Soft and squishy 3D printing 'ink' for flexible objects

Shapeways has unveiled an elastic new material for 3D printing that can be used for projects that are a little more on the flexible side.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read

(Credit: Shapeways)

Shapeways has unveiled an elastic new material for 3D printing that can be used for projects that are a little more on the flexible side.

We've seen some pretty cool stuff come out of 3D printers; all you have to do is take a stroll around Thingiverse and Shapeways for a range of tchotchkes, homewares, wearable accessories, toys, tools and jewellery — even a robotic hand aiming to cut the cost of prosthetics for children.

Something that all these objects have in common, though, is that they are, well, rigid. However, if we could mix up the flexibility of the plastic materials used in 3D printing, the scope of what can be just made at home would significantly expand.

That's what Shapeways thinks, too. The 3D printing one-stop shop has revealed a new, flexible 3D printing material that it is calling Elasto Plastic (not to be confused with Elastoplast). This strong material is also squishy and flexible, which means it can be used where a more rigid material wouldn't work — one example that Shapeways gave was shoes; another was furniture joints.

We can also see potential for non-slip shower mats, corner protectors, flooring and flexible, translucent screens fixed across a frame, although the volumes required by such projects might be a little prohibitive. At this point, however, the question is rather moot, as Shapeways is not offering the raw material to buyers — yet.

"Elasto Plastic is an experimental material, and although we're very excited about its capabilities, the quality is not ready for broader use," Shapeways said on its website. "So for the time being, Elasto Plastic is offered only as a 'Maker Material' — meaning, anyone can order models they have uploaded themselves, but it will not be sold in Shapeways Shops."

Strangely, in the way these things sometimes go, almost simultaneously, another company has announced that it will be testing a flexible 3D printing material. Back in February, Belgian 3D printing service Materialise appeared on the catwalk with 3D-printed clothing designed by Iris van Herpen. The company has now announced that it will be offering a similar service to Shapeways to test the material, called "Rubber-like" used in the garment: customers can send their file to Materialise to have an item printed, but not buy the raw material.

"Rubber-like can be used for accessories, haute couture models, designs that need shock absorption, squeezable models, gadgets and functional designs," Materialise said.

Materialise will be offering Rubber-like until 1 September for €2 (AU$2.70) per cubic centimetre, plus €5 (AU$6.70) handling per model. For duplicate models, the handling cost will drop to €3 (AU$4) per model.

Shapeways will be offering Elasto Plastic until 9 July for US$1.75 (AU$1.80) per cubic centimetre, plus US$1.95 (AU$2) handling per model. After this time, Shapeways will assess pricing and design rules and decide if it can keep Elasto Plastic permanently.

Via www.gizmag.com