Mar 6, 2016 | By Alec

Food 3D printing is slowly kicking off, and chefs and bakers all around the world are beginning to recognize that this technology could really add a new dimension to a desert, a cake or any other dish. Chocolate, of course, is the premier material pushing the concept of food 3D printing, especially as its completely edible once cooled (no baking necessary) and because consumers are already familiar chocolate figures. You could call it the gateway drug of food 3D printing. What’s more, high quality chocolates can also be easily used for food 3D printing, as one Belgian company proved just a few weeks ago. And now a new project by Skimbal, a Kansas City-based maker, shows us just what levels of complexity are possible, by 3D printing fully edible replicas of China’s terracotta warriors.

Skimbal is actually the alias of designer and 3D printing evangelist Michael Curry, who runs a fun blog for 3D printing projects and is also a regularly seen maker in the web’s 3D printing community. Though he has previously challenged the rest of us with projects like this 70lbs 3D printed RC race car, he recently developed a craving for chocolate. “Every once and awhile you have to do something completely ridiculous, like cast yourself an army of Chocolate Terracotta Warriors,” he says of latest project.

The Terracotta Warriors, of course, are part of one of the most amazing artefact collections in the word. The Terracotta Army, found Xi’an, China, in 1974, consisted of more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots and 150 cavalry horses – all part of the necropolis of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China (died 210 BC). 3D printed tributes have been made of it before, and one project can be downloaded on Thingiverse here (by user lolikuma).

That file also formed the basis of this amazing chocolate project. But as Michael explains, he actually had to turn to casting to make the final model. “There isn’t any chocolate filament available on the market yet, so to turn the digital file in wonderful edible chocolate we’ll have to follow a three part process,” he says. “First we’ll print the model in PLA, then create a silicone mold from the printed part. Finally, we’ll pour hot chocolate into the mold and let it cool into the final figure.”

The first phase was easy; Michael 3D printed the existing model at 0.1 mm layer height on his MakerBot Replicator 2. “When printing high resolution objects I prefer to use meshmixer supports, I find they are less likely to leave marks behind on the surface,” he added. To make a mold, he used apourable liquid silicone known as Dragon Skin. “It is a food safe silicone that will stretch and bend to allow demolding, but return to its original strength for reuse,” he says of the material. Though not certified food safe, it is seen as chemically safe. If you have any doubts, read more about food safe casting products here. If you’re interested in this product, simply follow Michael’s easy silicone mold steps on his blog.

Now that mold will take some 10 hours to set, so you’ll have to keep your hunger at bay in the meantime. You will need to cut open the mold to remove the 3D printed warrior. But then it’s on to the tasty part. “For this chocolate cast, we're using some ‘candy coating chocolate’ that was in the Hammerspace kitchen. Real chocolate would have worked better, but it's a bit more complicated to use and we had this on hand,” Michael explains. The chocolate was simply broken down into chunks and melted in the microwave.

But the pouring can be slightly complicated. Chocolate will start to harden almost immediately, which can cause an uneven result. To prevent that from happening, the mold was heated in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 10 minutes. “The hot mold got a spray of food safe mold release and was ready to go. I poured a thin stream of chocolate so that it would fall all the way to the bottom of the mold and fill it from the bottom to the top. With the leftover chocolate I cast a small set of dungeon builder tiles to use as test pieces and snacks,” Michael reveals. The finished mold was chilled in the fridge for an hour, when it was ready to eat.

So how were the results? Frankly, perfect. The level of detail was amazing, no bubbles had formed and the mold was ready to use again and again. “[The second time] I put the filled mold in the freezer for two hours and lengthened the access cut down its back to make unmolding easier.  The second casting came out even better than the first,” Michael reveals. If you’re interested, head over to Michael’s blog here for further details. This could be your most tasty 3D printing project yet, and you don’t even need a food 3D printer!



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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