Oct. 30, 2014 | By Alec

Fused depositing modeling, or FDM 3D printing, is a wonderful additive manufacturing technology. Every day we seen dozens of wonderful, accurate and precise examples of what this technology can do, while FDM 3D printers are also affordable enough to function as desktop devices.

And at their heart, is replication. You, as a user, can develop a 3D image using software (or you can download a pre-made file), which the printer then accurately replicate in plastic filament. But what if it could do more than replicate? What if you can use it to simply draw shapes in plastic?

Well, it can, as the New York City-based artist, animator and coder David Lobser has revealed. As part of the Vessel-project, David has tried to go to the heart of FDM 3D printing technology in an attempt to rethink 3D printing. And there he found that your typical FDM 3D printer can also be a paintbrush. And what's more, he's developed the tools to let you paint with it.

As he described, 3D printing is basically about replicating code into shapes. G-Code, to be precise. 'Fused deposition modeling works on an additive principle. A plastic filament is unwound from a coil and layered upon itself to create three dimensional forms. Typically, this process is used in service of the precise replication of (typically) polygonal geometry. The geometry is sliced and converted into G-Code.'

That G-Code is a long string of generated codes that preserve the integrity of the mesh you seek to print, and will let your print know what to do. 'Strength and accuracy are key and the tools to generate such toolpaths are sophisticated. This is important and necessary if you are looking to recreate models in a precise way.'

However, as we all know, the results are hardly ever smooth. A common desktop FDM printer is definitely able to reproduce shapes wonderfully, but final results tend to look rasterized and grainy. As David said, 'frankly, a little ugly.' He therefore proceeded to work with that code and see what else could be done with it.

This turned into the Vessel project, that seeks to break typical methods of G-Code generation, 'in order to learn how to treat FDM printers as not just a prototyping tool, but a new expressive medium.' Using Javascript, David in turn developed a WebGL that lets you visually play around with that code. You can find it here.

Also check out this clip of the tool in action:

This tool will let you quickly alter and play with coding options. And unlike regular designs that need to be perfect, the focus in on artistic freedom. Do we have to print functional, geometrically impressive shapes, or can it be messy and beautiful too? As David commented, 'From this point you can start to adjust what happens at each coordinate to produce extrusions which don't lay directly on top of each other, but can criss cross to make woven patterns or spew randomly for birds-nest like effects.'

The coding tool is still a prototype. 'This project represents an early step in that process, and to that end I've bitten off some low hanging fruit.' David explained. But it's already yielding some interesting designs, as the pictures illustrate. 'I dispensed with the need to ever create three dimensional models and instead treated the Makerbot as a drawing device. I began with a simple spiral and then added layers of complexity, tuning and experimenting with each iteration.'

These designs can then be sent to a 3D printer, where the results can be surprising. As David explained, 'The process was experimental in the sense that I couldn't be sure what the end results would be. I traced paths which intentionally did not overlap or create clean contours in the service of happy accidents. Sometimes the results look woven, sometimes they become tangled birds' nests, but they're always surprising.'

But all of them put FDM 3D printing in a new light. While David relies on a Makerbot 3D printer, there is no reason why similarly intriguing results cannot be achieved with other standard FDM 3D printers.

Of course, you may wonder what this project's practical application might be, but David is primarily interested in the aesthetic aspect. 'FDM prints are not appealing. This technique makes use of the machinery in a way that couldn't easily be reproduced on much higher end printers for results that are unique and much more like objects you might want to have on display.'

But in a further stage of development, David does hope to gain more control over his brush, and purposefully develop baskets, bowls, and so on. Trial and error has already revealed the precise settings for a beautiful cylinder, which you can recreate yourself. Just send the code here to your 3D printer.

So be sure to check out David's creations and play around with his coding tool yourself. What can you draw with your FDM 3D printer?

Also be sure to check out these clips of his G-Code experiments in 3D printing action:

Posted in 3D Design

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michaelc wrote at 10/30/2014 5:52:29 PM:

Very impressive! Finally sombody is looking at what the tool can do and working within that, rather than trying to stretch the tool into making stuff that looks injection molded.

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