By the Power of Powder


Last month's dishwasher wheel was 3D printed with a process called Fused Deposition Modeling, where a spooled filament is melted to create the contours of an object layer by layer. It's similar to making a coil pot out of clay. Besides filament, there are other pretty unreal processes for 3D printing, including solidifying a light sensitive liquid with a laser beam.

So who uses 3D printing?

Laika has used 3D printing to create 30,000 puppet faces for their stop-animation film 'The Boxtrolls'. Unlike the plasticine Wallace and Gromit, 'The Boxtrolls' characters are made from a sort of ceramic powder. Characters are produced using a 3D Systems Z Printer 360 which layers binder onto the powdered material. Each layer is a tenth of a millimeter thick, building an inch of material in 1-2 hours with accuracy and color so consistent that the resulting animation looks more like a computer graphic than hundreds of thousands sequenced photographs.

Check out "Bears on Stairs" by DBLG to understand the process of stop-motion animation. This is Fused Deposition, visible in the sort of topographic lines it creates on the bear. Powder printing, on the other hand, has a fine grain and embeds pantone-matched color into the material inkjet-style, like our very own Bridge Footing model.

It's translucency and luminosity are more similar to the qualities of real skin. For this reason, 'The Boxtrolls' characters begin as sketches, are 3D modeled, then come to live in the real world rather than being animated with computer graphics. The amount of time it takes to animate stop-animation and computer graphics is the same.

You just can’t beat the real thing! Interestingly enough, according to, Laika’s face library is the first to use 3D printing for mass production. And according to Z Corp “the process of bonding loose powder to solidify into parts is compatible with many types of materials. While the 3D printer remains exactly the same, users can change the build material to produce parts with a wide range of material properties to meet various application requirements.”

Say, for example, chocolates! Or Solid, Portland’s 3D printed titanium entry for the “Ultimate Utility Bike” competition.

Where does 3D printing fit into production?

Could the beautiful contours of projects like Solid make it from prototype to mass production, or is it simply not practical? For Laika, the technology of 3D printing is not the anti-thesis of hand-crafted, it doesn't necessarily machinize the human touch. Rather the two augment and work to each others benefit. Take for example, the Australian company Flying Machine, which uses both 3D printed titanium components and extruded parts in production, creating metal bicycles as light as carbon fiber.

"We have hybridized the traditional method of creating bicycles, using custom printed lugs to join the frame tubes so that we can vary the size and geometry for the perfect size every can reduce the mass of most [titanium] functional components by between 40 percent and 50 percent yet they can be equally as strong and perform exactly the same function."

However, it still costs $3,000!

Yelena Prusakova was an illustrator at Fat Pencil Studio from 2013-2017.