Supplement 3 : Concerning 3D Printer

By Hideki Nakazawa (multimedia artist)


You can make a bitmap-concept-related "3D printer" using the same concept as seen in "Digital Nendo," the world's first bitmap 3D tool. For example, you can take out from your printer a 3D ashtray which you made using "Digital Nendo" and can use it as a real ashtray. I wanted to invent such "handy 3D future-world" and have already succeeded in establishing a concrete and basic idea of it. I will report here my invention, a bitmap-concept-related "3D printer" which is just waiting for the day of its practical use. This was written as one of supplements for my text "Significance of 'Digital Nendo' in Visual Art History."


  1. Introduction
  2. What is So Distinct from Other Similar Techniques
  3. Remarkable Invention: "3D Ink"
  4. Know-How of the "3D Printer"
  5. Referring-to-Inside Compounding Printer
  6. Handy 3D Future-World
  7. Practical Aspect of "Digital Nendo"

  • 1. Introduction
  • Can you easily have an image of a "3D printer"? To my disappointment, people often don't seem to have an exact image of it. When I mention the possibility of a "3D printer" after telling them about my "Digital Nendo," some of them just have an image of a conventional printer which prints out usual two dimentional paper and which produces usual two dimentional picture, on which 3D data is printed. Even some developing team members of my "Digital Nendo" took it as a joke when I suggested making a "3D printer."

    A "3D printer" may seem for some people to be just an imaginary and extravagant idea. But the idea of my bitmap-type "3D printer" is, on the contrary, very simple and practical just like "Digital Nendo" itself which is also based on a very simple and practical idea. So simple an idea that I even don't remember when I first thought of it, but what I do remember is that at the meeting of "Digital Nendo" developing team, I mentioned the actualization of my idea of the "3D printer" which had long been kept in my mind. It was spring of 1995. When I told them the summary of my invention, the programmers instantly agreed with my idea saying that the "3D printer" was a possible idea. But nothing has progressed from that.

    The basic idea of my bitmap-concept-related "3D printer" is already completed and its patent is now pending, but nothing is on the market yet, so what I can write here is limited of itself.

  • 2. What is So Distinct from Other Similar Techniques
  • Actually, a "3D printer" itself is not the world's first idea. There already exists 3D printers made by using polymeric-resin hardened by light. In Japan, Mr. Masaki Fujihata became famous by actually making a 3D printer around the end of l99l.

    The process of making the 3D printer mentioned above is as follows: First you make 3D figure data defined by an object-figure-mode. Then you harden its sliced resin surface. And then you harden another sliced-resin-surface, repeating the same process again and again. So, it can be called a 3D printer produced by using an object-figure- mode. (Speaking precisely, up to the second dimension, it was produced by an object-figure-mode, the other dimention by somewhat bitmap-concept-mode.) Such a 3D printer, theoretically speaking, can produce a single-colored object from a single material. In other words, it is not a color 3D printer, but a form 3D printer, that is, it is a printer for producing a topological figure as it is.

    My "3D printer," theoretically, is completely different from others. For the "3D printer" I invented, you use special 3D ink. As such a type of a 3D printer, my idea may be the world's first one. Although my "3D printer" can surely be produced by using modern technology, even a single product has not produced yet. And so let me announce here my idea publicly for the first time.

    The theory of my 3D printer is as follows: You make 3D data by the bitmap concept. You stack up "3D ink" corresponding to each single dot to get an object you wanted. In other words, mine can be said to be a bitmap-concept-type 3D printer. This type of a printer, theoretically speaking, will produce, from plural materials, a 3D world made of plural colors (including transparent one) and of plural tissues. In short, mine is not a form's 3D printer but a color's (texture's) 3D printer, that is, it is a printer to produce an appointed 3D world with its whole inside structure.

    If you put the bitmap-type 3D printer to practical use faithfully following its principle, it will become a 3D printer which will rather act as a "compounding factor." And, of course, It can also produce topological "form" depending on the way how you fix it.

