Sculpting for a New Millennium: The VormVrij Clay 3D Printer

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Yao van den Heerik and Marlieke Wijnakker

Material innovations in 3D printing are the next frontier, and Dutch company VormVrij 3D is harking back to an age-old material to find the future.

Designers Marlieke Wijnakker and Yao van den Heerik, artists and graduates of the Design Academy in Eindhoven, have created their VormVrij 3D printer to use clay as an alternative to plastics. We’ve written about them before, and now they’re upping the game by focusing on 3D printing with clay to create precise sculpture.

The VormVrij 3D printer is 33 inches tall, boasts a base of 23 x 31 inches, and is powered by an Arduino with Ramps 1.4 shield. Its design allows clay objects to be 3D printed in about 15 minutes.

“After a year of refining our 3D clay experience by printing the obvious bottles, cups and pots we have improved our printer to be useful to more than enthusiasts who want to experiment with this wet clay technique,” says Wijnakker.

That experience is no less than a re-thinking of how 3D printing can be used from materials to processes, and the pair say their method uses recyclable and locally obtained natural material, resulting in a very durable final product that will “remain functional for 5000 years without any harm to our natural environment.”

Wijnakker says the process is meant to replace the typical scenario where a sculptor creates a portrait of his client as the model sits or services where the model is scanned and printed. She says no one “wants to display plastic on a plinth,” and adds that 3D prints in plastic have lost some of their novelty.

making-another-busteSo how does their new method work?

“You could use the plastic print to cast bronze. Very expensive and laborious work. And without manual intervention to bring the scan to life you will get a perfect but inanimate copy,” Wijnakker says. “Now picture visiting a 3D sculptor. You talk about your wishes over a cup of coffee, and just before you leave, he snaps a couple of high resolution photographs and quickly scans your upper body with a hand held scanner.”

Arnoud_made_-with_LUTUMThe VormVrij 3D process is, according to the pair, “where digital and craftsmanship merge.”

They use a 3D printer to produce an anatomically correct, but rough, representation of the model in wet clay which allows them to follow up by sculpting the individual characteristics onto the resulting model. Ten working days later, the result is a stoneware, porcelain, or pottery bust with “the look and feel of a master’s hand.”

Wijnakker and van den Heerik say their printer and process are aimed at “semi professionals and amateurs” who sculpt as a hobby. The process of sculpting, which lets the artist start with a rough 3D printed clay shape to which details can be added, is simplified with their device.

“We will soon release a large commercial variant of our printer. If there is enough interest, a smaller version might follow as not everyone has access to a kiln with a capacity of 70x70x70 centimeters,” says Wijnakker. “The printer can actively control the clay’s flow. Part of the model can be printed in a different color or another clay type altogether. We haven’t scratched the surface of possibilities this may present and hope many exciting applications will emerge.”

What do you think of the VormVrij 3D Printer? Can you imagine purchasing one and what do you think would be an appropriate price for their printer? Let us know in the Sculpting for a New Millennium forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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