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Introducing 3D Printed Glazed Ceramics


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Wow, fantastic! I'm very excited about the possibilities regarding printed glazed ceramics.

Now, what would be even better, is printed glazed ceramics that took diffuse maps into consideration...

Seriously, though, this is great. Cool idea, Shapeways.
#1 Ariel on 2011-05-12 16:06 (Reply)
Thanks, what do you mean by "take diffuse maps into consideration?" Can you explain?
#1.1 nancyliang on 2011-05-12 20:20 (Reply)
Pretty sure Ariel means printed color. "Diffuse Map" is the color map in 3D tools like Max, Maya etc.
That's the first thing I was thinking, too: Once you can do this in color, you'll rock the world!
#1.1.1 Jon (Homepage) on 2011-05-12 22:03 (Reply)
I don't know the details of the ceramic build process, but my guess is just sifted porcelain powder in a monochrome Z-Corp. 3D printer. There is no physical reason that you can't put micro-encapsulated mineral pigments into a Spectrum 510 -- except for what they might do to the cheap Hewlett-Packard print heads. They probably wouldn't last long. And really, you need a materials chemist to mix you a set of pigments which will do the right thing during firing. I know from experience that the vendors of the Rapid-Prototyping machines won't even spend the resources to improve 3D colour rendition in their own machines. So, it's up to -- whoever is behind the Shapeways Ceramic service -- to take on this kind of work; To come up with archival materials for color digital sculpture output. I've been producing STL files for digital sculpture since 1989. How can I get involved?
# Stewart Dickson (Homepage) on 2011-05-13 02:47 (Reply)
Metal oxides will generally migrate and interact with eachother during firing. So some coloured effects would be acheived, but not necesarily what you would expect! So long as you were happy with that it would be interesting, but printing ceramic full colour photos is unlikely to be happening soon.

I'm not sure that the oxides would be any more abrasive than the ceramic powder, or have I misunderstood the process? Is a layer of powder deposited with the print heads printing binder? If the binder is water based many of the oxides are water soluble and are used in dilute solution so that might be fine.
# Ian M on 2011-05-13 10:23 (Reply)
Exactly what popped up in my mind when I read the message about the new material glazed ceramics: colored texture would be terrific!
#1.2 rase (Homepage) on 2011-05-13 10:03 (Reply)
It is so bloody affordable, good chance this is a real game changer!
Fascinated by the price scheme for this.

Ceramics order has been placed :-)
#2 Stijn van der Linden on 2011-05-12 16:09 (Reply)
#2.1 drscott on 2011-05-12 16:16 (Reply)
You can go to sleep now ;-)
#2.1.1 Stijn van der Linden on 2011-05-12 16:19 (Reply)
Definitely a game changer !
#3 Dizingof (Homepage) on 2011-05-12 16:29 (Reply)
Nobody seems to have mentioned this yet, but why can't these objects be put in the dishwasher?
#3.1 Not dishwasher safe? Why? on 2011-05-14 00:01 (Reply)
Hey, it is not dishwasher safe because if there is any section unglazed it will fail in a dishwasher.

Especially, meshy intricate parts.
#3.1.1 drscott on 2011-05-14 00:07 (Reply)
What about hand washing... I mean, the big advantage here is using these for food right? Right?
# Christopher Wilmer on 2011-05-14 00:09 (Reply)
Hand washing is fine, Peter drank hot coffee out of it and it is ok, so it can handle hot liquids.
# drscott on 2011-05-14 00:12 (Reply)
What about the unglazed regions though? Do we have to make sure they never touch water?

(I'm confused about the difference between putting something in the dishwasher vs. applying soap and water to the same area)
# Christopher Wilmer on 2011-05-14 00:17 (Reply)
Most items will be fully glazed, there may be minor sections the part rest on during the glazing process, but for the most part fully covered.

A dishwasher usually takes a fair while and there is a lot of hot water and steam that could penetrate the unglazed area over a prolonged period.

You could risk it and it might be ok, but it would be a shame if it failed..
# drscott on 2011-05-14 00:23 (Reply)
Some ceramics are food safe but not dishwasher safe. Ther term "safe" here only sometimes refers to toxicity. Other times "safety" refers to the integrity of the product. For example, a ceramic item may not be food safe because the acid from tomatoes will discolour the glaze.

In a lot of cases, dishwasher safety will refer to the safety of the model. There are certain alkalyne detergents used in dishwashers that will affect a glaze by either discolouring it, or "crazing" it.

