It's been a while since I've had a chance to spend any quality time in a ceramic studio. )Now that ordering a 3D print in ceramic is (relatively) accessible, I've been itching to try printing a 3D ceramic vessel. As a designer, the possibilities are terrifically exciting. Many designs that would be impossible (or incredibly difficult) to pull off in a ceramic studio are possible with 3D printing. In this instructable, I'll walk you through my design process for creating my very first 3D print, a chevron patterned teacup. Since it is unlikely that you will want to make an identical print, I'll try to focus on how I made design decisions for my 3D print, and what I learned along the way. Hopefully, my notes will come in handy if you want to try your hand at designing your own ceramic piece.
I’ve always wanted to try making a double-walled teacup, but the complicated and technically tricky assembly always made me pause. The concept of a double-walled cup is to insulate your hand from the interior temperature of the vessel. For mugs or glasses, it can also be used as insulation to help keep your drink warm. For a small teacup, that’s not really the concern, since you’ll probably drink the small amounts of tea or espresso before the liquid would cool down. Really, it’s just a different, interesting way of making a handle. Since you have two walls, it is possible to cut away part of the outer wall to create a decorative effect. My concept was to cut significant portions away from the exterior to make a simple, bold, linear pattern. I thought that this sort of delicate line work would give a unique effect (and one that would be incredibly difficult to achieve if you were building this by hand.) I settled on a simple chevron pattern radiating around the edge of the cup. This way as much as half of the exterior wall might be removed, leaving a network of legs to support the cup.
Whatever concept you have for your vessel, I'd encourage you to dig into the details. The shape, size, and weight of your container will all contribute to it's functionality (not to mention how it looks.) The more unconventional your design is, the more likely that it will be tricky to print or get to function properly. I certainly wouldn't discourage designers with crazy concepts, but you just might have to do a little more homework to get everything in line.
Step 1: Design Considerations (What Will Make Your Vessel Look Good and Work Well)
For those of you who are new to ceramic design, there are a few design considerations that ceramic artists obsess over. Some of these are easier to tackle with a computer-generated design, and some are more difficult. But they are definitely things that you'll want to think about as you come up with your design.
Base: The shape and proportions of your base are terrifically important in contributing to how your vessel will feel during use. Too narrow a base, and your vessel will be easy to knock over. On the other hand, if you have a thick, wide base, your vessel might feel chunky and heavy. It all depends on what effect you want to create with your design.
Lip: The counterpart to the base is the lip of your vessel. The shape of the lip is particularly important if you are designing a cup, where it will be touched by your lips. Often handmade ceramics will have a rim that is thinner than the wall of the vessel. If the lip is flared out, you will get more of a gentle pour (think teapot), if the lip has a sharp angle, you will get an abrupt cut-off when your pour from it (think white wine glass.) Pay attention to the different lip designs of your drinking glasses and mugs, and try to figure out which lip style will work best for your design.
Handle: If your design contains a handle, you'll want to know what that will be like to hold. Take note of handles on mugs and glasses that you use. (And take measurements of the ones you like.) You can even make a mock up in clay or play-dough to work out what shapes and sizes work for handles.
Weight/Balance: This might just be the trickiest thing to figure into a computer design. For ceramic artists who throw pots on a wheel, they get lots of time (and many chances) to hold the vessel in their hands before it gets fired. Usually the challenge for wheel-throwing is to make vessels that are not overly heavy and chunky. In a computer-generated design, you can make your wall thickness incredibly precise (and minimal), but you won't have the chance to get a feel for the balance and weight of your design. If your vessel is very tall, you might want to taper the wall thickness so that the bottom of the vessel has a little added weight and stability. Also take note of similarly-shaped vessels and see how the center of gravity affects how it feels in your hand.