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Artists use 3D printers to turn plastic into organic-like materials

Despite a massive snowstorm that hit New York City last week, the 3D Printshow New York came to town anyway, bringing together creatives, companies, and other exhibitors centering on this emerging technology. Adobe, which recently announced support for 3D printing within Photoshop, collaborated with 3D-printing marketplace, Shapeways, to sponsor an art gallery exhibition that demonstrated 3D printing’s capabilities from an artist’s POV.

If you haven’t already been following, 3D printing is projected to be huge – not just the next cool thing in tech, but potentially something that alters the way we manufacture and live in the future. From construction to toys and even food, 3D printing has the potential to dramatically change many of the things we do, and, in the design world, it is one reason why a big company like Adobe is getting in on it now.

For many digital artists, the work they create on their computers are generally shown on a screen or some other similar medium. A 3D printer takes their designs out of a 2D environment, turning artists into sculptors (although the sculpting is automated and done by a robot). At the exhibition, we saw objects that resembled stone, fabric, and metal – with beautiful coloring to match – and if you didn’t touch it, you wouldn’t have guessed they were made from plastics.

For one exhibitor we spoke with, his 3D-printed objects were more than an artistic statement. Luxembourg and Berlin-based Serge Ecker doesn’t consider himself a full-time artist, but art is a passion he pursues on the side. As the founder of GRID Design, a visualizations firm that incorporates 3D printing in its workflow, Ecker already had experience in using 3D printers. He transferred that knowledge to a project in which he documented the destruction of a small town in Japan by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, creating 3D models of ruins and damaged landscapes. Ecker used a combination of photos he took with an ordinary Fujifilm X-series camera, Google Maps and Streetview, and 3D modeling software to help him create his pieces. Ecker explained that he wanted to document and archive these lost places, in a manner beyond photographs. (Using his experience and research in modeling, Ecker is currently in a design competition in Luxembourg for a new public sculpture, “Melusina,” that celebrates the 1,050th anniversary of the city of Luxembourg.)

For consumers, 3D printing is still in its early days and there’s room for growth, but as the art pieces here demonstrate, it’s no longer an expensive niche but a viable reality.