Opinion : 3D printing and craft

Just how do 3D printing and craft fit together? Is it just a matter of using a virtual image or scanning in what you want and shoving a copy of that thing out of the printer? Or as many copies as you want out of the printer?

And how is that craft?


3D printing and craft : Igor Knezevic - 3D printed lampshade

Igor Knezevic – 3D printed lampshade – www.alienology.com

 {click image for link}


Firstly, it’s important to understand that there are several different types of 3D printing. Early versions used to shoot precise laser beams through a plastic soup, and where the beam struck, the soup hardened. Most commonly now, there is Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) which works kind of like an ordinary inkjet printer, spitting out a string of plastic (or metal etc), building the image up in layers (these are the type of machines made by Makerbot and Filabot). A newer type is Selective Laser Melting (SLM), and builds on original ideas, using a high-powered laser beam to fuse together finely powdered metal.


The very biggest advantage of any of these types of printing is that as long as you can put the design on screen, you can print it out. Infinite flexibility. (Almost.)



3d photobooth portraits from omote3d.com

3d photobooth portraits – omote3d.com

{omote 3D was a pop-up event last year in Japan that involved scanning members of the public in a special booth and printing them out in full colour. There were even family portraits.}


There are, however, some serious drawbacks to 3d printing.


1. you can steal designs. Would you like your own Eames chair rip-off? How about some new Lego? And … how about that cute new iphone cover you just saw on Etsy? Breach of copyright is not only dishonest, for small businesses it can be downright devastating. (More of my thoughts on copyright in the digital age here.)

2. technology grows old quickly. Just like the increasing number of old phones and old computers, there will be an increasing number of obsolete printers, discarded in favour of cleaner, faster, more flexible machines. What do we do with old tech? We already have an uneasy relationship with our growing mountain of tech waste. Out of sight out of mind is no solution at all.

3. more waste. You can’t recycle your unwanted creations easily. What do you do with all those ugly bits of plastic experiment and bad prints that you can’t use/don’t want? Filabot do make a machine to reclaim some plastics – but that’s an extra piece of equipment with extra maintenance and extra expense, which is also subject to becoming outdated in the future.


But of course, when the technology is used properly, there are excellent advantages.


1. less waste. Despite the production of unwanted objects that may be difficult to recycle, overall there is less waste during the manufacturing process – think of all the scrap material discarded when cutting, drilling, filing and sanding in more traditional making processes. With additive printing, you only really use as much material as you need.

2. you don’t have to make new moulds for every new product that you try. You use no moulds at all.

3. you get exactly what you want. Especially useful when you can’t find what you want in the shops. Can’t find that rare spare part for your dooverlacky? Print it out. Got a great idea for a new aerodynamic handbag so you can glide through the shops? Print it out. You can design your product and see it on screen, tweak it and put it through 100s of iterations before deciding to manufacture, instead of building possibly hundreds of test pieces to discard before the final design. In many instances, the physical properties could also be tested virtually, before discovering  problems during the manufacturing process.


So, back to the question of craft. Does 3D manufacturing replace, shift or enhance traditional methods?

Perhaps, because most of us have not had personal experience with this technology,  we might be forgiven for thinking that a maker working in a virtual environment has perfect control over their material. However, consider the growing number of different materials that can be used – this requires a working knowledge of each material’s particular behavioural properties. Then there’s post-processing which is totally hands-on – there are many finishing processes used, such as removing supports, smoothing and sanding,  painting, dyeing, polishing, joining and more.


3D printing and craft : 'landscape04' ring by studioluminaire.com

studioluminaire.com – ring – landscape04


Renowned  portraitist Chuck Close  utilised digital technology to create a series of loomed tapestry self portraits. They took Close around a year to set up before printing – selecting palettes, running test strips, calibrating. He considers that there is an enormous amount of labour still involved – but that it shifts in focus from the end to the beginning of the project.

In a post on the Facebook Group Critical Craft Forum, the question of 3D printing and craft came up. In the discussion, Kevin Murray reminded us of the furore that photography caused in painting circles when it first became popular in the 1800s. But photography did not replace painting despite the fact that they both produced images. Instead, the new technology helped to push painting in new and exciting directions. He continued; “To say that tool developments are interconnected is not to deprive the artist of any freedoms, but to offer the possibility that new creative practices are opened up in the wake of technological ‘advances’.”(1)

New things! A space for possibilities.

Experimentation is part of the conversation. Take this very cute bear – it’s a traditional stop frame animation, using 50 small 3D printed bears, made by creative agency DBLG, based in London. And it’s beautiful.



In the same discussion on Critical Craft Forum, another group member Rachel said “It is interesting to see how many people have negative feelings towards 3D processes. Implying that when using those processes, you are not using your brain only shows a lack of understanding about the tools and media available. All craft, 3D printed objects included, require creativity, intelligence, I hope originality, and most certainly skill.”

