Elizabeth Boorman August 8, 2014
Imagine yourself in the middle of the last century using a typewriter to write an important, lengthy letter, only to decide at the bottom of the page that you would like to rephrase an earlier sentence. To make this change, you would have to pull the paper out of the machine and completely retype the text to have a flawless letter.

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Computer software programs have drastically simplified this process. Instead of going to the laborious task of retyping the entire text, you just have to click a mouse, hit a few keys and reprint. If only it were that simple to do with 3D objects. Oh wait, with 3D Printing it is. Similar to the way that computers have changed the way that people edit photos, texts, posters, etc., 3D Printing software has made it easier than ever to do the same with 3D objects. Just design an object on your computer and print it out. If you decide later that you want to change the design, you can go back to your computer, make the change and reprint. This is much easier than other manufacturing practices where you would have to completely start from scratch.  

How the 2D Printing Industry Went Digital

At Materialise we are quite familiar with this story, and our software marketing manager, Bart Dupon, is seasoned in both 2D printing and 3D printing. His career has led him through changes in both fields and he has seen the parallels in the paths these industries have taken. Software programs such as Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator, which make it easy to edit photos, posters, designs, etc., have become incredibly widespread today. However, back in 1989 when Bart Dupon was an advertisement and marketing graduate fresh out of school, these programs did not exist yet. Two programs that were around were Page Maker 1.0 and Draw 1.0 and they were installed on the Mac CI at his first job at an advertisement company of just over 60 people.
Our very own software marketing manager, Bart Dupon.
Our very own software marketing manager, Bart Dupon.
These were the very early days of using computers for graphic design and the trade would shift entirely from this point on. He quickly learned how to use the two computers at the company, the Mac CI and the Mac Classis, and instead of having everything done in a series of labor-intensive and time consuming steps, it was now easy to make adjustments to designs and graphics on one of these machines. Things that would have taken a long time to do manually, such as change a typeface, edit a text or even add and adjust a graphic, could now be done in just a few clicks.

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The entire graphic production team was 300% faster with a third of the amount of people. It was no doubt that there was an evolution in the field of graphic design and that software was the catalyst.  

2D Printing’s Parallel with 3D Printing

Bart became acquainted with 3D Printing and immediately saw its parallel with the 2D printing software evolution. Today, making changes to posters, like adjusting the typeface or size of a text, are considered rather easy to execute (but still can be difficult to decide on what to change). These changes in traditional 2D printing are similar to the way that changes are difficult to make 3D objects using traditional manufacturing techniques.
An example of going from computer model to 3D-printed objects from when we printed busts for the Helden van Later winners.
An example of going from computer model to 3D-printed objects from when we printed busts for the Helden van Later winners.
In subtractive manufacturing, where pieces of material are removed to create a final product, it can be very difficult to make design changes such as altering the length of a specific piece as that would require starting the entire process from the beginning.

Yet in 3D Printing, these changes just require slightly adjusting a design through computer software, checking its printability through programs like Magics, and reprinting it. Moreover, for Materialise customers using 3-maticSTL, they can make these changes directly on the STL file and do not have to run the files through different programs to make these changes.

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Now to make some small changes, you just have to make a change to the model in a software program like Magics and reprint it as opposed to manually building it.
With traditional manufacturing, to make some changes would require starting from the beginning, but by designing on a computer and leaving the manufacturing to 3D printing, it saves a lot of time and lets people try multiple iterations before finding the most optimal design. And just like with 2D printing graphic design, software has made it possible to easily make these changes. Just as there were possibilities that became available with 2D printing once it became digital, 3D printing opened up a whole new range of possibilities and make the manufacturing process faster.   Watch Materialise’s CEO Fried Vancraen give a TEDx talk in Leuven in 2012 about this parallel between 2D printing and 3D Printing:
Want to know more about what’s possible with 3D Printing software? Check out our website.  
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