfunding platform. (Josh Harker)