by Tony Karp

A new process for printing art in the 3rd dimension

Portrait of Donna Mitchell in 3D

What you see above is my very first piece of 3D art and it is created using a new process that I developed.

Until now, most artworks have been done on flat surfaces, all the way from cave paintings, through frescoes, paintings on wood and canvas, lithographs and etchings, all the way through photographic prints. In each case, an artwork was developed on an existing flat surface and is only on the surface. I think of my inkjet printer, laying down the ink on a piece of fine watercolor paper. Turn the print over and you'll find blank paper with, perhaps, the date and some scribbled notes.

Here's the breakthrough -- before we start, nothing exists. We will be printing on three-dimensional space. Look at the piece in the picture above. It has thickness and you can see the picture on both sides. But if you look carefully, you will see that the image on either side is not the same. They are mirror images of each other.

It's as if the image had been printed straight through, from one side to the other. And that's exactly what has happened. In this new process the image is actually projected through the material and out the other side. If you look closely at the edge, you'll see the path of the image through the material.

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One way to visualize this is as a stack of identical images, put together, until they achieve the thickness we called for. If you take a slice from the piece, say at half thickness, you will end up with two identical pieces. There is, for sure, a mathematical way to describe this process, but I will leave the proof and the numbers to others. After all, this is about art.

Here's some background on the process. The first step is to build the model on the computer, using a program designed for making 3D images. There are numerous programs that will do this, some of them free or at low cost. The next step is to upload a file describing the piece to a printing house to be produced on a full-color 3D printer.

Why not just buy your own 3D printer? After all, they are available for just a few thousand dollars. The problem is that these low-cost printers have low resolution and print in only a single color. The printer that my work is produced on costs well over $50,000 and requires a full-time operator who knows how to squeeze the maximum quality from it. Take this back sixty years or so and we're talking about farming out dye transfer prints. Don't try this at home.

But this is just the start. The flat piece above is a proof of concept, a test print to confirm that the theory is valid. Once you free your mind from the concept of printing an image on a piece of paper or other surface, you are free to explore art in the third dimension.

It's time to think outside the print.

Stay tuned.

Copyright 1957-2023 Tony & Marilyn Karp