“I think the problem is the mainstream idea that makers using 3D processes are simply scanning objects and shoving them out to the printer. This is just wrong. What you’re seeing are examples of how “cool” the new technology is on the surface, not what it can do when a skilled maker is behind the tools.”


“Junk can be made with traditional processes and junk can be made with new processes.”


“Just as photography did not replace painting, 3D processes do not replace traditional processes. All are valid mediums of making. Objects created are deemed successful or unsuccessful due to the skill, efforts, and creativity of the maker, not the tools or medium. Rejecting a medium or set of tools because it is not what you would prefer to use, or you don’t understand them, doesn’t move anyone or any field forward.”



At the intersection of digital and handmade, artists are exploring ways of how to include the human touch using digital tools.

One has constructed an environment where a gluegun-type pen is wielded freehand, but where it intersects with the projected virtual computer model, the holder of the pen experiences resistance so that they know where the model should be made; however they still have the freedom to express their craft knowledge as well as be inclusive of the natural imperfections of the handmade object.

Design collaborative Unfold have produced technology that scans your moving hands, and so allows you to shape your form in the air while you see it on screen, becoming like a virtual potter’s wheel.

Architectural and film concept designer Igor Knezevic gets me thinking on a whole different level. ” I am waiting for the day to come when we can do 3D printing on a micro and nano scale so then you go and create not only a form, but also the material properties and how it behaves … imagine foamy, spongy, gnarly materials… and somehow get graphene into the mix. This is going to get crazy.”(2)

There are endless possibilities to be explored; both digital and traditional will grow, mix, change and move into their own paths.

Susan Taing, director of 3D printing company bhold.co  says “It’s like the food industry. For years people bought cheap chicken and beef and didn’t care where it came from. Then they got interested in locally grown food, and that started a movement. The same thing will happen with products—we’ll go back to a more artisanal market, with a lot of smaller local hubs, enabled by technology.”(3)


3D printing and craft : 3D rice cereal 2013 by  Janne Kyttanen

3d rice cereal 2013 by Janne Kyttanen

{food itself is another frontier. rice cereal was printed in the shapes of Janne Kyttanen’s signature pieces – heads, light fixtures, shoes, iphone covers, and his signature .}


So how will 3D printers fit into our lives in the future? There are several scenarios.  Small 3D printers for the home are becoming more commonplace;  although they are limited in their capabilities and the quality of their output, still, you can use your own software and create your own things.  Or, you can contribute to sites such as Thingiverse (an offshoot company of Makerbot), which is like an opensource community – upload and share your designs.

At the other end of the spectrum are high end specialist printers that are capable of printing in various types of materials, where designers can send their files to be printed professionally.  Companies like Shapeways work with architects, designers and more.

Certainly 3D printing is gaining in momentum. Will it extend to the point where there is a ‘copyshop’ in every suburb, so that locals can go and get anything they need? Car parts, new chairs, specialty tools for other DIY projects. Who knows?

While you’re about it, check out the 159 PAGES worth of 3D printed goods on Etsy – some are good, some are very, very bad, and some are, well, just meh. Just like any other craft.


How do YOU see 3D printing fitting into what you do – is there any possibility? Specialist tools for your traditional craft? Decorated accessories for your existing tools? New design ideas for jewellery?  Or even a new coffee cup to drink from while you work? I would LOVE to hear from you especially if you already incorporate these technologies in your work.

Cheers! Julie X

Food : fantastic lemon almond tart

siya - lemons

siya – lemons

 {More of Siya’s work + interview is here}


You know the old saying “When life gives you lemons…” ? Today I am making my favourite lemon tart. Why?

Well, one of the wheels fell off my car yesterday. I mean LITERALLY FELL OFF. Car was heading north and wheel decided to head west.




Broken ball joint. Yikes. I am so very thankful I was not driving 100kmh down a country road (which I normally do several times a week). Instead, I was driving about 20-30kmh down the main street of town, and so the car just came to a shuddering, grinding halt.

In the middle of the main street. Traffic backing up behind me. Car full of groceries, kids to collect from school. And o.m.g. just look at that WHEEL…

But being so obvious meant that help was nearby. Tow truck, borrowed car, and I’m safe home and it’s all (almost) good. (Just got to deal with the insurance now, and wait for the car to be fixed.)



So let’s do something special with those lemons. I LOVE lemon desserts. This one is a favourite, adapted from an old Women’s Weekly cookbook.



1 cup plain flour
60g butter
2 tblspns castor sugar
approx 1 1/2 tblspn cold water

Sift flour into bowl, add sugar, rub through butter. Add enough water to mix to a firm dough. Roll out to cover the base of a 23cm flan tin, and bake blind {cover pastry with baking paper and filling with rice or beans} in a moderately hot oven for 10 minutes. Remove paper and beans and return to oven for another 5 minutes. Cool slightly.

60g butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
2 egg yolks

Combine butter, sugar, lemon juice and eggs in the top of a double saucepan and stir over simmering water until the mixture thickens to the consistency of custard. Cool, and spread over the cooked pastry base.

