MRRF: 3D Printed 2D Paintings

3D printing is obviously best used in printing three-dimensional objects. Laser cutters, jig saws, and CNC routers are obviously well-equipped to machine flat panels with intricate shapes out of plastic sheets, plywood, or metal, but these devices have one drawback: they’re subtractive manufacturing, and 3D printers add material. What good is this? [Jason Preuss] demonstrated a very interesting 3D printing technique at this year’s Midwest RepRap Festival. He’s producing 2D paintings with a 3D printer, with results that look like something between very intricate inlay work and a paint by numbers kit.

[Jason Preuss]' multicolor 2D print. Notice the toolpaths in the reflection. Click to embiggen.
[Jason Preuss]’ multicolor 2D print. Notice the toolpaths in the reflection of the upper left hand corner. Click to embiggen.
[Jason] is using a 3D printer, a series of very specialized techniques, and a software stack that includes a half-dozen programs to print multicolor 2D scenes. This isn’t pigment, paint, dye, or ink; the artwork becomes a single piece of plastic with individual colors laid down one at a time.

The best example of [Jason]’s work is a copy of a paint by numbers scene. Here, [Jason] makes an outline of all the shapes, separates onto different layers by color, and prints each color, one layer at a time. It’s an incredibly labor-intensive process to even get models into a slicer. Actually printing the model is even more difficult. [Jason]’s paint by numbers scene uses about twelve different colors.

[Jason]'s 3D printed paint by numbers scene. About a dozen different colors were used for this print.
[Jason]’s 3D printed paint by numbers scene. About a dozen different colors were used for this print.
We’ve seen [Jason]’s work at MRRF before, including last year’s exhibition of a fantastic chocolate clock that was a 3D printed version of an old scroll saw pattern. Taking what is normally a 2D design and translating that into something that can be built with a 3D printer seems to be [Jason]’s forte, and the results are remarkable. If you don’t know what you were looking at, you would just think these art pieces are a strange industrial fabrication process. Once you look closer, you have an immediate respect for the artistry and craftsmanship that went into a sheet of plastic only a few millimeters thick and no bigger than a piece of paper.

[Jason] hasn’t documented his build process for these 2D pictures on a 3D printer quite yet. There’s a reason for that: it’s supposedly very complicated, and it’s going to take a while to get all the documentation together. Eventually, the process will be documented and a tutorial will pop up on [Jason]’s website. He’s also on Thingiverse, with a few semi-related designs available for download.

From what we’ve seen at MRRF, in the next few years, a dual extrusion printer will be a necessity. While dual extrusion won’t be able to recreate such colorful pictures, it will make the creation of these 2D plastic panels much easier, and they will surely be popular. We can’t wait to see what [Jason] comes up with next.

15 thoughts on “MRRF: 3D Printed 2D Paintings

    1. Pro/con lists make me think. What does it take to make you think? Subtractive methods such as CNC milling/routing won’t typically add color. Correct me if I’m wrong. I do like subtractive methods especially when used to cut things out of stock such as plywood parts for building kayaks and such. And I’m currently doing a d.i.y. CNC router build. I also was at the MRRF this year and it is waaaay cool. Were you there, Reverend?

      1. You could start with a layered material with multiple colors coated on top and then depending on how deep you carved material out would dictate what layer was exposed. This is done on a limited basis (one color) for things like nameplates all the time. You would just map how deep you wanted to cut to get a set color and then mill or engrave out to that depth. Could possibly laminate colored material together to customize what colors went where while also giving you a fairly accurate and discrete thickness map to work off of. Maybe try this with acrylic sheets as they are available in many different colors?

        Sort of like CNC cutting a giant, flat Gobstopper.

  1. So the author is “using a 3D printer, a series of very specialized techniques, and a software stack that includes a half-dozen programs to print multicolor 2D scenes” and, shockingly, “hasn’t documented his build process for these 2D pictures on a 3D printer quite yet.”

    There has GOT to be a better way of doing this.

    1. I agree that it looks interesting and invites further mental examination. It’s a neat but raw process, like most hacks. There’s usually plenty of room for improvement or new directions to explore or existing similar or relevant but different techniques out there too. Simply pointing those things out doesn’t mean the original idea is bad or without merit.

  2. For those curious the workflow overview is Andrea Mosaic->Bitmap Image to ‘Pixel Perfect’ Vector Conversion->inkscape->openscad->simplify 3d
    Yes, there has got to be a better way but one has to start somewhere and doing this the hard way certainly is motivating me to find a better way.

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