How can you get started with 3D printing food and what do you need? We brought in 3d printing food fanatics Jason and Luis from 3DIGITALCOOKS to help answer the basics!
One of the most common questions we’re asked is ‘how do I get started with 3d food printing?’. If you are already a maker, the good news is you will already have many of the tools you’ll need to get started.
In this article we will cover 5 points that will help you get started as a beginner to 3D food printing (3DFP). We are going to focus on paste extrusion printing methods since those are the easiest ones to start with.
5 Steps to Get Started with 3DFP!
1) Choose a recipe
Before we start making anything, you must know what you want to cook. I know, we love making things, but unless we want to feel the early frustration of not having the right tools for the right recipes, this is the way to go.
So where should I start? What should I print? Most makers naturally think let’s 3d print CHOCOLATE! Because who doesn’t like it, right? The idea sounds amazing. I am not going to tell you not to go for it. However, I want you to know that chocolate is one of the hardest materials to print. This is due to factors such as temperature requirements, time to set up, and overall messiness. Most often you will find yourself cleaning up more than eating. If you are a maker who loves a challenge and really want to start with chocolate, here’s one tips on how to get started. The 3drag chocolate extruder is an open source solution you can use to print your chocolate treats. FYI: even though the 3drag is awesome and gets you a step closer to 3d printing chocolate, it’s still not an easy route.
Some easy recipes to start with are mixtures that have consistency with the material you want to print with. For example, mashed potatoes, hummus, pumpkin puree, icing… Doughs would work too but those tend to be a bit harder, meaning that we are going to need a stronger extruder for them.
Once we have selected our printing material we are going to need a printer.
2) Find a 3D Printer
Here is where I hope you have a 3D printer that is open enough that enables you to modify it to add your own tools. Or even better, getting started with 3D food printing is a great excuse to build your own!
That’s what inspired us at 3DIGITALCOOKS to create the Pinya3. Pinya3 is a 3d food printing platform designed to fit in the kitchen.
What it mainly provides is a 3 axis motion that can control different tools we develop for it. The most obvious one being a food paste extruder. And that’s what you will need. Not specifically a Pinya3 but a CNC platform (for example a 3d printer) that allows you to control 3 motion axis and an extruder.
If you don’t have one, there are plenty of open source 3d printer options out there including RepRap, Prusa3, Delta printers, Ultimakers, and lots more.
If you do not want to build your own printer and want to go the simple route I would recommend getting a PancakeBot. We like the PancakeBot beacuse is an out of the box solution that will get you printing pancakes in no time and it’s a great place to start 3DFP. It’s also very maker friendly and easy to modify because of the Atmel ATmega 2560 inside. Another option would be the Bocusini or for example a PrintrBot bundle.
Check out the PancakeBot in action:
3) Get a 3DFP Extruder
Once you have a platform that allow you to print, next thing you need is to choose the right extruder mechanism. The extruder you get, will be highly dependant on what you want to print.
If you want to build it yourself, there are plenty of open source options for this. Syringe extruders are the number one option because of their ease to build and use. Some of your choices are the legendary RichRap design, 3D drag design, the BotBQ design or Anthony Pray Pinshape design. There are many options out there. Some very important factors you need to know:
- If your material has a thin consistency you are good with nearly any solution. You’ll be better off to go for the simplest and smallest.
- If your material is thicker or you are planning on having a big syringe with lots of material, make a beefier extruder that is more powerful.
Is hard to measure what powerful enough means in terms of thickness of a mixture. So my rule of thumb is:
if your printer can handle it, go big
This will open the door to more pasty-foods in the future since you will have a wider range of thickness that your extruder can work with.
If you do not feel confident building your own extruder I would suggest taking a look into some of the commercially available add-ons for your printer. Some might need small modifications depending on the type of printer you are using. The Discov3ry is a well established paste extruder with a big user community. The Printrbot with their new paste and food extruder or the 3d drag extruder. The later two have heating systems included. Which might be confusing at the beginning but useful in the future when you start evolving in the 3d food printing realm.
If the paste mixture that you choose is harder, such as cookie-dough, I would suggest looking into air compressed extruder systems. These are easy to use, and definitely feel more crafty since the pressure of the extruder can be controlled manually on the fly to adjust your prints. Even though this is a great tool to have fun and learn, advancing to have better results will require more advance extrusion systems.
4) Choose a Design
Design for 3d food printing is the wild west! There are not many tools that will allow you to design for it and also be compatible with your printer. At 3DIGITALCOOKS we have been creating our own tools for this reason, some may work for you.
That being said, the easiest way to start designing for 3DFP is to use the same programs as you’d use for 3d printing. Suggestion is to start slow with TinkerCAD or an entry level 3D printing design tool for example and move up to more advanced design tools from there.
In this case you must consider to design WITH the food that you are going to print in mind. It is not just about the obvious reasons like avoiding bridging and hardcore overhangs.
You must adjust the dimensions and height of the design based on the properties of your material. For example, some material will be able to hold together when creating higher structures, and some will not. Another thing to keep in mind is how easily your material will deform.
Overall, experimentation is the best answer to help you get the right design that will print properly.
Understanding the limitations of the material you are printing with will help you to have better results. Technology is not quite where we want yet, but we’re working on it!
5) Adjust the Slicer Settings
Before printing there is a very important final step – adjusting our slicer settings.
Start with slow printing speeds. Fine tune the extruder multiplier to adjust for the right mixture flow. If available, play with retraction values to avoid dripping material. Try to have the maximum retraction speed your extruder+food combination can handle. Parameters will be highly dependant on your food choice. Start with what you know and adjust the 3d printing parameters from there.
Don’t give up here, by far this is the hardest part to master.I promise, the challenge will be worth it when you surprise your friends and family with 3D printed treats.
Last words on safety.
3D printing food is for fun but it’s important to take a few simple safety measures. Make sure everything is tidy and any surface in contact with food is clean. We are still alive, so use common sense and take your food handling seriously.
We hope you enjoyed this beginners guide. We know this does not cover all the questions you may have about 3DFP but we are confident this will help you to ask the right questions to get you on the right track to print the food of the future! Feel free to leave any questions for us in the comments below.
3D printing and food can work together in many different ways, including dieting food. There is a lot of research being done around 3D printing and food, including how we can use 3D printed food to print cellulose that would help people feel more full but not contribute any calories. This may be able to help with people who are trying to lose weight by snacking less.
Want to learn more about 3DFP?
Want to learn more about how you can 3D print If you want to learn more about 3DFP, check out the podcast episode we made for the Pinshape community as an additional resource to this blog!
Have fun and good luck with your 3D printing food adventures!
— Luis + Jason
Want to try 3D Printing Food? Check out some designs on Pinshape!
About the Author:
3DIGITALCOOKS is a 3D food printing studio that brings ideas and concepts around 3D Food Printing to life. We share our passion and love for 3d food printing whether it is through our site, podcast, videos or any social media. Because we BELIEVE in it and want more people (like you) to get involved.