Crazing means the glaze will crackle. Crazing is not always a bad thing, however. Sometimes it is quite decorative, but in the case of "safety" it is either unsafe because bits of the glaze pop off and be ugly or be swallowed. Or it is unsafe because food gets in the cracks and never leaves, creating a bacterial issue.

I don't know if any of what I have suggested here applies to why Shapeways deemed the ceramics here not safe for the dishwasher though. These are just educated guesses.

# T. Shawn Johnson on 2011-05-14 00:37 (Reply)
Awesome, thanks Whystler.
# drscott on 2011-05-14 00:56 (Reply)
When I first read "priced by surface area", I thought... why not? But the more I think about it, the more weird that seems. You are basically charging for any added detail to the model... which defeats the main advantage of 3d printing. Even adding a light texture to an otherwise flat surface could potentially double the surface area.
#4 Christopher Wilmer on 2011-05-12 16:40 (Reply)
Hi Christopher, thanks for your feedback and you are right, this has occured to us. However we also want to price as close as possible to our cost to enable us to lower prices as fast as possible. The cost of ceramics is mostly tight (for the glazed version anyhow) to the surface. The more complex, the more work, hence the more expensive.

Currently we are in trial mode and will learn whether we choose wisely or not. We might change it after if we found something better - and we are certainly open for feedback about it!

#4.1 Peter Weijmarshausen on 2011-05-12 16:58 (Reply)
Looking at the glazing process, a disincentive for a large surface seems wise though.
#4.2 Stijn van der Linden on 2011-05-12 17:01 (Reply)
We are trying to disincentive difficult to glaze pieces yes. Difficult to glaze pieces would be like a really meshy structure with hard to reach crevices. If you have a lot of those crevices (like the foldings of a brain, for instance), you are likely to have a big surface area. Does that make sense? I know it won't 100% cover all the difficult to glaze pieces, but it's a proxy.
#4.2.1 nancyliang on 2011-05-12 17:41 (Reply)
Well, one thing that comes to mind is inscriptions. It seems like right now a coffee cup with my name on it (via a lightly raised surface) will cost twice as much as the coffee cup with no name. (Even though the name is much smaller, it's much more curvy). It doesn't seem to me like you guys meant to disincentivize inscribing objects with text.
# Christopher Wilmer on 2011-05-12 17:45 (Reply)
Congrats guys - this is amazing!

One question: does mesh medic take overlapping surfaces into account, in other words, does it not count surface area which is 'hidden' inside another object?
#5 Michiel Cornelissen (Homepage) on 2011-05-12 17:01 (Reply)
No, we unify all meshes and all hidden surfaces are removed.
#5.1 robert on 2011-05-12 18:49 (Reply)
Do you offer unglazed?

This news is what I've been waiting for.
#6 Jongo on 2011-05-12 17:04 (Reply)
Not at this stage, the process is too fragile unglazed..
#6.1 drscott on 2011-05-12 17:09 (Reply)
I'd love to see unglazed as well- glazed is great for food safe reasons, but as an art material, I feel unglazed ceramics are much richer.
#6.2 Casey (Homepage) on 2011-05-12 17:21 (Reply)
The unglazed version is very rough, not very commercially appealing. If we find a process that produces a smoother unglazed version, we'll let you guys know!
#6.2.1 nancyliang on 2011-05-12 17:48 (Reply)
Sounds awesome! i hope this material sticks around as I can see it as being extremely useful for my future projects. Can't wait to do some testing!
#7 Sam Arbizo on 2011-05-12 17:07 (Reply)
Look forward to the results! Enjoy!
#7.1 nancyliang on 2011-05-12 17:15 (Reply)
This is tremendous news Shapeways! Brilliant work Nancy! The potential for ceramics is huge and very exciting. I'm looking forward to trying this material & spreading the word. I really hope you will keep it as a mainstay.
#8 collecula (Homepage) on 2011-05-12 17:23 (Reply)
Thanks! Very happy to see you guys so excited by this. Let me know how your products turn out, if people are happy, then we'll work on making this permanent. Have fun!
#8.1 nancyliang on 2011-05-12 17:30 (Reply)
This is brilliant - I think lots of us have been waiting for ceramics for a long time, really excited about the possibilities!
#8.1.1 Anonymous on 2011-05-12 17:38 (Reply)
Finally people can stop bothering us with their requests for printing out ceramic parts ;-)
congratulations Shapeways on bringing 3d printed ceramics to the mass market!
As to the unglazed parts, I guess Shapeways uses converted Zcorp machines to glue ceramic powder with a binder. All the parts that I have seen so far using this technique are extremely light and porous (think light weight bricks). The parts need a rather thick layer of glaze (1mm is a lot) to be smooth, water tight and ceramic-ish, I guess this is also where the price per surface area comes from.
#9 Unfold (Homepage) on 2011-05-12 17:50 (Reply)
Based on the current process, is it possible to create hollow tubes with opening on both ends? Like, what if I want to design a ceramic drinking straw?

