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The once limited world of 3D printing in ABS, PLA, or simple resin is long gone. The technology of 3D printing and both the continual demands as well as curiosity of users has delivered us into a new realm—and study—of materials sciences. The days of only being able to produce a bulky plastic print are surely behind us as so many new materials emerge and allow us to print in everything from wood to glass to ceramics, a material that is growing in popularity and shows itself to be conducive to a variety of applications, along with the use of porcelain.

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Bryan Harris

Now though, part of the Shapeways team, certainly known for their expertise overall in materials, has exalted this already somewhat rare material in 3D printing to an entirely new level. When 3D designer Bryan Harris began working with Albert Pfarr, a ceramic materials expert, the two decided to try something very, very different with porcelain as they developed it into a 3D printable material. Not only that, but they have now combined the ancient craft of pottery with photography, allowing for images to be made into ceramic tile reliefs.

These 3D printed sculptural relief tiles display what may be referred to as an ordinary photograph, but for you it could be a deeply personal memory with family or an activity. Inspiration for the project came from, most obviously, the work in ceramics that Harris and Pfarr do for Shapeways. The sculptural reliefs are described by the two as an ‘offshoot’ of their ceramic products work.

“During the Shapeways porcelain pilot we wanted to try something that would be impossible to create using traditional ceramics,” said Harris. “We had no idea that the results would be this amazing. I was the architect of the idea. Albert made the photo details come to life with the celadon glaze.”

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Harris is a designer who lives in New York and serves as Shapeways Porcelain Production Team Lead.

“I’m captivated by the potential of this technology and how it changes the way we manufacture products,” says Harris, who is hard pressed to find any technology today more exciting than 3D printing.

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Albert Pfarr

Pfarr is a ceramic artist and engineer of ceramic materials. He taught ceramics at Washington University in St. Louis for 10 years, before moving to New York City, where he then worked as an instructor and studio manager at Greenwich House Pottery for several years before developing the new 3D printer friendly ceramic material with Stuart Uram and his company called Corecast. He later joined Shapeways to launch the printable porcelain product for them, working now as the Shapeways Porcelain Production Researcher and Developer.

“When the tile came out, it was amazing,” Pfarr said. “To my knowledge, no one has ever transferred photographic imagery into relief and put it on a ceramic tile and glazed it. This is not an image transfer on the surface, but an actual 3D relief. It’s a new exciting option.”

Once you’ve chosen a picture and had it transferred onto one of the 3D printed tiles, it can be used in a variety of ways. The team points out that the tiles are indeed fully functional just like regular tiles. You can use them as accents in kitchens or bathrooms—adding a wonderfully personalized touch like nothing we’ve ever seen before. And if tiles aren’t what you are looking for, the relief images can be applied to other objects too, like cups, pendants, and other ceramics.

The celadon glaze offers a rich blue-green color meant to highlight the images. A glaze for pottery that was created in China thousands of years ago, it offers a translucent, jade hue with natural and delicate crackling and a glassy look. If you are interested in finding out more about this new technology and materials, go to the Celadon Selfie shop at Safeways. To buy one of these tiles for yourself, just upload a photo or any image for reproduction, and then it will be created and mailed to you. Do you have a photo that would great on one of these tiles? Tell us about it in the 3D Printed Porcelain Selfie Tiles forum over at 3DPB.com.

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