Personalization has never been so on-demand. Though we buy with a quick click, we first hunker down to create what we want. Rolling up our sleeves virtually to make something 3D and tangible, effortlessly, feels like a valuable use of our time. Participation is immersive. It offers a creative challenge. Suddenly we’re all artistic enough to sell posters from our Instacanvas galleries, radically redesign our living rooms, and craft our sneakers from blank canvas.
The creation landscape is getting more and more interesting with 3D printing. The process involves putting basic ingredients into a machine – materials such as plastic, metal, leather, bamboo, felt, plaster… Press a button and, as with a bread maker, wait for it to bake. Well, sort of.
Wiki describes 3D printing as making three dimensional solid objects from a digital model. It’s done by successively layering down materials on top of each other until the entire object is built. Picture a tomato sliced into extremely thin cross-sections, say 100 of them, all fused together starting at one end of the fruit.
What it means is that the most fantastical, sketchable concepts can be built with precision into an object to hold and touch. There are many striking examples of companies utilizing 3D printing technology. One that caught our eye is Bespoke Innovations which makes prosthetic legs that exactly mirror the contour of the existing limb so the wearer feels emotionally reconnected. And beyond that, they work with the wearer to “infuse the individual’s lifestyle and taste into the design,” so it’s part of self-expression. 3D printing offers infinite possibilities – perhaps etchings on mirror-polished metal or leather, or intricate laser cut lace on white polymer.
More mind-blowing is bioprinting of transplant organs constructed from cells, and the off-shoot idea currently in development: 3D printed, edible meat. Oh yes.
3D printing services are now available to the rest of us. The customizable objects for sale tend to be novelties – salt and pepper shakers or fantastical gyroid paperweights. But sites such as Ponoco and Shapeways also allow you to submit your own from-scratch design blueprints, mailing you the finished object.
Fundamentally, the from-the-ground-up layering technique of 3D printing relies on from-the-ground-up imagination. Is there a day when choice offered by companies becomes irrelevant? Does this mean that creativity will get complicated again? We hope so.