I would assume the glaze would only be on the other surface; how would the unglazed inside look like?
#10 fakebusker83 on 2011-05-12 17:54 (Reply)
RE:..what if I want to design a ceramic drinking straw?...I would assume the glaze would only be on the other surface..

...Generally if ceramics are to be used with food or beverages, they need to be sealed with a glaze. This is to prevent microbes from making homes in the coral like recesses of the ceramic body & to prevent minerals found in the clay body from leaching into the food. There are exceptions to this but not many. Most unsealed ceramic vessels are used in applications like gardening, drainage & areas where the porousness of the ceramic is an asset. Although there are porous terracotta cooking vessels that require soaking in water, to use before cooking. On that note it would be good to know what type of ceramic is being used in the printing process & if the binders burn out during firing.

I was wondering if Shapeways has considered 'dipping' the glaze instead of spraying? dipping is one way to get into the nooks and crannies while also coating the insides of the object. you need a resist for the area that will sit on the firing brick in the kiln, but I suspect you are using that already?
#10.1 collecula (Homepage) on 2011-05-12 18:19 (Reply)
Yes, the straw can be dipped. If there are a lot of engravings or crevices, there's no guarantee that even dipping will cover everything. If it is a simple straw that follows the design rules, then it should be glaze-able.

Please also heed the caveats on food safety, and glazing coverage. They are all in the top section of the materials page:

Let me know if you have any questions!

#10.1.1 nancyliang on 2011-05-12 20:14 (Reply)
Yes! Finally! I asked for this a loooong time ago. Missed my three guesses at gold, chocolate and ham ;-) but I'm way pleased.... Not sure about the pricing method which now makes us designers think about NOT putting surface detail in - haha - but I think I can work with that.
#11 Glenn Slingsby (Homepage) on 2011-05-12 18:18 (Reply)
And in reading the previous Blog entry I'm now confused about what you are asking for in terms of hollow models. Do you prefer hollow models with NO escape hole for ceramics? Presumably so, since a hollow model with hole would have twice as much surface to glaze (inside and out??)
#11.1 Glenn Slingsby on 2011-05-12 18:25 (Reply)
Hey Glenn, hollow models need escape. Holes are recommended to be at least 10-15mm in diameter. Also, please be aware, there is a maximum wall thickness of 15 mm. This is so there's not a big temperature differential between the part closer to the surface and the part further away from the surface. Big temperature differentials can lead to the ceramics cracking. What that means is a big solid brick would be a no no.
#11.1.1 nancyliang on 2011-05-12 20:16 (Reply)
And I just did a small test on the same model hollowed and not hollowed... the not hollowed was cheaper, although not by a lot. A solid model cost $9.81, the same model hollowed cost $10.38.

The same models in SWF cost $20.22 for solid and $19.02 hollowed. So, it seems we now have to design models with NO surface details AND solid - the complete opposite to what I have been trying to do for many months. Not complaining, though! Just pointing info out.
# Glenn Slingsby on 2011-05-12 23:25 (Reply)
This could not have come at a better time. Awesome!
#12 Noodles on 2011-05-12 18:38 (Reply)
Wondering how much shrinkage Shapeways is getting in their ceramics when firing, so we can compensate on the model. Is is possible to get a percentage?
#13 collecula (Homepage) on 2011-05-12 18:38 (Reply)
Why yes! Please consult our design rule page:

You can expect up to 2.5% accuracy (including shrinkage). Also, there can be up to 1 mm of glaze material applied. This varies given the geometry. More glaze will settle into engravings and crevices.
#13.1 nancyliang on 2011-05-12 20:17 (Reply)
No. way. (!) What?! Fantastically exciting, way to go, Shapeways!
#14 Shelley Noble (Homepage) on 2011-05-12 18:54 (Reply)
!! woot
#14.1 nancyliang on 2011-05-12 20:18 (Reply)
I can already hear the flutes...
#15 Thijs on 2011-05-12 19:10 (Reply)
What is the particular ceramic? I am especially interested in its thermal (C.O.E., maximum temperature, specific heat) and mechanical (density, tensile strength, fracture toughness) properties throughout its operating temperature range.

