Commonplace materials for 3D printing

Earlier this year I was sent a book to review – Printing architecture: innovative recipes for 3D printing – by Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, professors at the University of California, Berkeley, and San Jose State University, respectively.

This book – Printing Architecture – mainly covers how conventional materials can be 3D printed to create new objects, including building bricks.

This is a fascinating book, as much about materials for 3D printing as it is about architecture and design. It starts off with a basic outline of some of the established types of 3D printing, namely binder jetting, fused deposition modelling and paste extrusion.

But then the authors get stuck into the real subject, the range of materials that can be used for objects and building. They point out that most building materials start off as some form of dust, powder or grains, noting: “The computer and the 3D printer have allowed us to use particles of light, jets of water, and bits of data to transform dust into customised objects and products that serve as new building blocks for the future, using materials that are locally available, inexpensive and derived from sustainable sources or waste streams.”

The rest of the book then goes onto explore some of the most common materials, including cement, sand, salt, sawdust and even tea and coffee. Each section talks about the history of that material and details some of the objects that have been 3D printed with said material.

So, for example, there’s a section discussing the waste produced from tea, coffee and wine production and some of the objects that have been made from this. This includes a teapot, cups and spoons produced from used tea leaves, as well as coffee cups printed from upcycled coffee grounds. Other sections cover things such as clay bricks, including the kind of intricate shapes that are only really possible with 3D printing. The book references the Italian company WASP, which has developed a 12-foot high 3D Printer, the BigDelta, specifically for printing buildings using locally-available clay with straw added for strength.

There’s even a section at the back of the book on recipes for making your own binders and powder materials, with the helpful suggestion that you can use saki rice wine for binder jetting.

Ultimately, as everyone interested in 3D printing knows, the materials are the most important element. But mostly this has meant developing high-tech new materials so it’s refreshing to look at some more conventional materials.

The book itself is easy to read, with a large san-serif font spread liberally across the pages and plenty of photographs throughout to illustrate the different materials and objects and buildings that have been 3D printed. It costs £21.99 and is published through Princeton Architectural Press – further details from You can read more about the authors from their website


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