We’ve seen a lot of material innovations in 3D printing lately, from better plastics to wood to metals; the latest to pop out at us is clay.

Dutch company VormVrij 3D has emerged, the brainchild of designers Marlieke Wijnakker and Yao van den Heerik. The pair, both graduates from the Design Academy in Eindhoven, have a longstanding interest in seemingly unrelated pursuits: design, art, culture, travel, West African NGOs (they ran one to benefit women and children), and sustainability. After moving back to the Netherlands, the emergence of VormVrij 3D seemed a natural next step, fusing their interests in art and sustainable functionality.vormvrij

The VormVrij 3D printer was developed to print in clay to forestall further use of plastics and to reinvigorate the use of natural materials whose use goes back to the earliest human times.

“We now produce with an immediately recyclable and locally obtained natural material,” said Wijnakker and van den Heerik. “We print without loss. And our final products are durable. They can be used by our great grand children. If left to the elements they remain functional for 5000 years without any harm to our natural environment.”

The emphasis at VormVrij 3D isn’t just in the present, technology-wise; the use of clay recalls more sustainable times of the past, and keeps the focus as well on the future, as ceramic pieces can last for millennia. Combining the materials of yesterday with the technology of today will, the VormVrij 3D team hope, “reshape the age of home ceramics.”

vormvrij 3DThe VormVrij 3D printer can print objects to pretty impressive dimensions: 33.4 inches tall with a base of 23 x 31 inches. The base, because it is intended for use with clay (which is pretty heavy compared to the materials we’re used to seeing in 3D printers), is heavy to allow for the clay’s weight and keep the printed pieces from coming out lopsided due to an unstable printer. Powered by an Arduino with Ramps 1.4 shield, using three 2A stepper motors and an air-powered print head, clay objects can be 3D printed in only about 15 minutes. That’s significantly faster than a lot of existing 3D printers, though exact timing depends on the size of the print and the wetness of the clay being used. vormvrij-3d-ceramic-3d-printer-14

Some of the objects already printed include basic, familiar pottery shapes: jugs, vases, baskets, and the like. Others modernize the approach, like espresso sets, and others call back other sculpting techniques, such as bust sculptures. VormVrij 3D offers some of their creations for sale via their Etsy shop, and they also run a 3D Hub. More of their designs and techniques can also be seen on the company’s Facebook page. You can also check out a presentation, led by “Lucy,” from VormVrij 3D regarding the history of 3D printing and clay’s place in it on their website. I have to say, it was pretty educational — and entertainingly put together!

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What do you think of 3D printing with clay? Will it catch on? Would you want to 3D print your own clay pieces to use around the house? Let us know in the VormVrij 3D Printed Clay forum. Check out the video below of a 3D printing test from VormVrij 3D:

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