School of the Art Institute and Columbia College, Chicago
California State University at Sacramento
A revolution is happening in the way we make things and what we understand ‘making’ to mean. A Google search for the term ‘making’ defines it as “to form (something) by putting parts together or combining substances; construct; create.”  When considered in relation to newly emerging digital fabrication processes, the way we make things is evolving beyond this definition. 3D printing separates the design of an object from its physical realization. The design/creation is made either using 3D scanning or through 3D software applications where virtual models are built in the xyz Cartesian space. The model is exported using a ‘slicing’ application and sent to a 3D printer that uses an additive process to build up successive layers of material (such as ABS plastic, wood, metal, and gypsum) into the desired form.
3D printing is a disruptive technology threatening to change the way we share objects, acquire tools, learn about artifacts, invent new products, and create new works of art and design. Companies like Shapeways, Ponoko, and Materialize harness the power of the Internet to create ‘on demand’ manufacturing hubs capable of fabricating objects to order. Websites like Thingiverse, Physibles and YouMagine serve as file repositories where people can upload and share 3D models that they have created using Creative Commons licenses. Online applicationss such as Autodesk’s 123D Catch provide medium quality resolution 3D scanning for free via a simple web based interface. Open source applications such as Blender or openSCAD give people the tools they need to develop their own 3D models. In all these examples the bar to access 3D printing technologies is becoming lower and lower all the time.
While the disruptive potential of 3D printing is new, 3D printing itself is actually quite a mature technology. Many different types of fabrication fall under this umbrella and more are emerging every day in fields such as medicine and nanotechnology. A comprehensive history of 3D printing is yet to be written, but the four main techniques employed today are Stereolithography, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), and Powder 3D Printing. 
Charles Hull, who went on to form the company 3D Systems, patented Stereolithography in 1986.  Stereolithographic 3D printers use a laser beam to fuse together successive layers of light sensitive resin. They have very high resolution and can print fairly complex parts. Today 3D Systems is one of the largest and most visible prosumer / industrial 3D printer manufacturers in the sector. Their business units include Bespoke, a medical implant 3D printing company. Upcoming releases include the CeraJet, a ceramic 3D printer and the ChefJet, a machine capable of 3D printing in sugar to create custom candies for the food and restaurant industry.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the method of 3D printing we’re most familiar with today. Machines by the likes of Makerbot, Printrbot, and Ultimaker use the FDM method of fabrication. Invented by Scott Crump in 1988, FDM printers fuse successive layers of plastic together to form a model. In 1989 Crump founded Stratasys, another 3D printing giant who released their first FDM machine called the ‘3D Modeler’ in 1992. Stratasys merged with Israeli multi-material 3D printer manufacturer Objet in late 2012, and in mid-2013 the company also acquired Makerbot to establish significant positions the 3D printing sector. 
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is a technique invented and patented by Dr. Carl Deckard and Dr. Joe Beaman at the University of Texas at Austin in the mid 1980’s with funding from DARPA.  This technique uses a laser to fuse small particles of material such as nylon, metal, ceramic and glass together to form parts and objects. SLS machines are capable of very high resolution prints that are strong, flexible, extremely complex and very versatile. The patents protecting SLS technology expired in early 2014 and many in the open source printing community hope that this process will soon enter the public domain.
Full color 3D printing is best achieved by a process developed and patented by MIT in 1993 called Powder 3D Printing. Similar to 2D inkjet printing this technique selectively fuses together particles of powder with an adhesive binder in successive layers to create a part or object. As the binder is deployed color may also be applied in the form of pigmented ink. Parts produced in this method are capable of good resolution but tend to be brittle and fragile making them best suited for display and prototyping purposes. MIT granted an exclusive license for this technology to Z-Corporation in 1995, which was in turn acquired by 3D Systems in early 2012. 
