by Richy Swalberg

From Eleanor: Richy Swalberg is a Shapeways Crew member and a mechanical engineer based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He was recently featured on our Designer Spotlight and runs the Stinger shop on Shapeways.

I’m sure anyone who has uploaded their own design for the first time on shapeways has experienced the realization that using more volume of material can really add up the cost. This can be disappointing after working hard to design a new model that, in the end, is not very cost effective. But, you don’t have to throw out that great idea that was too expensive to have printed. One skill that Shapeways designers can use to their advantage to save money on their designs, and give a unique look, is the use of negative space.

Negative space is the area around and in your model that is not occupied by the object such as windows or holes.   Leaving empty spaces such has holes and gaps use less volume of material when printed, which make it more affordable. I personally also believe, that truly creative artwork is born from situations when there are limits and constraints to be met. In other words, I think some of the coolest models on shapeways have a lot to look at when in reality, there isn’t much material used.  And just think about it, some of those really cool items that came out of a 3d printer with gnarly hollow spaces might be impossible to make using other techniques, such as sculpting or machining with hand tools! 

A common use of this, which can be seen on the Shapeways homepage constantly, are the wire-mesh or wire-frame models.  These models have enough material to allow the viewer to recognize what the model is and also enough to support the model structurally so, that it doesn’t break apart after it’s been printed. And the best part is that this gives a new style and form to the items being created. 

For example, I dealt with this issue constantly when I was designing my 3d printed Rock Crawler;  If the large off-road-style wheels where solid instead of hollow, the model would have easily be ten times more costly, when the material to fill those wheels wasn’t even needed.  And honestly, it was fun thinking of various patterns and designs for the wheels that incorporated various holes to hollow out the wheels. In the end, the result was amazing.  

Of course, it is important to make sure that the Design guidelines are met for the specific material, and not to make your item so cheap that it will break apart when it comes out of the printer.  

Other models I’ve seen on shapeways that I think are good examples are:

Hand Heart by harrapeman.  The empty space in the center is the focal point of the model.

Future Victorian Emerald Necklace by Summerized. The gems have no solid faces, but are clearly identifiable.

Crania Anatomica Filigre Skull by JoshuaHarker. There is so much to look at, which some of the most intricate designs and shapes are actually windows in the material.

And any of the Wired Life mounts by Dotsan, which use very little material, and are a fresh new take on a common indoor decor.  

Do you have any models that you have created using negative space as a central design element?