3D Printed Type

Hey all!

I’ve been experimenting with a 3D printer. So far I’ve been able to print a bunch of letters and ornaments type high. They are all printed with a PLA plastic. However, I’m running into some issues while trying to print with them. The ink isn’t reacting well to the plastic. I’ve tried water based and rubber based so far with no luck. The prints do not have good ink coverage at all but the blocks are covered. Check out the image to get a better idea of what I’m talking about. (The thing I’m printing with in the image is a mini press I built with 3D printed parts.)

Anyone have any experience with this or an idea of how to fix it? I’ve had a few suggestions of spraying the blocks with hair spray, workable fixative or a clear coat. I haven’t tried these yet but am willing to try any suggestions. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Thank you!

image: IMG_0970.JPG


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Have you tried printing on a proper press (I mean a metal press)? Maybe your 3d printed press can’t give you enough pressure. BTW it’s ‘oil base’ and ‘rubber base’… But even the rubber base inks contain oil.

I agree with Thomas, you are trying to print large surface areas using a flatbed platen,this press won’t give enough pressure to get a good print. Your blocks would print if put on a press with a pressure roller such as a proofing press.

If that is the only press you can access try using a soft packing with a thin paper such as newsprint and see what happens. I would expect you to get sharp edges showing on the back of the print and not enough ink in the middle of solid areas.

Check your blocks print by inking with a brayer and pressing the paper onto the block with the back of a spoon.

In the 50s and 60s poster type was produced in solid perspex and a variety of plastics mounted on plywood so printing with an alternative to wood has been done before.

Instead or making solid blocks of plastic have you thought about 3d printing them as thinner plates and mounting them on plywood?

There could also be the issue of precision height — relief printing is very sensitive to it and I don’t know how well controlled that would be for 3-D printing. A thousandth or two will make the difference between ink transfer and the results you are getting. The plastic you are using needs to be essentially incompressible also — if the first pull squashes the blocks a bit the second will reflect that lower height-to-paper.


Check this out, a project by new North Press in London: http://new-north-press.co.uk/project/a23d/

I tested the printed type with my Sigwalt today. It came out better. You can see all of the lines from the printer. So it looks kind of cool. But the ink is still reacting strange to the plastic… sort of like its sliding around. Some places it is heavy and others light. I printed with lead type right after without cleaning the press so I know my ink isn’t bad. But it’s still an improvement over the prints from the printed press.

I did notice that some of the letters I printed are a hair lower than others even though they were all printed to the same height. That’s kind of irritating but paper can fix that.

I had never used a 3D printer before this adventure. The project is for a graduate class I’m taking. I’ve come to realize the mini printed press will not make a perfect print but was hoping it could be used as sort of a proof press or just something to toy around with.

I saw that article about the 3D printed typeface before. Love it!!! That way my inspiration for this project.

I’m using a soft roller from a brayer on the mini press, could it be that a hard roller would work better for inking???

I did speak to people here in Amsterdam, who do a lot of 3D printing and in order to smoothen the surface of their printed objects, they place the objects in a closed receptacle together with a small glass bowl containing some acetone. The vapor of the acetone seems to smoothen the surface. Only to be tried in a well ventilated area of course…

We’ve been experimenting with this, here, too. We use sheets of PLA as a thin veneer, mounted onto ordinary 3/4” ply (double-sided interior/exterior carpet tape works for a quick mounting adhesive). The advantages are time in the 3D printer, reduced amount of filament used, and then—following AdLib’s point above—less plastic to compress. Our surfaces have always had some ‘noise’ as a result of the modeling software and the 3D printing process, but we’ve worked to incorporate these into the overall process.

@juss.design - have you tried printing the type upside down? that is, print the face directly onto the build plate as that will result in a smoother surface.

One thing to note about the A23D font. It has no “solid” surface for the face. It is made up of thin lines almost exclusively. I would say, considering the experience of the modelers, there has to have been a reason they did not design a solid face font for 3D printed type.

With that in mind, would it be possible use a filler and polish the face, or apply a coating like the shellac on wood type?

I’ve come into this discussion a bit late but maybe I can throw my two bits in.
I have produced large type with a CNC system in acrylic, as an alternative to large wooden type (mainly due to the scarcity and cost of wooden type here in Australia). I have always had clear impressions, either on an Arab platen or hand ink on a Wharfedale. On some of the letters I went over the top (inked) surface with the finest wet and dry paper I could get. The letters were cut out of 3mm acrylic sheet and then mounted on wood to type high.
I too am looking into trying 3D printing as I believe I could get really fine decorations and letters (something that is limited with CNC due to the size of the laser to cut the letters out). I like the idea of printing onto a flat sheet, not the whole block. I was wondering if some of those metal allow (usually aluminium) printers might produce a better finish/letter?

Have a look at this website www.printmypart.co.uk
At the British Printing Society convention this year back in April there were samples on show of this company’s 3d printed type and decoration, they looked really good.