    If you see it from the viewpoint of conventional two-dimentional printers, object-figure-mode-type 3D printers can roughly be said to be those which correspond to the postscript, and bitmap-type 3D printers are like bitmap-concept-mode 3D printers. You can think of "FP-510SPA" by Canon Co. as one of the examples of the latter. "FP-510SPA", an early-stage color printer (fixed in 160 or 80dpi), was an inject-mode-type color printer which printed out only bitmap-type PICT data. But I think "FP-510SPA" was superior to modern printers in the point of its being bitmap, WYSIWYG. A significant point of my idea on the bitmap-type "3D printer" is the concept of "3D ink" about which I will write in the next chapter.

  • 3. Remarkable Invention : "3D Ink"
  • Printers are printout machines, that is, output units. So when some machine produces whatever object in however ways, it can be called a printer, only if you forget (or even you don't have to forget) a linguistic feeling of a monitor whose work is to display objects in passage of time.

    Let's think about a conventional color-ink-jet-type printer which outputs the two- dimentional color-bitmap-type pictures on the two-dimentional paper by spraying color ink. That type of a printer is easy to understand with senses, so I would like to take it up as one of the models in this text. Now let's think about the two-dimentional printer.

    A two-dimentional printer virtually does nothing but a robbot-like job. its work is just "to put ink fixed by a computer on the paper fixed by a computer." It just does that work for individual bitmap-dots on the appointed paper. A little difference from the work done by a robbot is that that printer does its huge amount of painstaking work in a super-high-speed even for microscopic units. In the process of its huge amount of work in high-speed, it sometimes gets know-how such as to do the work in regular order from the top, or to spray ink row by row. But such difference in abilities is insiginificant, and its fundamental work is the same with that of a robbot. That is a principle of a bitmap-type printer.

    The "3D printer" I invented can be more easily understood from the principle of the above-stated printer. Fundamentally a printer's work is that of a robbot's, though it just does its huge amount of work in high-speed. Therefore, in order to invent a 3D printer, you just define your robbot's work. The ability of doing huge amount of work in high-speed (excluding getting know-how) is not the matter of a fundamental invention but just the matter of a technical development level.

    Now let's define robbot's work. The definition is to "put ink fixed by a computer on the paper fixed by a computer and do that for the individual bitmap-dots in the appointed space." In order to actualize the part of "put ink", suppose the form of "3D ink" for the ink and when you "put" it, "put it gluing at the same time" or "glue it after you put it." In order to make it possible and in order to make it correspond to a 3D-section unit, you can imagine a cube for "3D ink which you put gluing at the same time," but, depending on the kind of know-how, it can take other forms other than a cube.

    To make it easy to understand, let's imagine a robbot which stacks blocks. The "3D ink" in this case is equivalent to an individual various-colored block. To make it easier, please think that all the blocks are the same-size cubes. And while you are stacking blocks, please put glue between each side of neighboring blocks in order not to let them fall down, that is, you "put it gluing at the same time." Now you know all the principle, and what you need more is the know-how which makes it possible to actualize the principle, the explanation of which you will find in the next chapter. If you replace an ordinary robbot with a special robbot which will devote entirely to putting the fixed small 3D ink, and if you improve the level of technology so that it can do huge amount of work in high-speed, you will have the very object you want, a 3D printer. Now you know that the idea of making a 3D printer is not at all extravagant nor imaginary, not a joke, of course, but simple and practical.

    I hitherto explained my idea on the 3D printer using the principle of a two-dimentional printer as an instrument for the explanation. You will get the same result even without using the principle of a two-dimentional printer, if you invent "a robbot which stacks blocks following its computer's indication." The remarkable point of either way of the invention is to put an image of "a 3D-object unit each of which corresponds to each 3D-section unit which composes the bitmap 3D data in a computer." I used the word, "3D ink," in this text as a copy of explanation of the idea of the "correponding 3D-object unit" using the concept of conventional two-dimentional printers.

  • 4. Know-How of the "3D Printer"
  • Principally speaking, you have already had your 3D printer through your robbot's work explained in the former chapter, and, in order to get a product which meets your wishes, you still need some know-how for it. Strictly speaking, first of all, you have a big problem when you want to output "a 3D-section unit which is defined by the transparent color in a computer."

