The Power of Paper

by Joseph Flaherty on September 23, 2009

3D printers get the lion’s share of publicity surrounding desktop manufacturing. The technology is impressive and can make cool things like RockBand BandMate action figures. However, paper an invention more than a millennia old, still has a place in the world of 24th century personal fabrication.

Two recent projects I’ve come across demonstrate the versatility of paper:

First, over at Atoms & Electrons @Yergacheffe has put a CraftRobo to good use creating Warhol-esqe images cut from paper. Graphically these aren’t much different than what you could produce with an ink jet printer, but the materiality of the paper give the final object a different, “producty” feel. Over a million of these personal paper cutters have been sold, but I think we are just scratching the surface of what they are capable of.

The Make: blog has a very cool story about using paper as a preparatory step for casting metal. In short, you create a folded paper shell for a design…


surround it with packed salt or sand in a crucible…


and pour molten metal into the paper shell. Voila. Once it has cooled, you remove the metal cast and your paper shell has been burnt away.


This project is an instructive reminder that custom manufacturing technology can be used to create intermediary tools that enable product customization rather than the final product.

The lost wax casting process is a great example. Thousands of jewelers already use CNC mills to cut wax prototypes and layering software on top of the process can lead to amazing results.

Paper is an amazingly powerful medium and one customization enthusiasts should pay attention to. MCOR has started demonstrating their 3D Printer that uses Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) to build complex models out of sheets of printer paper. Paper artists have been making interesting objects for some time now. It is a relatively cheap, plentiful material that you can cut, sculpt, print on, and modify in a bunch of interesting ways. Paper based products may not be the end result of widespread mass customization, but they could be the start.

  • Josh M

    love it. printing and folding paper is one way. I'm thinking a paper mache mold would be another way, could get a little more detail possibly.

    On the LOM side of things, I like the idea, but would be nice to re-use the waste material.

  • Joseph Flaherty

    Just grind it up and use the slurry for paper mache! Totally agree that the molded paper pulp has a lot of potential. The nice thing about paper is that it is so cheap. I could imagine some kids toy based on cast pulp characters. A young me might have blown them up with fireworks and then made more. A world of possibility exists.

  • tinted contact lenses

    Nice post. I agree with the fact that this might not be a widespread solution.

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