90g butter
1 tspn vanilla
1/2 cup castor sugar
1 cup ground almonds
2 eggs, lightly beaten.

Cream butter, vanilla and sugar with an electric mixer; stir in almonds and eggs until they are well combined. This mixture is quite thick and hard to spread over the lemon butter, so place spoonfuls evenly around the tart, then use the back of your spoon to gently spread it to cover the base properly.

Bake the tart in a moderate oven 30 minutes until set.

Fantastic on its own, or serve with whipped cream if you must.


Surface design : Cressida Bell

Cressida Bell is an extraordinary artist for several reasons. A fabulously talented surface designer, she designs, paints and screen prints, producing a wide range of objects for the home, stationery, and accessories for men and women. AND she is also an utterly incredible cake decorator. Seriously, how amazing are those cakes?


cressida bell - dahlia cake

cressida bell – dahlia cake


Cressida is the daughter of potter and art critic Quentin Bell, and is the granddaughter of Vanessa Bell, who, along with Duncan Grant, founded the legendary Bloomsbury Group at the historic house Charleston, in Sussex, England. Firstly studying fashion, and then textiles, she set up her studio in 1984 after she graduated from the Royal College of Art, and in 2001 she moved into her current premises in Hackney, London.


cressida bell - red ibis cushion cover

red ibis cushion cover


Unsurprisingly, much of her work is reminiscent of the lyrical style of Bloomsbury, but she is unmistakeably her own person, and her designs are bright, clear and highly decorative. Flat colour and strong lines are typical of her distinctive style.


cressida bell - windfall / autumn leaves

windfall / autumn leaves


cressida bell - handpainted lamp

handpainted lamp


cressida bell - bouquet

cressida bell – bouquet


Her interest in cake decorating stems from childhood memories of her father, Quentin Bell, decorating the Christmas cake that he’d placed on his potter’s wheel. Now she prefers to decorate cakes on a board, using marzipan and a special glue she’s developed from jam and syrup for sticking the bits on to the cake.

Extravagant and exuberant, the cakes are defined by lavish colour and extremely precise cutting and placement, using everything from glace cherries and licorice allsorts to luxury chocolates and hand-painted marzipan.


cressida bell - daisy cake

cressida bell – daisy cake


cressida bell - cakes

cressida bell – cakes


cressida bell - chocolate flowers

cressida bell – chocolate flowers


cressida's studio

cressida’s  studio


You can find more of Cressida’s work on her own website, www.cressidabell.com.


Food : chick pea bites

{sorry, no pretty picture today – you’ll just have to take my word for it!}


These delectable little things are a variation on a childhood favourite. Essentially, they are vegetarian patties made from pulses mixed with peanut paste, tomato and onion, formed into small parcels and shallow-fried, and my brother and I used to gobble them down with gusto. Now, I’ve added in a little cumin for depth and warmth, which has only served to make them even more more-ish.

You can cook up your own chick peas, but using tinned ones makes these a cinch.


chick pea bites

1 x 400g tin chick peas, drained and mashed.
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 tspn dried parsley
1 tblspn tomato paste
1 tblspn peanut butter
1/2 tspn salt
1/2 tspn cumin
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg.

Mix all ingredients together, and let the mixture sit for 10 minutes to firm up a little. Form into walnut sized balls and flatten slightly, before shallow-frying. Eat warm or cold.




Food : Danish apple cake


Years ago when we had a telly, my partner and I used to love watching the Two Fat Ladies. They were fabulously entertaining as cooks and personalities – boisterous, loud, and very opinionated. As for their food – it was glorious. Their favourite ingredient was butter – and they were also rather fond of cream, bacon, frying foods and hearty casseroles. And cakes.

So of course we bought the cookbook.

This recipe is based on their “Danish Apple & Prune Cake”, which they in turn took from the Australian cook, Greta Anna. As most ingredients are blended in the food processor, it’s as easy as pie. I’ve omitted the prunes and the walnuts, and toned down the sugar and butter. Even so, it is still rich, and utterly delicious.
(I’ve also made it with gluten-free flour, and it’s perfect.)



danish apple cake

danish apple cake {sitting on a wonderful handmade pokerwork painted tray that was left to me by my mum and has seen better days but it’s still beautiful}


140g butter
200g caster sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
85g self-raising flour
115g ground almonds
125ml milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp boiling water
1/2 tsp baking powder

2 green apples, cored and sliced
2 tbsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp butter


Preheat oven to 190’C.

Cream all the cake ingredients in  a food processor until well-blended (about 20-30 seconds). Pour into a well buttered 25cm round cake tin (I also lined mine with baking paper). Cool it in the tin.

Arrange the apple slices on top of the cake and bake for 45 minutes.

For the topping, melt the butter and mix it with the cinnamon and sugar. Drizzle this mixture over the top of the cake and bake a further 20-25 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.