    The best way which follows the bitmap-concept principle is as follows: "A transparent 3D section should be outputted as a transparent (like plastic or glass) 3D ink." By doing that, you can freely use any 3D section regardless whether it is transparent or not. That means that you can output the world of an artificial flower altogether as a whole which "blooms" when immersed in water. I will call it "the type of a water-flower." In case of "the type of a water-flower," by stacking 3D ink upward from the bottom layer in a regular order, you can automatically "put ink fixed by a computer on the space fixed by a computer," which is one of the know-how. In that case, you don't necessarily have to "put ink gluing at the same time." And after you finished all the process of just "putting ink," you can confine and solidate the world by enclosing it with plate glass just like the image of a water tank. That is another know-how in that case. If you put ink without gluing like that, you can even recycle the ink.

    I don't think, however, that it happens often that a "product which meets your wishes" is "the type of a water-flower." The point that it hardly can meet the demand may be the biggent weakpoint of "the type of a water-flower." Therefore, you need another know-how to obtain "the type of non-water-flower" which can be taken out without surrounding a transparent part. Conversely speaking, "the type of non-water-flower," a convenient one for you, is an improved version of "the type of a water-flower."

    One of "the type of non-water-flower" is that "trasparent 3D sections should be outputted as assumed 3D ink which is to be removed later." That is to say, in the process of outputting, there exist two stages. In the first stage, you can put ink, both 3D ink and assumed 3D ink, from the bottom just like in the case of "the type of a water-flower." In that case, although the basic way of doing is to "put ink gluing at the same time," you can also "put ink first, and then glue it by pressing or heating," which is another know-how. There can also be various know-how for the way of applying glue. Anyway, after you finished the first stage, you can establish the second stage where you remove the assumed 3D ink. For example, if the assumed 3D ink is made of paraffin, you can remove it by heating because paraffin alone will be melt by heating. There are many other ways for that.

    The other type of "the type of non-water-flower" is that "transparent 3D sections should not be outputted." You can just put ink from the bottom layer while nothing is outputted from any space of transparent 3D sections. In that case, speaking theoretically, any 3D object which has some projection toward space cannot be outputted. Conversely speaking, that way of the type is the best and easiest way for outputting, if a 3D object has no protruding part toward space. Thus, the preparation of such data with no protruding part toward space beforehand in a computer is another know-how in the process of making data before giving it to a printer. By the way, one of the special functions of "Digital Nendo," "The whole world falls down drawn by gravity," is not only amusing but also very significant. I invented it as a thing to "pre-ascertain the 3D printer." When this type of a printer actually appears in the world in future, such forms as cups without handles or ashtrays can be outputted by the printer, which would be unbreakable even if "The-whole-world-falls-down-drawn-by-gravity" actually happened.

    Practically speaking, an actual printer of "the type of non-water-flower" should be regulated like this: "Transparent 3D sections, in some place, are to be outputted as assumed 3D ink which should be removed later, and, in some other place, not to be outputted." In doing that, you have to put a program in your printer-driver or in a special software to control your printer, such a program as devides transparent sections into two kinds. There are many other know-how concerning how to use transparent sections, and patents for all of them are now pending.

    There are various know-how other than transparent sections. For example, let's think of an object which was outputted as a 3D object. In that case its inside structure has no importance from a visual viewpoint. Its only purpose is to be "a solid body which supports its structure during the process of construction by way of stacking." So, another know-how is that you fix all the inside sections other than those of the surface as "sections made of cheap and strong materials." In that case, you can forget its color and even forget the concept of "a color's attribute" in the process of making computer's data. Furthermore, in some case, it will be convenient if you prepare several kinds of 3D ink whose length of a section-unit is "n," so that you can use them whenever you need them. Or you can prepare 3D ink as a long pole which you can cut in any length to make 3D ink of any length while you are printing. Or you can prepare 3D ink as a slice of a layer in a plane level. Thus, you can think of various know-how in the level of practical application, and patents for all of them are now pending.

  • 5. Referring-to-Inside Compounding Printer
  • In the previous chapter, you learned about ideas such as "the type of non-water-flower" by imagining "a product which meets your wishes" as an image of a 3D object, that is, a 3D form in topological concept. Now you understand the reason why I put that "you can forget the concept of a color's attribute in the inside sections other than those of the surface."