The explosion of public interest, consumer facing applications, and financial investment in the sector has as much to do with open source technology as it has to do with asymmetrical uses of established applications. Around 2005 the patent for FDM (a term copyrighted by Stratasys) expired. Shortly thereafter a global movement led by British engineer Adrian Bowyer open sourced this method of 3D printing with the RepRap (Replicating Rapid Prototyper) project.  They renamed it Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) and released it under the GNU General Public License posting the source files, bill of materials, and instructions online.  The first RepRap machine was the Darwin, followed shortly thereafter by the Mendel. Successive machines have included the Prusa Mendel and Huxley all named after evolutionary biologists. “The stated goal of the RepRap project is to produce a pure self-replicating device not for its own sake, but rather to put in the hands of individuals anywhere on the planet, for a minimal outlay of capital, a desktop manufacturing system that would enable the individual to manufacture many of the artifacts used in everyday life.” 
Open source RepRap 3D printers are driving the price of the Cartesian and Delta bots down with advanced machines that are developed by individuals, communities, and (with the exception of Makerbot) relatively small companies. Innovative engineers and hardware hackers are using these machines to print in many more materials than simply plastic, and we are starting to see the emergence of bio printers, metal printers, and food printers all derived from these open systems. While it is possible to pull the electronics, hot end, and hardware together from sources like Adafruit, McMaster Carr, and Ebay, several companies sprang up to meet the demand for DIY desktop 3D printing. In the USA the most recognizable of these are probably Makerbot, Lulzbot, or Printrbot. Three companies all of whom started off selling FDM/FFF 3D printer kits that their customers assembled. They have since gone on to offer fully assembled 3D printers that print out of the box. While Lulzbot and Printrbot have kept their machines open source, Makerbot closed their designs in late 2012 to much consternation from the RepRap community as a whole. The net effect of the RepRap project has been a meme-like proliferation of 3D printing spreading virally around the Internet at an unprecedented pace.
Further popularization of digital fabrication has been promoted by social media sites such as Makerbot’s Thingiverse.com, which provides user-generated downloadable 3D models of everything from plumbing parts to printable cameras – just search for something and you will probably find it there.  The combination of the availability of 3D print technologies and the network culture (advancing open source printing software, free exchange of information, and 3D file sharing) means that the possibilities for customized fabrication have grown exponentially. The whole idea of custom 3D printing has become popularized. In an entertaining article, “Dinner is Printed,” written by A.J. Jacobs for the New York Times in September 2013, the writer prints an entire meal, even printing the main course of Pizza in shape of Italy: “My wife and I put our slices on our 3-D-printed plates, cut a piece with our 3-D-printed forks. We clinked our 3-D-printed wine glasses and listened to some Sinatra playing (very faintly) on a plastic and rubber 3-D-printed speaker.” 
While the article is a fun introduction to the topic, highlighting numerous technical and practical difficulties Jacobs had to overcome to print his dinner using the technologies available today (contrasting the utopian idea of 3D printing vs. the actual reality), Jacobs raises a lot of questions about what the technology is capable of, and how it will ultimately transform our lives:
After spending weeks with 3-D printing, I have no doubt it will change the world in ways we can hardly imagine. Much of the change will be behind the scenes, unobserved by consumers. Engineers foresee a lightweight largely 3-D-printed airplane that could cut fuel costs significantly. That savings will (fingers crossed) be passed along to travelers. …[W]e are in for a ‘silent revolution.’ 
Many artists and designers are now using digital fabrication technologies in their practice, largely due to its new affordability and accessibility. 3D printing extends possibilities, allowing for the creation of customizable forms that may even be impossible to create with traditional practices. It also allows for the combining of 3D printed objects with traditionally crafted objects. In addition, while ‘virtual’ and ‘physical’ were once seen as polarities, digital fabrication blurs the boundaries between the simulated 3D space of the computer and physical world of objects, leading to a growing sense of the arbitrariness of such distinctions. What this means is a new and evolving territory of sculptural form and a new language of making.
As the price of 3D printers continues to decrease, many art / technology / new media departments in colleges and Universities have acquired a 3D printer or are planning to purchase one. In addition to transforming their creative work through these processes, artists experimenting with these technologies are also first-wave educators in the new digital fabrication technologies.
