Printing Press: Consumer Portraits Printed in Three Dimensions

Printing Press: Consumer Portraits Printed in Three Dimensions


How would you like to offer your customers a full-color 3D figurine of their 10-year-old daughter performing a pliè in her ballet costume? Or a statuette in three dimensions of a couple decked out in their winning Halloween costumes?

3D print of Fireman Ray San Miguel. Holodeck 3D Studios. Photo Courtesy of Zoe Burchard Studio

Three-dimensional capture and printing has made great strides since it was first developed in the 1980s. Subjects are printed in full color, with all editing and enhancement done between the capture and output stages. Moreover, no painting or touch up is necessary on the model.

Two companies that provide scanning and printing systems for consumer 3D studios include Digital Scan 3D, based in Portland, Oregon, and Twindom, located in Berkeley, California.

Digital Scan 3D provides a variety of scanning and printing services for commercial and industrial businesses, as well as a consumer 3D solution for scanning and printing personalized figurines.

ProJet CJP 660Pro: The Creative Engine

Established in 2015, Digital Scan 3D’s Shapify My Life provides small business owners with 3D scanning equipment as well as processing software to create high-quality 3D files for their clients. Twindom operates on a similar business model, leasing its Twinstant Mobile 3D body scanner to small business owners, along with a capture laptop and software.

3D Systems ProJet CJP 660Pro

Both companies provide full-color printing with their on-site ProJet CJP 660Pro full-color 3D printers, developed by 3D Systems of Rock Hill, South Carolina.

“The ProJet 660Pro is the most widely used photorealistic full-color 3D printer on the market,” says Richman Siansimbi, co-owner and senior mechanical engineer for Digital Scan 3D. “It uses gypsum powder as the primary building material; the color goes into the binding material, or glue. Moreover, once the printing is complete, you remove the figure from the printer, clean off the dust and you have a finished print.”

The printer manufacturer, 3D Systems, was cofounded in 1986 by Charles Hull, creator of the first 3D printed part. The company makes 3D printers for multiple applications, including selective laser sintering (SLS) used in the ProJet 660Pro. SLS employs additive manufacturing to fuse together small particles with a high-power laser. Color-jet printing (CJP) deposits a liquid binder across a bed of powder to add color and solidify the figure. The ProJet 660Pro starts at about $60,000.

ProJet Benefits
“Knight in the Bushes,” Holodeck 3D Studios. Photo Courtesy of Jessica Rice

“Usually, we print our consumer orders once a month,” says Siansimbi. “But if we need to run a quick print we can.” The 3D Systems ProJet can print several figurines (prints) at once.

As a result, combining orders significantly reduces the print time for each one. During the Christmas season, Digital Scan 3D runs orders more frequently, and Siansimbi expects to see print orders continue to increase throughout the rest of the year.

“Most companies use the ProJet 660Pro for output,” he says. “It’s how you collect the data that determines the results. We have an automated turnkey software system that stitches everything together and gives you a completed color file to print. Any 3D printer can output the file, however, if it’s not done on a color printer, the object is printed in monochrome.”

Three Dimensions: Creative Marketing

As with any new imaging technology, 3D business owners have to engage in creative marketing to be successful. Mall studios are busy during the holiday season, but during the off-season, owners have to look for other options to expand their sales.

Both Twindom and Shapify My Life recommend their clients add costumes and props to their 3D studio setups. Providing themed costumes, like NBA team uniforms, adds incentives for drawing new customers. Many owners also take their scanning system on the road to on-site photo opportunities like proms, graduations and conventions.

Martin Ramos, a Twindom customer and owner of My Twin ME, in Santa Rosa, California, rents booth space at specialty conventions like team sport expos, pet shows and wedding expos. Ramos offers 3D scanning for cake toppers at the events. His most successful venues are fantasy, comic book and sci-fi conventions, where attendees frequently attend in cosplay (costume play), showing off intricate, homemade costumes.

Convention attendee is scanned wearing his Gundman Robot costume (left). The 3D print was created by Holodeck 3D Studios. Photo of 3D Print Courtesy of Zoe Burchard Studio

There are many other applications for 3D scanning and printing in the fields of cinematography, 3D animation and video games. Players can now be 3D scanned and have their own action figure digitally added to video games.

The fantasy movie Life of Pi used artists from all over the world to produce several hundred visual effects. Objects like the Bengal tiger, lifeboat and floating raft were all scanned and combined to create the fantastic scenes in stereo 3D.

Brief Overview of 3D Capture and Printing

The four most common 3D scanning methods for live subjects include: 1) handheld 3D scanners using structured light technology; 2) DSLR photogrammetry systems with conventional lighting; 3) turntable-based scanning systems with structured light technology; and 4) hybrid photogrammetry systems with structured light and conventional lighting.

Most 3D scanning systems are “hybrid.” In other words, they combine photogrammetry and structured light methods. Digital cameras and conventional lights are mounted in an array around the subject, along with a series of structured lights that project a pattern (lines or grids) on the surface.

Artec Shapify 3D Scanning Booth

The cameras take two sets of photographs—the first with the projected patterns turned on and the second with the projectors turned off. The photos are taken in close succession, usually 150 to 250 milliseconds apart.

Images taken with the grids are used to calculate the geometry of the subject, and to match points between two connected images. The photos with no projected pattern are used to record the subject’s texture.

3D Printing Categories

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, can be broken down into five main categories: 1) fused deposition modeling, for plastic 3D printing; 2) stereolithography for high-precision printing; 3) selective laser sintering for printing metals and plastics; 4) paper-based 3D printing for full-color architecture models; and 5) binder jetting for printing 3D figurines.

“Happy Brother and Sister,” Holodeck 3D Studios, Kirkland, Washington. Photo Courtesy of Zoe Burchard Studio

Binder jetting is currently the only technology capable of producing a high-quality, full-color 3D model, technically referred to as a “print.” The most widely used 3D printer for this purpose is the ProJet 660, by 3D Systems, or the larger ProJet 860.

Both are packaged with Zprint software, which allows the operator to import models, position them in the build and start the prints.

While relatively fast compared to other 3D printers, the ProJet 660 is only capable of printing up to 1.1 inches in height per hour. At that speed, an average 6-inch print takes approximately three hours to output. Operators can build more than one print at a time or lay the figurines flat to minimize the height.

ProJet ColorJet technology is modeled after inkjet printing and is also capable of intricately blending shades of color. The ProJet uses a proprietary, gypsum-based material called VisiJet PXL to build the model. It deposits the gypsum in 0.1mm layers as the printhead moves across the build area. The powder is transformed into a solid model by injecting a binding agent and precisely positioned color dye into the mixture. In addition, this technology can reproduce more than 90% of the colors available in Adobe Photoshop.

Completing a Figurine

Moreover, excess ceramic powder that doesn’t bond to the print is removed after each layer is applied; it is vacuumed out at the end. Once completed, the figurine is lifted from the loose powder and moved to a de-powdering station. A small stylus, with an integrated air compressor, then blows off the excess powder from the model.

Once the figures are excavated, the remaining powder is vacuumed up and recycled for future builds. The 3D prints are still very fragile at this stage. The models are submerged in cyanoacrylate (a type of superglue), or the cyanoacrylate is poured/sprayed over the model. Moreover, the glue burns off the top layer of powder, giving the models additional strength and increased color vibrancy.

3D Printing Resources

Interested in offering customers another type of print service? For more detailed explanations of 3D scanning and printing, visit:

You can also visit 3D equipment suppliers at CES 2019. They are located in the LVCC, Hall 3.