Centre for Fine Print Research University of the West of England Centre for Fine Print Research

Dr Paul O' Dowd

Current Research

Paul currently works on two principle research projects; ‘a craft-based approach to 3D printing’ (awarded UWE SPUR6 funding 2014-2015); and ‘the novel application of inkjet technologies for 2.5D printing’.   These projects overlap in that they are interested in escaping the orthodox approaches to printing to instead gain a creative, craft-based control of structure, texture and materials.  
Concerning 3D printing, the intention is to establish a new aesthetic that transcends the typical automated workflow (CAD modelling followed by ‘slicing’) to find an elegant and artistic mode of fabrication entirely unique to the 3D Printer.  In 2.5D printing, the intention is to exploit multi-layering of inks to gain the idiosyncratic properties of relief apparent in more traditional mediums such as paintings . For a brief snapshot of Pauls Research at the CFPR please watch this short film on Vimeo

Spur 6 Project A Creative Approach to 3D Print for Novel Methods of Fabrication

This research project investigated current low-cost 3D printing technologies (Fused Deposition Modelling) for their ability to manipulate materials in a user-determined expressive manner whilst retaining useful levels of software-automated fabrication.  The outputs of the research were printable textured surfaces that relied on a craft like approach to the technology. 

The developed methods constitute a deeper and more intimate approach to working with 3D printing technology, akin to traditional craft technologies such as the potter’s wheel.  An approach that subverts the orthodox workflow is often taken by artists and designers in the pursuit of a unique, elegant or meaningful expression that transcends expectations of the medium.  Similarly, this research first and foremost pursued texture and surface aesthetics, subverting the orthodox workflow, and provides an example wherein the context of the Arts & Humanities can lead to innovation within the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

3D Printing, also known as Additive Manufacturing or Rapid Prototyping, is the fabrication of objects by the sequential deposition, fusing, laminating, binding or curing of materials by an automated machine.  3D printing has existed as an industrial technology for some 25 years; recently there has been a large growth in low-cost 3D printers aimed at the general consumer market.  This change in market has opened up the technology from purely industrial or high-end use to a wider audience with growing expectations.  The products of 3D printers are being assessed not only as temporary prototypes, but as sculptural objects in their own right.  This research aimed to challenge the accepted aesthetics of 3D printed objects.

Conventionally 3D printers are appraised by how well they reproduce a digital model, which is created in advance within Computer Aided Design (CAD) software.  Therefore the ‘creative act’ in 3D printing can be largely considered to happen in the virtual domain of CAD.  A distinct advantage of CAD is the ability to define complex or fine geometries.   Complex geometry realised through 3D printing has been exploited for exquisite form by artists and designers such as Joshua Harker[1], Kevin Mack[2], Nervous System[3] and Xuberance[4].

The complexity of machine automated fabrication is determined algorithmically through a software process commonly referred to as slicing. Slicing decomposes a digital 3D model into layers, machine toolpaths and material operations. These aspects are taken as usefully automated, alleviating the otherwise intense human labour and dexterity required if fabricated manually. 

Importantly, slicing algorithms encapsulate sensibilities such as the efficient use of materials, optimisations minimising the time of fabrication, and the reduction of the appearance of layers. When authoring in CAD, these sensibilities are to a large degree inaccessible.  In terms of a creative process, a skilled CAD user can be considered a digital craftsperson, who by practiced familiarity anticipates the constraints and affordances of the consequent 3D printing process. A clear example of the influence of the current 3D printing process within art and design is perhaps 3D printed fashion, which often resemble intricate and striking chainmail rather than conventional fabric garments. 

From a CAD perspective, any form can be described computationally and the restriction appears in determining and executing fabrication.  The recent growth of low-cost 3D printers has transposed an industrial tool into the more widely accessible domain of consumers, artists and designers. A burgeoning question has become: whilst something could be 3D printed, is it useful or desirable to do so? To transcend 3D printing for novelty’s sake, a pertinent question facing new 3D printing applications is whether the methods of fabrication and uses of material are sympathetic to the form and/or function of a 3D printed object.

Conventionally a 3D printer fabricates in measured and discrete units of material, placing the machine as the end-point mode of reproduction for a top-down CAD methodology. This research explored the premise that the materials themselves may have expressive and aesthetic qualities that are otherwise hidden within widely accepted algorithms and automation.

An alternative to a CAD driven approach is to explore the materials, machine and software in synergy.  This research challenged the 3-dimensional flow of layers for aesthetic or structural effect, similar to the way a craftsperson might exploit the grain structure inherent in wood for aesthetic appearance or for strength; by closely-controlling the movement of the print head and rate of deposition, subtle textures emerged, akin to the fine weaving of material in 3-dimensions; and materials were manipulated in the transitional state, between fluid and solid, when it may be stretched and shaped, similar to the forming of molten glass.

 This work is situated amongst other trail-blazers in the field, such as Project Silkworm[5] who explore 3D printing processes akin to weaving, and artist Shane Hope[6] who 3D prints in a haphazard painterly style.

[1] http://www.joshharker.com/
[2] http://www.kevinmackart.com/
[3] http://n-e-r-v-o-u-s.com/
[4] http://www.xuberance.org/#!home/mainPage
[5] http://projectsilkworm.com/
[6] http://shanehope.info/


Current Research

Past Research

Presentations and Papers


Professional Practice