The CAA NMC 3D printing presentations and roundtable at Columbia College was devised to explore and discuss the emerging field of 3D printing in the art and technology/studio art context with a particular focus on pedagogy. The selected panelists were chosen because they are involved in 3D printing both in their practice and in their pedagogy. They use a wide range of equipment and processes, from commercial printing services to self-built printers. While new media art panels would characteristically be populated with new media practitioners, these artists span a broad cross-section, combining new media, conceptual art, traditional sculpture, and craft practices. Their work covers everything from digitally printed ceramics and sculptures, kinetic installations with digitally-printed moving parts, to interactive body sculpture that reacts to its wearer’s emotions.
The 3D Panel and Roundtable was intended as a forum for discussion, a meeting place sharing for ideas, and a source of information for those interested in creative possibilities of 3D printing technologies. The eleven presenters each gave a Pecha Kucha-style presentation about their work (20 slides for 20 seconds each, for a total of 6:40 minutes per artist).  The artists were then asked to lead break-out groups for the Roundtable discussion. Ahead of the event, the artists were invited to consider the following points that they might develop in the roundtable discussion:
1. What are best practices for 3D printing in the curriculum?
2. What are the obstacles to establishing a successful integration of 3D printing into the curriculum?
3. What types of machines are available and what do they do?
4. What safety concerns are there and what standards should be adopted or followed?
In addition to pedagogical concerns, artists/designers could also discuss how they integrated 3D printing into their practice, and how 3D printing has changed their work:
1. How do art practice and 3D pedagogy intersect?
2. What new practices are emerging from the blurring of distinctions between the
virtual realm and the physical one?
Sophie Kahn, Jamie Obermeier, and Tom Lauerman led the discussion about 3D printing and traditional practices. Their group reported back that the conversation centered on four areas: 3D scanning, interdisciplinary activity, fidelity of the final printed object, and the importance of drawing as it relates to modeling 3D objects in a digital space. With 3D scanning, the question was asked as to whether the technology used to record the world around us was keeping up with that of 3D printing and whether these processes depend upon each other in some ways. In terms of the interdisciplinary nature of the field, it was noted that 3D printing is bringing together new collaborators who are working with artists and designers, and that this includes engineers, architects and scientists.
Another important topic the group addressed was that of the fidelity, resolution, and surface quality of the final prints – taking into account the difference between plastic FDM/FFF type machine processes and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) or Stereolithography – to consider how artists might decide which method works best for them. Finally they talked about drawing and whether digital natives who have grown up making images on screens might have a different perspective when it comes to sketching and articulating their ideas visually.
Barbara Rauch and Moreshin Allahyari’s group discussed conceptual and research approaches to 3D printing, beginning with a conversation about aesthetics and 3D printing. From there the group moved on to pedagogy, thinking about how students often had a very different approach to 3D than the panelists – a theme that echoes the comment about drawing activity with ‘digital natives.’ This line of inquiry continued as they asked how the imagination finds space to form in an arena dominated by software and hardware. Their group voiced a concern that students are not drawing enough in general and therefore find it difficult to articulate their designs in 3D modeling. They proposed that in turn this has a stifling effect on the ability to translate the imagination into 3D printed forms.
Taylor Hokanson, Kristin Stransky, and Jason Ferguson began their conversation talking about hacking and DIY approaches to 3D printing and printer technology. Their discussion quickly turned to that of accessibility. They acknowledged that while there was an even distribution of gender on the panel that the overall cost of participation (in the 3D printing sector) might still be too high to facilitate more open access. They pointed out that 3D printers in the $1000 price range are accessible to some but there are many for whom this is still unattainable. Their discussion also touched on glitch aesthetics – when works read as an intentional process or happy accident, versus accidental interruptions to the 3D printing or modeling process that are not very tightly controlled. Finally their group also talked about the fidelity of the print and whether or not the low resolution on the FDM/FFF was something to be battled or embraced.
