Early experiments with 3D printing + printmaking

Posted on October 29, 2012 in 3D printing

Recently, two professors at my university (University of Nebraska at Kearney) worked together to explore the idea of using our brand-new Makerbot Replicator to produce plates that can be run through a printing press to create prints. Victoria Goro-Rapoport, our resident printmaking expert, has been very interested in the use of digital fabrication tools (like laser cutters and CNC machines) in printmaking for some time, so when she saw the Replicator in action, one of her first questions was, “can we make plates with this?”

Experiment #1 – shallow embossing plate

Mark Hartman, a visual communications and design professor (and the person who used research funds to purchase the Replicator), thought this sounded like a great idea, so he got to work. He created a 2D vector graphic in Illustrator, then brought it into Cinema4D and extruded it into 3D, combining it with a flattened cube to create a kind of embossing/relief plate. The plate ended up being about 5.5×5.5″ in size, and only about 1/8″ thick. It was printed with 100% infill and 1 or 2 shells, resulting in some of the thinner features to not be filled quite right.

Victoria used the plate and produced both a paper embossing and a ink print with the plate and gave Mark some valuable feedback. In my opinion, both of these prints came out very well! In the ink print, you can see a sort of ‘grain’ that results from the 3D printing process (the actual individual strands of plastic filament that is used to build up the object). The plate became somewhat warped from the printing process, but is still usable. The ink also clung to the plate quite a bit, as you can see in the photos below, which we think is due to two things – the ink will sink into the very small ridges and troughs that result from the 3D printing process, and the fact that ABS tends to absorb moisture. We’re thinking that a spray coat of shellac or polyurethane may help ‘seal’ it against these kinds of issues.

Experiment #2 – shallow debossing plate

After seeing the results of that first experiment, it seemed like it’d be a good idea to try two more variations: subtracting the design from the plate, and extruding the design even taller from the plate. Mark modified his Cinema4D model to subtract his extruded 2D design from the top of the plate, resulting in a sort of debossing plate.

Victoria used this plate to only produce an paper debossing, until we know how to solve the messy ink problems. So far, I think the result is the best we’ve seen – extremely sharp features and interesting, definitely a success!

Experiment #3 – thick embossing plate

Victoria thought it might be interesting to see what would happen if the design were extruded quite a bit, so Mark again modified his Cinema4D model to extrude the design further.

Both professors were very happy with the resulting embossing prints. You can see that some features have large “pillows” around their edges, which could actually be a great effect when its used right. The only issue they noticed was that some of the thinner features didn’t stand up to the pressure of the printing press