New-age digital production technologies like 3D printing and precision laser cutting are popping up in fabrication plants, laboratories, and even commercial warehouses operating within a wide range of industries. These production technologies have demonstrated the potential to dramatically improve the output of modern manufacturing processes, which is great news for Australia, as advanced manufacturing continues to be one of our strongest export industries.
But we’re not here to talk about business! A lot of emerging production technologies also boast the potential to revolutionise the way that visual artists do what they do best. More and more creatives are utilising technologies to expand on their own creative possibilities. From using software to create their own digital designs to utilising 3D printing technologies to bring these designs to life, creatives of today have a myriad of tech tools at their disposal to help elevate their artistic capabilities.
So what technologies should you be paying attention to, if you’re specifically looking to apply them to creative projects? Today, we’ll be outlining 3 of the most versatile production technologies that modern artists can use to help diversify their own creative capabilities.
1. Precision production with laser cutting technologies
Let’s start with a modern production method that you may already be familiar with. Laser cutting and engraving technologies are already being used in an abundance of creative industries, spanning from fashion and textiles to woodworking and even jewellery production.
This new-age production method involves using precision laser technology to cut or engrave computer-aided designs (or a ‘CAD’) onto the surface of a given material. Some popular laser cutting materials include an array of softwoods, hardwoods, and timber composites, resin, acrylic and other plastics, metals like aluminium and stainless steel, paper, cardboard, and a variety of organic and inorganic fabrics, including leather, silk, nylon and polyester.
Although laser cutting is used for a growing range of creative applications, it’s arguably most exciting in the world of fashion and namely in the production of jewellery. Laser cutting has become a particularly popular method for the creation of eye-catching acrylic jewellery. Even though acrylic can be cut and shaped manually with the use of saws and other tools, the adoption of laser cutting techniques provides jewellery makers with greater creative control and the ability to deliver pieces that boast highly precise patterns and linework.
2. Streamlining fabrication processes with 3D printing
3D printing has proven itself to be a bit of a groundbreaking production process for many makers across the globe, including in Australia. Like laser cutting, 3D printing utilises CAD technologies, with the printing machine typically being connected up to a computer that’s providing the designs for that print job. Unlike laser cutting and engraving, however, 3D printing uses three-dimensional CAD drawings rather than 2D designs. This means that your 3D printer will have to consider 3 axes (x-, y-, and z-axes) when conducting any printing job.
3D printers generally work by using thermoplastic filament materials that are heated and fed through a print nozzle or printhead in order to physically print 3D objects that set or harden when cooled. As 3D printers use a layering method to build these 3D objects from plastic filaments, it’s common for some digital designs to factor in the construction of supports (like HIPS filament) for an item that may perhaps consist of delicate parts that could break or become misshapen during the printing process.
Nowadays, it’s common to see 3D printers of all sizes available at accessible price points, allowing independent creators (from artists, eCommerce business owners, and even cosplayers) to select 3D printing machines that are perfectly suited to the items they’d like to produce.
3. The applications of sublimation printing
Returning to the world of two-dimensional printing once more, sublimation printers are typically seen as a bit of an underdog next to more ‘exciting’ technologies like laser engraving and 3D printing. That being said, the capabilities of sublimation printers are just as expansive as their more high-tech counterparts, and although they do produce 2D designs, they do so for the purpose of adhering these designs to 3D objects.
Alongside this, sublimation printing is amongst one of the most highly accessible production methods available for hobby makers and creators as well as small business owners. But what is sublimation printing exactly? Well, the process of ‘sublimation’ refers to transforming a solid directly into a gas by applying great heat or pressure.
Sublimation printing works in a similar way but in two distinct steps. First, a sublimation printer uses specialty sublimation ink to print a desired 2D pattern onto sublimation printing paper. Once the pattern has been printed onto the sublimation paper, users can then apply a heat press to that paper and the surface of any item upon which they’d like to transfer that printed design.
The process of sublimation printing has been used for decades, namely for the production of T-shirts, mugs, caps, and other items that bear printed logos or designs. This particular printing process can also be applied to a wide range of materials and surfaces, including timber, glass, metals, plastics, and a range of organic and inorganic fabric materials. Due to this production method’s wide commercial potential and easy practice, sublimation printing is heavily used by makers and creators working in the fashion industry as well as in the wider world of design for the production of home goods.
As you may have observed, all three of these modern production technologies are growing more inexpensive and accessible to the general public. As a result, modern artists may feel inclined to invest in their own laser cutter, CNC machines, or 3D printers so that they can deck out their studios and get right to creating.
Just be sure to carve out plenty of time for trial and error when getting to grips with all the software and hardware involved in all of these production processes. These technologies come with their own unique learning curves, as do all production methods, be they creative, commercial, or a little bit of both.