3D Printing

Like many new design processes 3D printing has taken a long time to find its place in the world of design. We think of it as a very recent process but it was in fact pioneered in the 80’s under the term additive manufacturing. Back then it was only used in very niche areas and not appreciated by the wider community, it’s only since the 2010’s that the term has entered the vernacular. Even in 2011 it’s applications were relatively confined; Emmett Lalish’s ‘Screwless Heart Gears’ began to explore the ideas of structural movement and online distribution within 3D printing, but in terms of design was still fairly uninspiring and ‘digital looking’.


In the last few years however, there have been a number of artists taking 3D printing into new and more interesting directions. More organic forms are being created and the process has been applied in innovative ways for example where it actually informs the structural properties of an item.

Olivier van Herpt is interested in how we can engineer technology in order to create more organic forms. In his project ‘Adaptive Manufacturing’ he says:

“when we replaced the craftsmen by machines we lost the translation of local influences into our products. What if our machines could become more sensory? What if the machine could sense the local environment and incorporate it into the production process?”

By disrupting the 3D printing machine with vibrations the perfect digital formations begin to change resembling more natural patterns such as the cross section of a tree.

Fashion designer Iris Van Herpen has also embraced the possibilities of 3D printing. She uses the process to create beautifully intricate and ethereal garments. The materials behave and flow in response to the forms created in the printing process. This way of using printing to create structure and form has very exciting prospects not only for the fashion industry. This technique of informing the structural properties of a material (also implemented in ‘2.5D’ printing where textures are printed onto 2D surfaces) could have a huge impact on the way so many things are made from packaging to architecture.

Another exciting advantage of 3D printing is the ability to manufacture specifically tailored products. By taking the dimensions of an object or person we can design for them with digital precision. Adidas have taken this idea with their 3D-printed Futurecraft shoe soles. These fully personalised shoes will perfectly fit the wearer granting supreme comfort and potentially boosting athletic performance.

Future-Craft_Adidas_3D_dezeen_1568_4.jpg3D printing also comes with the ability to share and replicate creations worldwide through the internet. Information can be uploaded and downloaded so that anyone with a 3D printer can end up with a physical object without leaving the house; this could revolutionise the world of internet shopping, imagine if you could buy something online and print it out immediately!

Project Egg uses this capability in it’s architectural construction:

“It is a spacious building, consisting of 4760 stones. All stones are unique. They have to be 3D-printed one by one. Once collected, all of these stones, placed in the exact order, give birth to this building.”

This notion of 1 shelter created by the collaboration of 4760 individuals is inspiring and exciting. It points towards a future of collaborative construction and design where our collective resources are pooled to create great things.


3D printing also has exciting inter-disciplinary potential. Crossing over into the field of science and medicine for example opens the doors to innovation such as 3D printed joints. Dr Susannah Clarke of ‘Embody Orthopaedic ‘ says:

“The potential benefits, which we are in the process of proving, are that this results in a minimally invasive approach with a smaller incision, a shorter operating time, less blood loss and also easier recovery.”


3D printing has also found its way into the field of food; Universal Favourite have collaborated with Bakedown Cakery to create a great project called ‘Complements’. I absolutely love this project where moulds are 3D printed in order for chocolate to be poured on and set into shapes which interconnect creating an experience where you can choose your own chocolate flavour combinations to consume in a single bite. It’s design reminds me of Lenert and Sander’s ‘Cubes’, I love this aesthetic where foods of all shaped and sizes are made uniform and the 3D printing process is perfect for this; making the natural digital.



This kind of ease of access also has its issues. Controversial group ‘Defence Limited’ created the world’s first fully functional 3D printed gun. As 3D printing technology becomes more affordable we have to be aware of the dangers presented. The idea that anyone could easily print out a deadly weapon at home – without a licence – is certainly a scary one.

3D printed gun: Liberator gun, 2013 by Cody Wilson / Defence Distributed

My Opinions

I love the process of 3D printing and all of its possibilities, it seems as though it is going to become a very regular part of design in the future and I can’t wait to see what new innovations and applications artists come up with. I’m particularly interested in the implications of easy distribution and the ability to 3D print at home. It’s also good to see that people are trying to alter the process slightly to change the aesthetic outcome of 3D printing, as more people do this others will see the process as a more viable and attractive way of designing. I’m not opposed however to exploring how the process can inform the way things look, I quite like the idea of digital forms taking physical space and I wonder if this will create its own style and have an effect on the aesthetics of future design.

My Practise 

In terms of graphic design I think the 2.5D printing is very interesting. It’s another way we can transform 2D products such as publications and advertising to make them more interesting and functional. The idea of changing how a flat surface moves by creating its structure through 3D printing is exciting and I’d love to try out ways to design product packaging using this method. I’m also going to look into 3D digital design as a skill to learn which I have not considered before, the prospect of creating shapes with such freedom interests me a lot and with 3D printing becoming ever more prevalent I think it will be  great skill to have.


University of the West of England (2016) Vector driven 2.5D printing. Available at: http://www.uwe.ac.uk/sca/research/cfpr/research/twoandahalfD/ (Accessed: 2/1/2017.)

Van Der Kley M. (2016) Project Egg. Available at: http://projectegg.org/project-egg/ (Accessed: 2/1/2017.)

Van Herpt O. (2016) Adaptive Manufacturing. Available at: http://oliviervanherpt.com/adaptive-manufacturing/(Accessed: 2/1/2017.)

Van Herpen I. (2017) Couture. Available at: http://www.irisvanherpen.com (Accessed: 2/1/2017.)

Wikipedia (2017) 3D Printing. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_printing (Accessed: 2/1/2017.)

Universal Favourite (2016) Complementary. Available at: https://www.complements.com.au (Accessed: 2/1/2017.)

Lalish E. (2011) Complementary. Available at: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:12208 (Accessed: 2/1/2017.)

Morelle R. (2013) Working gun made with 3D printer. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22421185 (Accessed: 2/1/2017.)

Tucker E. (2015) Adidas created 3D printed soles to mimic runners’ footprints. Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2015/10/07/adidas-creates-3d-printed-futurecraft-soles-to-mimic-runners-footprints/ (Accessed: 2/1/2017.)

Burn-Callander R. (2015) 3D printed hip and knee joints coming to a hospital near you Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/businessclub/technology/11960668/3D-printed-hip-and-knee-joints-coming-to-a-hospital-near-you.html (Accessed: 2/1/2017.)

Cover photo (2016) Available at: http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2013/images/07/10/3d.printing.jpg (Accessed/downloaded: 2/1/2017).


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