3D printed crayon art. Source: Sergiy Bykhunenko/Shutterstock.com
3D printed crayon art. Source: Sergiy Bykhunenko/Shutterstock.com

How 3D printing brings children’s doodles to life.

A blue gecko with fuchsia and orange spots and a pinkish-purpleish unicorn with a rainbow tail—there are some things only a child’s imagination can produce. Maybe that is why parents treasure their children’s art so much; the unique creativity of a child can’t be duplicated and fades or is replaced with other forms of ingenuity through the years.

Now let’s talk about 3D printing. One of the notions that makes 3D printing so appealing is that you can turn just about any idea or concept into a real object. And you can do this quickly and relatively inexpensively. This is true whether you’re building a complex prototype part for jet engine or a lady bug with 12 legs, glowing orange eyes and silver spheres on the end of its antennae.

Kelly Root, one of our designers here at WhiteClouds, specializes in bringing two-dimensional kids’ drawings into our three-dimensional world. “This is a fairly different task from others, while not difficult, it can be an interesting challenge transferring a drawn picture into a 3D object,” said Kelly. “It’s just the thought process behind creating the model that creates a unique challenge for this particular task.”

Kelly explained that there is some artistic freedom that goes into interpreting the two-dimensional drawings. With each project, he has to determine what it looks like in three-dimensions. Is it flat? Is it wide?

The process of turning 2D into 3D doesn’t take long, but it does involve some skill and the right tools. Kelly imports an image of the drawing into a computer aided design (CAD) software called Maya. He uses the software to render a 3D model of the drawing. “The process is simple, we take the picture we’re given and make a model based off of that picture,” Kelly explained. “After the model is finished we use the original drawing we were given to color the model exactly the same way as in the picture.” The colors, lines and shapes of the drawing are all part of the model. Once completed, Kelly saves the model as a digital file.

We then send the file to the Zprinter 650.This super high-tech machine is capable of printing in layers thinner than a sheet of paper. It can print precision prototypes, scale model replicas, and also happens to be perfect for printing children’s drawings. Why? It can duplicate Neon Carrot, Jungle Green, Robin Egg Blue and the other 117 colors in a Crayola 120 box. In fact, the ZPrinter will print 390,000 colors total—they haven’t taken the time to name them all.

The Zprinter prints layer by layer in a process called additive manufacturing. The raw material is a very fine powder. The 3D printer uses a technology called binder jetting to stick the powder together and adds color in the process. The printer then adds another thin layer of powder and repeats the process.   

After the Zprinter is done, you end up with a full-color object, made of a composite sandstone-like material. In the case of the crayon doodle, it’s an exact 3D printed sculpture of the child’s art. “It was amazing,” said Cora, the artist of the gecko. “I didn’t know anything could do that. I thought it was impossible.” 

The possibilities with 3D printing are limited only to our ideas, and the ideas of our children.

Create Crayon Sculpture