Introduction: The 3D Printed Paint Chip

About: I am a recent graduate from Alfred University's School of Art and Design where I concentrated in ceramics and printmaking. Compelled by color and texture, I found beauty in these small painter scraps, enlargi…

September 2014, I was introduced to the Epson scanner. I scanned in hundreds of small fragments of dried, layered paint at 2400 dpi, capturing details beyond human vision or photography. This effect of hyper-real representation make it possible to view these found objects in a new way. Some compare the images to sculptures, others to a topographic map. By enlarging these small objects, I explore size and transformation, heightening the material qualities of these often overlooked objects by placing emphasis on their color, texture, and form.

Step 1: Robert C. Turner Gallery, Alfred, NY

I enlarged the scans and concluded the project with a co-curated show, Shift, that was held in October 2014 in the Robert C. Turner Gallery, Alfred, NY. The show consisted of seventeen various sized prints of the paint chips. I became curious if the sculptural qualities amplified by the prints could be replicated in ceramic form. I then accompanied the prints with small porcelain sculptures that closely resembled actual paint chips.

Step 2: Alfred Undergraduate Research Grant Winner

Unsatisfied with the results of the small ceramic sculptures, I envisioned creating an enlarged, exact replica of a paint chip. I applied for the Alfred Research Grant for Undergraduate Students (ARGUS). I proposed to use a CNC router and take the 3D scanned digital files of the paint chip and engrave the image onto a think foam. I could then use the engraved foam to make a traditional plaster casting mold. The final step to my process was to layer colored slip into the mold. This would allow the liquid clay to render an exact replica of the object. I envisioned the final pieces to be around 3’ x 2’, floating wall sculpture.

I was awarded with enough money to fund my idea, however, my process took an unexpected turn because I was not granted permission to use the CNC router without taking a specific corse. I ended up using the 3D scanner, Stratasys Fortus 250mc printer and the 3D Systems Z 450 printer found in McMahon Hall at Alfred University.

The 3D Systems Z 450 printer converted the information of the scanned object to produce an exact replica in ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic. Because of this shift in material, I could then convert the more durable ABS sections into the desired plaster molds that I was intending.

Step 3: 3D Printed Conclusion

My research made it clear to me that the technology in Alfred Universities 3D Digital Fabrication Lab could not capture the details I had planned for. Each step of the 3D modeling and rapid prototyping process lowered the resolution to a point where the information was limited to a simplified topography. Therefore the final steps to my vision remains uncertain.

Had I had access to a scanner that is built to pick up minuscule detail (such as, an optical topographic scanner that uses a 35-mm oral camera with a photographic based system) or had been trained in the use of a CNC router, I would have been able to retrieve a better accurate replication and my vision of replicating a paint chip could have been a success.

Although the results proved the final execution of transforming the paint chip unsuccessful, the information retrieved can be viewed to enhance and redirect the creative process. The events in which my project was not executed, but instead directed a path to be explored and potentially re-routed, is and exciting and unique perspective for me. I am drawn this kind of investigation as it gives an opportunity to share my acquired skills and communicate new discoveries in between the processes of both analog and digital output.

My current goal is to root out the potentials for the arts and expand my research of transforming materials.