I have looked into a variety of digital modeling and fabrication technologies for use in the Utiles project. In the latter category, I am most interested in 3D printing, embossing, laser engraving, and vacuum forming. This page comments on these approaches and leads to some breakout pages.


3D printing

Most conventional 3D printers lay down successive layers of plastic, using the heat of the extruded plastic to weld it to the preceding layers. The Innovation Station at UT Austin uses this sort of device (e.g., Makerbot). However, there are other approaches. For example, the folks at LightHouse use a 3D printer that can write on flexible plastic media.


There are devices (e.g., braille embossers) that emboss paper or plastic media under computer control. These tend to be raster devices, printing a single line of dots at a time. The resolution of the dots is fairly low (less than 100 dpi).


Laser engravers (e.g., GlowForge) vaporize a tiny dot at the surface of some material. Holding the beam in one place for longer produces a deeper hole; aggregating dots can produce arbitrary lines, patterns, etc. Laser engravers can have very high resolution (e.g., 1200 dpi).

Machines such as end mills are also capable of high-precision engraving. However, in order to achieve reasonable speed, they would probably need to switch bits during the fabrication process.


Once created, a physical model can be used as the master for vacuum forming of thin plastic sheets. Although there is an inevitable loss of resolution in this process, economy and speed may be more important in some cases.

Breakout Pages

  • Matter - materials (e.g., plastic)

This wiki page is maintained by Rich Morin, an independent consultant specializing in software design, development, and documentation. Please feel free to email comments, inquiries, suggestions, etc!

Topic revision: r63 - 25 Feb 2016, RichMorin
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