Digital Environments

Week5 - 5 November 2010

On the visit to the 3D printing (rapid prototyping) studio at CSM we covered various things:

1. an introduction to how 3D printing works with lots of samples, how it originated in large industrial prototyping but has slowly become more accessible to artists and designers
2. we looked at a research project I worked on and specifically a case study of a new piece of work created by artist Bruce Gernand, read more about it here:
3. We considered the possibility of cheap desktop 3D printers and how we could be at the beginning of a new step forward in the digital revolution. Just as the bit (the basic element of digital data) has been released from corporate control and the need for large budgets to do anything (for example the home computer and inkjet printer is basically a very sophisticated photographic studio and printing press), maybe the digital revolution is about to do the same for the atom.

For the designer and maker, the idea of mass production was almost impossible due to cost and scale, now the possibility created by open source 3D printing machines and software give options of small and medium scale production. Prototyping is now possible and through the likes of even large scale manufacturing is becoming accessible to individual designers.

For the artist creating one of pieces or limited edition work, 3D printing gives options to create things that are impossible by any other means. You can read loads of interesting background research into this area from a former MA student at Camberwell on his blog here: look particularly at the work of artist Peter Jansen, some pictures in the post at the top of this page:

It feels like we have no idea where this technology could go, but there are some visions that suggest it could massively reduce are environmental impact due to the ability to download designs and print them as needed, therefore reducing the transport of materials to manufacturers and then huge quantities of goods to consumers. It is even possible that the raw material used in a 3D printer could be grown in a relatively small space, reducing further the transport of materials. The designs might be created in India but the product is printed as needed in a small community in Peru with material grown locally, or a file is created in Kenya which we download and print at home in Liverpool with material grown by a neighbour on her allotment.

QUESTION: Is this an example of how we could engage globally and locally at the same time, reducing our impact on the earth's resources? Or is it just too Utopian and instead this technology is means to mass copyright abuse and the production of low quality goods?

there are lots of links for you to look through:

The RepRap - an open source 3D printer that can print the parts for a new printer:
A makerbot 3D printer that comes in kit form:
Thingiverse - a forum for 3D printing stuff, lots of examples and instructions:
Cory Doctorow has written a novel exploring a 'maker subculture' that involves 3D printing, you can download the novel here:
Thing Lad is a comercail 3D scanning and printing bureau based in London:
An interesting article from the Guardian newspaper that includes a visit to Thing Lab:
Here is a 3D printed car!:

TASKS for 12 November 2010

1. if you have not already added your blog to the student blogs page , do so quickly - this is how you will be assessed so you must do this. If you have difficulties let me know.
(go to to start a blog in a just a few minutes, read more on week01 page)

2. read through the notes and links I have added to the week 5 page about 3D printing here and add a short reflection to your blog

3. vector file - at the end of November we will be doing some practical work using a laser cutter, this needs a file that uses vector lines instead of pixels. You can create vector files with software like Adobe Illustrator or the free open source version Inkscape. In the digital resource centre at Peckham Road you can check the timetable and turn up for a free Illustrator workshop. I suggest you do this and get to know the basics of creating a vector file. We will talk more about what you might create nearer the time.

there will be a visit,

we will NOT meet at Wilson Road.

Instead meet at Central St. Martins College
at 14.00 (2pm)

This visit is to the 3D printing (rapid prototyping) facility.
click here for a map,-0.120404&spn=0.001939,0.004597&z=18

The entrance is on the corner of Southampton Row and Theobald's Road, nearest tube is Holborn.