#16 creon on 2011-05-12 19:16 (Reply)
I've been using 3d printed patterns to make plaster moulds for slip casting porcelain for some time now, acheiving forms that would be difficult to model otherwise.

Can't wait to be able to get something make using this process, although the cost does tend limit what is commercially feasible.
#17 Ian M on 2011-05-12 21:12 (Reply)
So good to see you are all as excited as we are about being able to offer Glazed Ceramics..

Really looking forward to seeing what you all come up with.
#18 Duann on 2011-05-12 22:16 (Reply)
This is great. As Ian has, I've been using 3d printing from shapeways for ceramic forms. I've been using mine as push/press molds.

So I'm wondering...

Is this process a one step firing? Do you add the glaze directly to the greenware and then fire once?

Or is it a normal two step firing, where you bisque fire the greenware since glaze adheres better to bisqued ware? And then spray the glaze onto the bisqued item, followed by a glaze firing?

If it is two step, and you do create a bisqued piece in the first firing - would you consider sending the (hopefully less expensive) bisqued unglazed pieces to those of us who are potters/ceramicists/clay artists so we can glaze them with our own glazes and secondary firing techniques?

The benefit of this to clay artists is that it should be cheaper (shapeways not having to apply glaze or fire a second time) giving us more movement room for craft show profit. It also allows us to add our own underglazes and glazes and use our own firing techniques.

#19 T. Shawn Johnson on 2011-05-13 18:35 (Reply)
This seems a great suggestion. The only drawback would be that the bisqued items would probably be much more delicate in terms of shipping.
#19.1 Ian M on 2011-05-13 19:08 (Reply)
Hi Ian, I wouldn't say much more delicate, as bisque ware is often shipped all over the earth as we know it. And again, it would depend on the piece right? Something with a lot of long 3mm bits might not make it in bisque or final glazed version. We'll have to see how tis works out.

Now, I'm assuming that this powder is porcelain or at least something stoneware. Perhaps an earthenware powder might be dodgy, because I don't have much experience with earthenware - only stoneware.

Info (***not for Ian, because I know you know this buddy***) - what I am talking about Shapeways people is not greenware. Greenware is what results immediately after printing. I'm talking about Bisque ware - this is what results from one firing at a lower temperature. A Bisque firing is done to have a durable piece that accepts glaze well. This is usually followed by a higher temperature glaze firing in order to melt the glaze properly.

#19.1.1 T. Shawn Johnson on 2011-05-13 19:23 (Reply)
Fair point, I kind of got the impression that this didn't quite have the integrity of conventionally produced ceramics, maybe I'm jumping to conclusions. Certainly my slip cast porcelain pieces feel delicate at bisque, whereas when fully fired unglazed they are pretty much unbreakable unless you drop them onto a tiled floor. But I've never actually tried to break them . . .
# Ian M on 2011-05-13 19:29 (Reply)
Check the materials page, at the end, it claims they do 2 firings (and a first drying pass). So yep, it sounds like getting the parts after the first firing could be an option.
#19.2 Stannum 3D on 2011-05-13 23:38 (Reply)
I was excited to hear you say this because what I had seen on the materials page was drying, glazing and firing. So I looked deeper to see what you've seen and found that it's explained like this: printing, drying, firing to high temperature, spraying with pre-glaze to make smooth and low fired, followed by a real glaze spraying and a final firing - 3 firings! How strange, but I understand they wnat to make it smooth.

#19.2.1 T. Shawn Johnson on 2011-05-13 23:48 (Reply)
"...didn't quite have the integrity of conventionally produced ceramics..."

Yes, now ... I might be retracting my statements. I had forgotten about the binder that assumedly burns off leaving the structure porous at bisque... It might be kind of like paperclay, which is stronger when it's green than other clays. However, I have no idea what the bisque state of paperclay is like.

