by Carolyn Edlund
Are you using high tech to boost productivity and increase your options in the studio?
I’ve long been fascinated with 3D printing, and how this quickly evolving technology can be used creatively by artists. So I got in touch with Avi Reichental, TED Talk speaker and founder of Xponential Works who is a nationally known expert on the subject for more information on how it works. He suggests using the term “digital fabrication” which is more comprehensive, and includes a host of technologies that are both additive (such as 3D printing) and subtractive (think CNC routing and laser cutting).
These processes might sound like foreign concepts now, and they may not be the first techniques you consider when making your art, but they soon will be so widespread and accepted that artists may readily gravitate to them in their creative practice.
What does digital fabrication do? And how can an entrepreneur, specifically a visual artist, embrace the technology at this time?
“Artists can design in 3D using a variety of mediums,” said Reichental. “There are almost 100 mediums to choose from, including plastics, metal, wood/polymer, paper, and even food. These require the artist to become familiar with the sculpting software that is required for the printing process. Secondly, the artist should know how to scan existing art through 3D scanning devices.”
He explains that the range of print capabilities is growing to include printing in multi-color, and producing pieces that range from being rigid to very elastic.
“Your ideas and designs can be produced by third party on demand service bureaus, or you might consider investing in a 3D printer yourself,” he adds. “It can be useful as a learning tool considering that at this time simple printers are available for as little as $300. This technology can be used for making prototypes either for larger artwork or for producing components.”
Since more elaborate printers range from $5,000 to $10,000, Reichental suggests they may be affordable if artists collaborate or purchase the equipment for use by a group. As technology becomes more advanced and mainstream, prices are dropping. A currently popular personal sized printer is the GlowForge, with prices currently ranging from $2,395 – $4,795.
Meanwhile, if you have design ideas that can be created using 3D printing, you can use a service such as Shapeways to make them for you. Shapeways spokesperson Mansee Muzumdar describes their service as “print on demand” and explains that they can be used as a manufacturer of component parts that the artist will use in projects, but that they also offer e-commerce through a marketplace that sells 3D printed goods for the artist if they desire.
“Creating component parts is a large part of what we do,” she says. “About 40% of the print-on-demand work that we do is sold in the online marketplace and 60% is private work.”
Shapeways also frequently produces prototypes for artists, for example in jewelry designs. The can make the model first in plastic, for approval by the artist, which saves on materials costs. When approval is given, they can then produce in precious metals or whatever else is required. Thus this becomes a more efficient process for making customized designs.
Have you ever used “digital fabrication” in your own studio practice for producing finished work or components? What techniques do you employ?