3D printing has opened so many new doors in the scientific world. From everything from engineering to medicine, now scientists can create new parts for machines and people at the click of a button, drastically reducing manufacturing costs (once you’ve bought the ridiculously expensive 3D printer, of course). But now prices are dropping, and you can even find instructions online on how to build a basic 3D printer in your home, and of course, there’s always the concept of renting or borrowing a 3D printer and printing a 3D printer with it. Either way, this once elusive and science fiction object is become more and more of a reality day-by-day.
Of course, there have been a large amount of worries surrounding the fact that is becoming increasingly easy to download plans for anything off the internet, and print it yourself. Will people just stop buying things completely, and high street shops go into a downward economic spiral? It seems unlikely, although there’s sure to be a shift towards more personalised products as it becomes easier and cheaper for companies to produce one off items through 3D printing.
But what about people printing things they can’t find in high street stores – things like guns, and other weapons. Already there is a group based in America called Defense Distributed who have created a working, fully 3D printed plastic gun. It’s a worrying thought that nearly anyone could print out a working gun that would be undetectable to metal detectors (legally Defense Distributed have to insert a block to metal into all their guns so that they can be detected by metal detectors, but who’s to say that every person who 3D prints a gun will be so law abiding).
But whilst there’s been a lot of worry surrounding the danger of 3D printing, and excitements surrounding the technical and scientific breakthroughs it could bring, there’s been less focus on the amazing new format it gives to artists. For the first time in history you can create a picture-perfect sculpture – scan anything you like in, and print it exactly as it. What photography was for the visual arts, 3D printing is for sculpture. And just like photography did, it opens up new avenues; both by opening up sculpture to a whole new realm of artists, but also through the ability to edit sculpture. Instead of working for months to try and create a perfect representative of the real world, 3D printing allows artists to capture reality instantly, and then do with it what they will – destroy it completely and build it up even more. Whether it be digital customisation before you print the sculpture, or whether you print as is and edit after, it opens up a whole new world within sculpture that the other visual arts experienced at the dawn of photography. And look how many amazing artists of the past century were photographers – will the coming century spawn it’s own generation of 3D printing artists?
There are some who are already using this new material. Nick Knight and SHOWstudio have used 3D scanning in many of their projects, both 3D printing the final images, or purely using the scans themselves to create strange ‘more-than-2D, less-than-3D’ images, things which are almost fractal, but one dimension up. Iris van Herpen created the first 3D printed garments to grace the catwalk. There are so many artists from so many walks of life now using 3D printing as their medium, and their numbers will only grow as it becomes more accessible.
3D printing is literally something out of a science fiction novel, and although it brings with it so many opportunities, it also brings a large amount of responsibility. Like all exciting and new technologies, it is in the end not defined by the technology itself, but by the way people use it. Let’s try and make sure we use it well, and for the right reasons.
This blog post was inspired by the Science Museum’s ‘3D: Printing the Future‘ exhibition (hence the subtitle), which you should definitely go check out, but if you can’t they’ve got lots of very interesting information about the whole thing right here. It was also partially inspired by Nick’s use of 3D scanning and printing in his work – it really opened my eyes up to a whole new way of using the medium. Iris van Herpen’s 3D printed clothing also got me so excited, and I wish I could have seen the show it was all in! However, there are many many 3D artists out there, and I do not know all of them, and couldn’t talk about each and everyone one anyway. If there are any out there whose work you really admire and love, please leave a comment below about them, as I’d love to learn more!
On the more general things: I’m back! My exams are over! (Although I’ve still got a big project going on, which is why things may still be a little rushed and hasty at the moment). It’s all very exciting, and now I will be getting back to regular posting, and I’ll also hopefully be uploading some of my older work (essays, poems, etc) soon, so you have some new stuff to peruse.