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Dutch Art Student Shows Off Engineering and Toymaking Artistry with 3D Printed Marble Machine

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Tulio laanenOne of the new and curious things you may see on invitations for kids’ birthday parties lately is a progressive and ‘green’ request (along with the permission to re-gift and re-cycle which is amazingly popular with the little ones), to avoid giving presents that have batteries, offering something simple and encouraging kids to use their imaginations.

While I am not a fan of placing rules on gift giving, it is an exercise in tranquility, and a welcome respite to revisit quiet, classic toys. It can, however, be a challenge to muddle through the world of modernistic and electronic, squeaking gizmos to find something classic, silent, and well-built.

Tulio Laanen is a Dutch art student who endeavors to take toys like the marble maker in both directions all at once, combining old world toymaking ideals with the high-tech world of 3D printing. Enrolled at Fontys School of Fine and Performing Arts in the Netherlands, Laanen has been perfecting this project for quite some time, obviously.

designLaanen’s marble machine is an indication that we may be looking at one of the next very talented and classic toymakers — eschewing the plastic, battery operated world of disposable jittering talking puppies and dolls — and going back to elegant design. While the modern toymaking industry has been known as an arena that is highly competitive, and both overly difficult and expensive to break into, the world of 3D printing is changing that paradigm. Artists, designers, and makers now have an enormous amount of latitude for conceptualizing, designing, implementing, and most importantly — manufacturing.

The first marble machine by Laanen is a joy to check out. A work of engineering, art, and playfulness all rolled into one, it’s mesmerizing to watch the whole process from the revolving wheel supplying marbles to the bowl they concentrically roll in, disappearing from sight eventually. The whole contraption is a machine of synchronized moving parts and whimsical delight.

The second iteration of Laanen’s marble maker is even bigger and more complex. Gone is the wheel, replaced by what I see as the marble elevator. The engineering is even more complicated, and you can see the evolution of this budding art student’s brilliance at work as the second model resembles something like a mini amusement park.

large_IMG_4805Laanen’s grand finale (see videos below) shows an incredibly inspired spirit, renewed and uplifted with his new skills in 3D design and 3D printing, which imbue the marble machine with modern fun — giving one the irresistible urge to get their hands on the streamlined, compact new marble machine and have a go at operating it. With a simple system of perfectly interlocking parts to be assembled by the user, Laanen shows off a vibrantly painted triumph of progress, and mastery of technology. His designs, which he 3D printed on an Ultimaker 2, are available on YouMagine, if you’d like to download and 3D print your own marble machine.

The game of marbles itself, and the use of these tiny balls for competitive play, has been around since ancient times when they were constructed out of stone or clay. In the 1800s, the first marbles were manufactured in Germany, with glass and ceramic becoming the classic materials of choice. They come in all shapes and sizes now, and to date still bring out the competitive spirit in many of all ages, with a number of competitions and championships coordinated worldwide on an annual basis. Laanen’s marble machine is a tribute to the longstanding fascination both children and adults have with a game that is easy to learn and captivating as an activity.

Have you been involved in 3D printing toys? Let us know if you download these files and try your hand at 3D printing a marble machine of your own. Share with us in the 3D Marble Machine forum at

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