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Brief Published: 25 Apr 2016

3D Printing Pen Draws Architecture

Large-scale structures drawn using a 3D printing pen

A group of students from the University of Tokyo's Obuchi Laboratory have developed a 3D printing 'pen' that can create room-scale decorative structures by hand.

With a mixture of intuitive handcraft and digital guidance, the team creates beautiful structures by connecting strands of liquid plastic to acrylic rods in a complex but stable mesh.

The pen operates similarly to a glue-gun – squeezing a trigger pushes sticks of thermoplastic into a heated chamber and out of a nozzle. The melted plastic quickly hardens into flexible translucent strands.

Users of the pen are much less limited spatially than those of conventional table top 3D printers, which can usually only produce objects of their own size. The handcrafted element opens up possibilities for more personalised and spontaneous construction.

The practice of 3D printing has already entered the world of architecture and engineering, with large-scale robotic printers extruding wood mixtures and even metals to create complex structures – see 2016: Look Ahead - Colour & Materials for an overview. However, this experimental device shows how the element of human intuition can be brought back into 3D modelling and prototyping.

For more on 3D printing technology and materials, see Ultramodern Making: Advances in 3D and 4D Printing. Our coverage of CES 2016 includes a look at the latest in 3D printing mediums, and the growth in smaller, faster 3D printers.