3D Printing Ceramics

Explorations in 3D Printed Ceramics

My interest in 3D printing ceramics was guided by the possibilities and limitations of the technology. 3D printing lets one manufacture many different forms, textures and colors that otherwise would not be possible. By developing a 3D printing process for a more noble and beautiful material, ceramics I was able to make these fragile and fine objects.

While 3D printing has many advantages it also limits you. The technology is meant to be quick, repeatable and precise. The forms may differ but each time the machine repeats the same action, extruding layer after layer. Repeating itself until an idea becomes a thing. Random factors are excluded. When making a 3D printer or developing a 3D printing process, increasing the level of repeatability and precision is key. But this also means that 3D printing sometimes feels rather “kil.” Kil is a Dutch word meaning cold, clinical, without feeling, an absence of humanity to some extent.

Woven texture, 2013
Ceramic 3D printer and clay extruder, 2013

By making these machines that make, we push the human to the background and place the machine front and center. Paradoxically 3D printing lets more people make but simultaneously removes them from the process. We often don’t touch an object before it is done.

By introducing elements of randomness I wanted to reintroduce error, a human touch, stochasticity. I felt that the process craved some serendipity, joy through intentional failure. I wanted repeatability and precision but found I also needed mistakes.

Woven object, 2013
Woven object, 2013

Functional 3D printed ceramics

When I first started researching 3D printing the technology was an exciting and interesting one. But, the desktop 3D printers on offer were unable to produce things at a human scale. Large and medium scale functional design objects that we use such as bowls, plates and decorative objects could not be made.

The objects made with desktop 3D printers were also low in heat resistance and could not be food safe. Industrial 3D printers could make food safe objects for everyday use but these would be too costly to produce. I ended up spending years working on a ceramic 3D printer and 3D printing process that could make large and medium scale functional 3D printed ceramics to solve this problem.

Ceramic 3D printer and objects, 2015 Photo: Femke Rijerman

I designed and made my own clay extruder and experimented with many different types of clay. Iteratively improving my process and testing brought me closer and closer to a solution. I gradually solved major issues such as the collapse of objects. A breakthrough came when I decided to move from mixing clay with water. By redesigning my extruder I could use hard clay instead. This lead me to be able to make larger objects with higher levels of detail.

In the early days the 3D printed ceramic vases and bowls seemed rough, with the layers clearly visible. I was able to experiment with textures, surfaces, shapes and sizes. Now I'm able to make objects up to 80 cm tall with a diameter of 42 cm. By altering the settings on my machine I can vary and give the pieces very different appearances.

The Woven series comprises of a weave pattern reminiscent of the days of artisans. 3D printing has the potential to bring back the unique and individualized objects that artisans make. But, this time it is a machine who manufactures the final product. Each unique vase in this collection shows us the potential of cutting edge technology while reminding us of the days of yore.

The Sediment series has some of the thinnest 3D printed ceramics layers available today. Imposing, unique 3D printed interior items ushering in a new world of digital fabrication. The fine stria do remind us that the object was 3D printed but only when one is close to it.

Year: 2013 - 2015

3D printed ceramic objects, 2014
Colored clay syringes, 2013
Olivier and his work, 2014