    As the essence of the bitmap 3D is that it can handle inside structures, you should define that transparence is nothing but one of color's attributes. In that point, "the type of a water-flower" is the one which entirely follows the principle, if seen from the concept of the bitmap 3D, and therefore you understand that it has a very excellent idea's hint in the level of a printer.

    In other words, if you define "a color's attribute" as only "an attribute" or "any attribute is OK," you can say that the characteristic of the bitmap-type printer is as follows: "It is a printer only used for the purpose of corresponding actual 3D ink to each 3D section whose attribute was defined in a computer." In addition, you can freely fix your corresponding list (=corresponding table). Therefore, if you put "a product which meets your wishes" as one whose purpose is just "compounding objects," "Digital Nendo" will not necessarily be even a graphic tool and will be only "a tool of a referring-to inside compounding printer," and that is why your 3D printer will be able to act as a "referring-to-inside compounding printer."

    Then in what way can your 3D printer be used? It can be used, for example, when it prints out medicines which require correct compounding. When you want to compound medicine A and medicine B in one capsule, a conventional way of compounding is such a primitive one as just mixing them by the ratio of A to B. But, if you compound them with "Digital Nendo" (=its developed-type software) and print it out using the "bitmap-type 3D printer," you can make such special-type medicine as, for example, up to 2 mm from the surface, medicine B should be put inside medicine A in a grid pattern, and its inside, the rest of the part, should be precisely arranged in checkerwise. That idea could be used when you want to control periodically the concentration of medicine used for a suppository which is to be inserted in the retum. And furthermore, the medicine could be produced not only in pharmaceutical factories but also in hospitals by doctors who would be possible to compound medicine themselves for the day and print it out, observing their patients' conditions. A similar compound could be applied for the food industry or the field of semiconductors expected for a condenser-effect or the like.

    Eventually, as seen above, they have gone away from human being's first aimed point, and computers have become only calculating machines which can do a great amount of work in high speed, which have no peculiar meaning in any situation, and in which only corresponding tables are arbitrarily set. The arbitrariness of corresponding tables may reminds you of the mathematical logic established by Saussure and others, or the formalism by Hilbert and others. To tell the truth, that arbitrariness is not confined to the acting stage of a corresponding table called an outputting printer, but it has already happened in the producing process of "Digital Nendo" as a graphic tool. To be exact, you don't have to correspond a color's attribute to each voxel's kind and even the way of its indication can be utterly arbitrary even when it is a color's attribute. By the way, I included such kind of an item when I applied for a patent of "Digital Nendo," an application tool, in its basic concept level. In fact, in "Digital Nendo for KIDS" which I am now developing, I even added an indicating function as a "fun function", which will make destroy the concept of peculiar colors of each voxel, that is, different colors will be corresponded to the three sides of each voxel which are to be seen from one direction.

    Let me summarize this chapter like this: The principle of the bitmap printer is nothing but the work done by a robbot, but if the 3D ink has various attributes which are not limited to the one as a color-object, you can make various "products which meet your wishes." The "products which meet your wishes" may not necessarily take a topological form. Its natural form may be some kind of a compound.

    Let me add more to the above examples. The "products which meet your wishes," of course, can be used in a blended way of "a topological 3D form" and "a referring-to-inside type." For example, if you make a specimen of a human body which has a detailed inside structure, and print out the soft material as 3D ink, it will help medical students as a simulation of the vivisection practice.

  • 6. Handy 3D Future-World
  • I often say that "a personal computer is one of living-environments," which means that personal computers are just ordinary things in our ordinary life like TVs and telephones. The same thing can be said with equipments surrounding computers. For exmple, color printers which were once much more expensive than personal computers are beginning to change into one of "sundry goods" seen in ordinary homes.

    In our life, the role of the color printers or even just any printers are immense. Although you can do many things in your personal computer, it must have been very difficult to make you realize without printers that what you were doing in your personal computer was a matter of a real world, (or "life world," a phenemenological term, which could also be used). I, an illustrator who draws pictures with a personal computer, sometimes felt the above thing keenly. If there were no printers invented, a paint-tool must have always been considered to be just "a computer maniac's toy." (I will write about that in the next chapter.) Or, furthermore, all graphic tools may have been nothing but toys unless there were a DTP system, a factory-scale printer. (Conversely speaking, KidPix is the one which utilized the toy-like nature.) In the level of the principle, the matter concerning the outputting process is not so interesting, but it should be put into a practical use so that it would be popularized. It is really a very hard thing to let the matter understood.

