3D Printing in Art and Design

    (1) NY-based Artist Shane Hope''s "Public Panopticon Powder" (3D-printed PLA molecular models and paint on plexiglass); (2)   Patrick Jouin's chair was the first item of furniture 3D-printed in one piece; (3) Dutch artist Erik Van Straaten's 3D printed sculpture; (4) Fujifilm's 2013 reproduction of Van Gogh's "The Harvest"; (5) Nick Ervinck's 3D printed head sculpture; (6) designer Tobias Klein's 3D Printed piece

 (1) NY-based Artist Shane Hope''s "Public Panopticon Powder" (3D-printed PLA molecular models and paint on plexiglass); (2) Patrick Jouin's chair was the first item of furniture 3D-printed in one piece; (3) Dutch artist Erik Van Straaten's 3D printed sculpture; (4) Fujifilm's 2013 reproduction of Van Gogh's "The Harvest"; (5) Nick Ervinck's 3D printed head sculpture; (6) designer Tobias Klein's 3D Printed piece

Last month when I was in Miami I met an executive of one of the most sought-after and on-demand 3D printing companies in the US.  He told me how enthusiastic he is about all the projects that he has taken encompassing areas like fashion, jewelry and object design.  I have been paying close attention to the 3D printing evolution and what it means for the creative worlds of art and design.  I honestly would like to see in person a lot more of what’s being produced at the moment, but what seems to be a reality is that the technology is rapidly evolving, the costs seem to be decreasing and the speed of it all seems to be quite fast.

One of the features that 3D offers is the exact reproduction of anythingShane  that has been designed with the help of software like CAD, Google Sketchup, 3dCrafter, MeshLab or even scanned through 3D devices installed in the actual printer like those manufactured by Makerbot (interestingly called “Replicators”) that will render an extremely detailed prototype or actual piece of art.  The reproductions are so accurate that the van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands, partnered with Fujifilm in Japan to produce the first fully color-corrected three-dimensional copies of some of van Gogh’s most famous works, including his 1889 “Sunflowers” and 1890 “Almond Blossom”.  And the 3D printing job entails not only the front but also the back of the canvases.  These pieces are being sold as exact reproductions, authorized by the museum for $34,000 –exclusively in Hong Kong- and apparently, each brushstroke and each color in the reproduction is exactly the same as in the original.  If this is already possible, there will only be a matter of time until this technology will be made widely available to artists around the world.  3D printing will add a new category that will compete (or perhaps complement) what nowadays is done in the realm of prints and photography.  These changes in technology will also mean that artists and designers will become more time and money efficient and will have wider variety of media at their disposal.

For many object and furniture designers, 3D printer technology that can reproduce with quasi-perfect accuracy is almost like a dream come true. Almost every piece starts with a design that needs to be turned into a prototype; normally, the designer would test several manufacturers until the best one is found and several tests of the same product would have to be made until the perfect piece is produced.  3D printing offers the possibility of correcting while looking on a screen and having the product “printed” in a matter of hours. 

Will 3D printing mean that manual labor like painting a canvas, carving wood, pasting rhinestones, or collaging a board will be relegated?  I don’t think so.  But I think that for the artist who is open to trying new things or for making their art accessible to a whole new other layer of collectors who perhaps cannot afford a one-of-kind piece 3D printing brings a new option to the existing tried-and-true printing techniques.  I also think that artists and designers who are looking for unique textures, intricate detailing not easily accomplished through traditional media and optical effects that probably cannot be done with what is currently available, 3D printing will provide access to a series of extraordinary finishes not seen before.

This year, New York will have its first 3D Print show.  While it is not limited to the art and design categories, I think there will be plenty to see and to learn about.  And if anyone is venturing into the DIY and would like to test, certain UPS locations across the country, including one in NYC, are offering 3D Printing services for anyone who may need them. Talk about finding the artist in you!