Organic ink grows 3D printed gardens (and then what?)

3D printed gardens

Students at Slovenia’s second largest university adapted a computer numerical control (CNC) machine to act as a 3D printer, substituting the usual printing materials (such as plastics, nylon, epoxy resins, and wax) with “green” ink made of soil, water and grass seed. Their project, named Print Green, produces 3D printed models with the ability to grow.

3D printed garden

Designed as part of an intermedia arts course at University of Maribor, Project Green unites art, technology and nature. As with most school projects, this has limited commercial application, but the students already have a marketing slogan. They flipped the ubiquitous email tagline “Think before you print” into “Print because it’s green”.

3D printed garden

The “ink” creates functional shapes (bowls, planters) that – when watered – will sprout greenery. Student design team (Maja Petek, Tina Zidanšek, Urška Skaza, Danica Rženičnik and Simon Tržan) have also experimented with “living letters” (see lead image).

3D printed garden

The forms sit atop a Styrodur base, a rigid polystyrene foam typically used for building insulation. It’s a rot-proof product, ideal for supporting items that need frequent watering. Each base is then covered with black felt, to better showcase the printed objects.

3D printed gardenTechnically this is 3D printing, although the hardware is a re-jiggered carpentry tool. But falling prices for commercial 3D printers are opening up opportunities for regular users to run at-home research and development labs too.

We’ve reported on quirky applications, such as 3D-printed cosmetics or “pocket parks” for greenery in unusual places. People have printed prosthetics that enable lame dogs to run, and artifacts that allow the blind to “see”.  For every dubious app like 3D gun-printing, there’s a positive one like 3D printed food or housing.

The cutesy newness of this tech is fast becoming ‘yesterday’.  The genie is out of the bottle and game-changing applications are coming on fast.  Today we pose the question – what will this new turn in manufacturing do to the environment? Tomorrow we’ll be back to kick around some answers.  Get your thoughts together on where you stand on 3D printing – we want you in the chat.

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