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3D print your own ice

Inspired by Iris Van Herpen, our fashion futures correspondent designs her own necklace

TextVeronica SoPhotographyVeronica So

Veronica So, musician with TEETH!!! New York-based publisher of L_A_N and fulltime futurist looks at the ways fashion is being flung into the digital world under her Blog The Fashionable Futurist.

I recently had a fangirl’s pleasure of interviewing Iris Van Herpen for the April issue of Dazed and Confused.  If you’ve ever seen Herpen’s hyper-complex, digitally designed dresses, it’s easy to assume that the fashion world’s poster girl for 3D printing is a programming-savvy, autoCAD wizard. However, the fact is she is not- Herpen says that it was always unlikely that she would come to work so closely with computers, being somewhat technophobic to the point of disliking sewing machines.  She’s a fashion designer who likes crafting directly with her hands- thinking sculpturally, even spurning the paper process.  When Herpen started incorporating rapid prototyping in her work,  she sought out collaborations with technical experts – architects like Julia Koerner and Neri Oxman- to help her design and produce her ideas.

Businesses promise that one day the everyday consumer will be able to customise downloadable designs and make objects themselves, from or at home. All this talk of 3D printing becoming democratized and being the new DIY made me curious. Was this reality closer than I thought? I worried- I can hardly draw in Illustrator, let alone design in 3D and avoid programs like Maya and AutoCAD. However, being uncomfortable with being behind the times, I set out to prove that 3D printing is all that companies like Shapeways and i.materialise promise: from the computer, anyone can be a designer, producer and maker of unique objects.

Step 1: Research and Sneaky Peeks

I have to work myself up to that competitive, “That doesn’t seem so hard” place, so I check out i.materialise’s gallery to see what others have made. Pretty standard geek collectibles and lots of interesting jewelry.

Step 2: Learn the X Y Z s

For those of us who don’t have MIT scientists and AutoCAD-trained architects to collaborate with, there are super useful in-browser programs such as  3DTIN. The simplistic, tutorial-guided design software takes you through the first steps of designing three dimensionally. For over an hour, I complete le ssons on how to make simple objects out of existing block shapes, like a personalized keychain and a chess piece. 

Step 3: The Idea

I ask a graphic designer friend to help me trace the desired shape from the cover of bit of reading I’d seen and liked. Now had an importable .svg file I could use and customise in the design program.

Step 4: Tinkering

Using my beginner’s skills, I played around with the size, depth and length of the design and merge the head of the caduceus with the rest of the staff. A hole punch and many workspace (and real-life rulers) later I feel confident in my design and proceed to choosing materials.

Step 5: Materials

Whereas colorless resin and polyamide were once the standard offerings, one can now choose from a range of materials such as ceramic, stainless steel and even gold. For those who love rainbows and digital prints and patterns, full color is also available in sandstone. Prices and level of detail vary based on material. For my project, I opted for iMaterialise’s glossy premium silver, which is a good option for jewelry for its finer finish and high level of detail. Here’s a screenshot of some of the materials Shapeways are offering:

Step 6: Unboxing Magic

A couple weeks later, a box from iMaterialise arrives with my precious creation hidden underneath layers of foam, air packs and ziplock bags. Unboxing this was as exciting as opening a Sanrio Surprise- there are no guarantees here that things don’t go horribly wrong.

When I finally reach it and hold it in my hand, all I could think was how close it was to how I imagined it to be. I swelled with pride at the small silver caduceus and am transported into a higher plane of geeky possibility.