    3D printers will take the same developing way as two-dimentional printers did. Therefore it is important to produce even a single trial one of the 3D printers. It will be all right with the first trial production whether or not how long it will take to output, what size each 3D section will be, or how large limitation the world will have in a guaranteed size caused by the strength of glue. Anyway, to have an actual production is what matters in order to get general understanding. Once even a single 3D printer is actually produced, and once its image is understood, the only thing what matters is technological improvement, and after that the problems above stated will quickly be solved. In ten years or so, 3D printers will possibly be found in general homes. I am imagining that the advent of a "handy 3D future-world" is near at hand, where you will be able to make your original ashtray and print it out immediately. It will become a new market.

    And, of course, 3D printers will go straight not only toward a "handy 3D future-world," a level of the living-environment as stated above, but also toward the entirely specialized high-tech 3D world. In other words, as seen in DTP industry, it will be able to take a direction like that a factory itself will be a 3D printer.

    And furthermore, by combining it with the concept of object-figure-mode printers, a construction of machines and such will become possible in future on the basis of the concept of the "printer."

  • 7. Practical Aspect of "Digital Nendo"
  • After the publication of Macintosh version of "Digital Nendo," I thought some people would notice the possibility of its practical use or, better yet, of its direction toward "handy 3D future-world." But a few months have passed from the publication without almost any response on its possiblities. Only one response, a very good one which made me happy, recently came from Mr. Gento Matsumoto, the president of Saru Brunei Co., Ltd., who showed almost the same idea on a 3D printer as my above-stated "the type of non-water-flower: the type of assumed 3D ink which should be removed later." Almost all the people including some computer maniacal power-users think, regrettably enough, that "Digital Nendo" is just children's toy blocks.

    If that is the case, the bitmap-type 3D printers need to be produced hurriedly not only for the "handy 3D future-world" but also to recognize the real meaning of "Digital Nendo" which is now on sale. These days I always mention the 3D printer to reporters too, and the other day when I said to one of them, "As we don't have any production of 3D printers yet, people will continue to think that "Digital Nendo" is just a toy for children," he instantly answered, "I didn't think that it was a practical tool at all. I thought it was just a toy for children." As that is the case, I really anxious for the early actualization of 3D printers. (I agree, of course, that "Digital Nendo" is an excellent toy for children.)

    Here is another practical aspect of "Digital Nendo." As nowadays no standard bitmap 3D format exists, I think that it will be one idea that the format used for "Digital Nendo" (or its developed one) can be used as a standard format in the business. And also the way of its interchange (or coexistence) with many other draw-3D format-styles has to be considered. I want "Digital Nendo" to be the first significant product having a possibility of the bitmap 3D world which will be considered to be a huge investment.

    Actually, such a thing will take its natural course, whether or not I let public know about it thus writing in a text. But nobody has made a graphic tool of "bitmap 3D" which is so simple and universal an idea until I acturized it, so I expressed my idea like that in this text.

    By Hideki Nakazawa on October 18, 1996

    *The text, "Supplement 3 : Concerning 3D Printer" was written on October l8, l996 as one of the supplements of the text, "Significance of 'Digital Nendo' in Visual Art History."
    The first version (October 18, 1996) --- Found in the CD-ROM of "Digital Nendo" (Windows version) published by Ask Kodansha Company on November 8, 1996. Also found in HIDEKI NAKAZAWA's home page (http://shrine.cyber.ad.jp/~nakazawa/NAKAZAWA) since october 18, 1996.

    *Related text... "Significance of 'Digital Nendo' in Visual Art History" , "Supplement 1 : The new way of making 3D objects using 'Digital Nendo'" , "Supplement 2 : Inside story of why it is called 'Digital Nendo'"

    *In HIDEKI NAKAZAWA's home page, you can find a home page of Digital Nendo. (http://shrine.cyber.ad.jp/~nakazawa/NAKAZAWA/nendo) Ask Kodansha Company's home page (http://www.ask.object-design.co.jp)

    **ENGLISH version: Translated by Rubiko Nakazawa.

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