Our last group was headed up by David Van Ness and Luis Navarro. They began their discussion by talking about pedagogy in the 3D space and what new tools and concepts 3D printing brings to the table. They went on to talk about how 3D printing needs to be treated as a new medium and not just an adjunct to traditional forms of sculpture. Their conversation also touched on how it is important to use the right tools for the right job, and that in many cases 3D printing might not be the right method of fabrication when there are cheaper, faster and better processes already in place.
The concurrent 3D print show Art2Make at Columbia College’s Center for Book and Paper provided a context for what is possible and how 3D printing is being adopted as a medium.
1. Google.com definition of the work ‘make,’ https://www.google.com/search?q=make+definition&oq=make+definition&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.2631j0j7&sourceid=chrome&espv=210&es_sm=119&ie=UTF-8 (Accessed March 24, 2014).
2. “The History of 3D Printing,” http://www.3ders.org//3d-printing/3d-printing-history.html (Accessed March 30, 2014).
3. “Stereolithography,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereolithography (Accessed March 30, 2014).
4. Nathan Hurst, “3-D Printing Giants Stratasys and Objet Merge to Create $3 Billion Firm,” December 5, 2012, http://www.wired.com/2012/12/stratasys-objet-merger/ (Accessed March 30, 2014).
5. “Selective Laser Sintering,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selective_laser_sintering (Accessed March 30, 2014).
6. “3D Systems Completes The Acquisition Of Z Corp and Vidar,” January 3, 2012, http://www.3dsystems.com/press-releases/3d-systems-completes-acquisition-z-corp-and-vidar (Accessed March 30, 2014).
7. “RepRap Project,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RepRap_Project (Accessed March 30, 2014).
8. “RepRap,” http://reprap.org/wiki/RepRap (Accessed March 30, 2014).
9. “RepRap Project,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RepRap_Project#cite_ref-29 (Accessed March 30, 2014).
10. Thingiverse, http://www.thingiverse.com/ (Accessed March 24, 2014).
11. A.J. Jacobs, “Dinner is Printed” The New York Times Sunday Review, September 21, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/22/opinion/sunday/dinner-is-printed.html?pagewanted=3&_r=2&smid=fb-share (Accessed March 26, 2014).
12. Jacobs, “Dinner is Printed,” (Accessed March 26, 2014).
13. PechaKucha, http://www.pechakucha.org/ (Accessed March 30, 2014).
Tom Burtonwood is a Chicago based artist and educator. He is the first Ryan Center Artist-in-Residence at The Art Institute of Chicago. Projects include Orihon, “the world’s first” 3D printed book, featured by The Huffington Post and Boing Boing. It is available at numerous university libraries including MIT, Yale University, Occidental College and Lafayette College. Exhibits include The Printing Museum, Houston, TX; LA Art Book Fair, Los Angeles, CA; The Metropolitan Museum at World Maker Faire in New York; the Bruce High Quality Foundation University in New York; Fuseworks, Brooklyn, New York; New Capital in Chicago, and the Chicago Cultural Center. Burtonwood has presented his work and demonstrated 3D printing at The United States Department of Labor Administration, Chicago Ideas Week, kCura and Pecha Kucha. He is a contributor to Make Magazine and his reviews are included in the Make Magazine Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing 2014. Burtonwood teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia College Chicago.
Rachel Clarke is an artist, writer, curator and educator living in Sacramento, CA. Clarke is Professor of New Media in the Art Department at the California State University, Sacramento. She has exhibited throughout the US and internationally, and has recently shown at WORK Detroit, MI; Aggregate Space, Oakland, CA; and Currents International Festival of New Media, Santa Fe, NM. Clarke is founding editor of Media-N, Journal of the New Media Caucus, and was Editor-in-Chief from 2005 to 2011. She currently serves on the editorial board. In 2011 she co-curated an exhibition of experimental 3D filmmaking with artist Claudia Hart of the School of the Art Institute, Chicago, titled The Real-Fake: Simulation Technology after Photography, which toured the US in 2012. Clarke is currently working in collaboration with the Sacramento Metropolitan Art Commission as artist/co-curator for an NEA funded augmented reality virtual public art project, Broadway Augmented, which will launch in fall 2014.