#20 T. Shawn Johnson on 2011-05-13 21:29 (Reply)
I have seen some unglazed samples of ceramics printed in Zcorp machines (pretty sure this is what Shapeways uses) and they are deffenitly too fragile to ship. If you have ever printed on a Zcorp with the standard plaster gypsum material, you know that it is also very fragile and you need to infuse it with resin to get a strong shape. The ceramics is the same, because you glue loosely compacted clay powder with a binder, the greenware result is very porous and very light. The glaze is essential for the final result, think of the ceramic print more as a matrix for the glaze, that's why a rather thick layer is added (up to 1 mm!).
So if SW managed to ship bisque fired items you will need to be aware that the characteristics are very different than those of your thrown, modeled or slipcase items.
While we can't print such a wide variety of models with the clay extruder we use on a RepRap because of all the limitations in overhangs etc, we extrude standard porcelain clay and 3d print models resembling a miniature coiling process. So this technique generated models from compacted clay and the porcelain ones are water tight even without any glaze applied. (need to update, you can also check the blog at
Anyway, very exciting and uploading some models that we can't print to test on the SW service.
#21 Unfold (Homepage) on 2011-05-15 07:59 (Reply)
This is directly from the materials page about ceramics Unfold - the model is high fired before the glaze is added. So the structure should be quite sound for shipping at this point:

Step 1. 3D Printing, it takes about 4 hrs to print a 4 inch piece. During this step, binder is deposited on a bed of ceramic powder. After one layer is done, a new layer of ceramic powder is spread on top and binder is again deposited on that layer.

Step 2. After all the layers are printed, the box of ceramic powder is then put in an oven to dry, the models in the box solidify during this process.

Step 3. After the models solidify, the models are taken out out of the box and depowdered. During this stage, the models are solid but in a brittle, fragile state.

Step 4. Afterwards, the models are fired in a kilm with a "high fire." This firing will lock in the structure of the model. After this step, a base model is created. The surface finish is very rough.

Step 5. Pre-glaze coating spray, a water based spray, is then applied. Then the models are fired away in a kiln at a lower temperature. Afterwards, the model is a bit more smooth and ready for glazing.

Step 6. The glaze spray is applied, and the models are again fired in the kiln. After this process, the model becomes shiny and smooth.
#21.1 T. Shawn Johnson on 2011-05-15 14:36 (Reply)
Hey guys, sorry I need to run out for dinner in a bit. The structures are indeed shippable between stages. Currently, we decided to opt for glaze only because the finishing for the other pieces are very rough (doesn't have to do with shippability), and isn't very commercially appealing--also the pricing would probably be close to the glaze because we still need to spray on the pre-glaze. We will look into this and refine for later releases.
#21.1.1 nancyliang on 2011-05-15 15:25 (Reply)
Ok, that's interesting to hear! The margins in the design guidelines are probably helpful in this regard, it prevents too fragile shapes.
So now you know, there is a market for bisque fired....
# Unfold (Homepage) on 2011-05-16 06:43 (Reply)
I am having a great time thinking up ceramics models! :-D

Just ran into an issue with co-creators though, as the model page does not yet show the "surface area" and I can't fill-out surface area in the template ;-)
#22 Stijn van der Linden on 2011-05-15 11:20 (Reply)
Uploaded and ordered a Utah Teapot :-)
Lets see what happens, looking forward to the results!

Its a slightly smaller version of our Utanalog by Unfold teapot adjusted with a thicker wall:

Will add some more resolutions soon.
#23 unfold (Homepage) on 2011-05-16 21:48 (Reply)
here's the manufacturer of Shapeways ceramics:
#24 unfold (Homepage) on 2011-05-16 21:53 (Reply)
that's them!
I would definitely like to see an option for unglazed pieces. As someone who owns a small electric kiln and has studied ceramics as a student, it would be nice to have the option to apply commonly available commercial glazes to the piece to create our own colorful effects and designs. There is actually a pottery house in my home city that provides bisqueware for people to paint and decorate themselves, so I can certainly see a demand for this being available on shapeways, especially with so many artists in the community. Perhaps you could have an option to ship the ceramics after firing the pre-glaze.

I would also like to know what cone ranges (kiln temperatures) the 3D-printed ceramic can safely be fired to, as I may want at some point to do some experiments.
#25 stardust4ever on 2011-05-20 08:47 (Reply)
How much does the ceramic shrink from firing? Toilets are usually made 10-15% larger to account for this shrinkage......
#26 FourthDr on 2011-05-31 18:38 (Reply)
Accuracy is within a 2.5% margin, though also be aware that the glaze may add up to 1 mm of wall in certain areas (mostly crevices). You can see our complete design rules here:
#26.1 nancyliang on 2011-05-31 22:02 (Reply)
I am looking for 3D printer for ceramic products. I think we can use it to print a ceramic model, but I don't know about the print process. Is that any guideline?
#27 scott (Homepage) on 2013-03-25 15:21 (Reply)
Hi Scott,

All of the Ceramic info is on our material page
#27.1 Duann on 2013-03-25 15:27 (Reply)

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