One of the most exciting aspects of 3D printing is how technology can impact so many other industries. We have already seen the impact it will have on construction, toys, and manufacturing. Another industry that will be changed is jewelry. While it may still have a ways to go before it can compete with the likes of gold, silver, diamonds, and other precious gems, 3D printing is already moving into the jewelry business.
How does it work?
Now I am sure you all are thinking, just as we once were, how the heck does a 3D printer create jewelry? Well, there are more ways than one. Not all ways are the printers themselves creating the finished product. For example, Lost-wax printing and casting utilizes the printer to create a mold for metal casting. But other technology, such as selective laser melting (SLM), allows you to 3D print with metals.
Lost-wax casting can be seen as an indirect method of 3D printing jewelry. The final product was not actually 3D printed, but the process of creating the model and finished piece involved 3D printing. The process is a great blend of new and old technologies, 3D printing, and metal casting.
It starts with the design of your 3D model just as any other 3D printed object starts. Once you have your file ready, the next step is to 3D print the object with wax. A wax-like resin is used as a filament for this process. Next, you need to form the mold to cast the metal. You take one or multiple waxes 3D printed objects and cover them in a fine plaster. This plaster will solidify and become the mold, Now that you have the mold you need to get the wax out. To do this, you put the plaster containing the wax in a hot oven where the wax is heated and burned out of the mold entirely. What you’re left with is a solid, clean mold that is ready for casting your jewelry.
The main advantage of lost-wax casting is jewelry designers do not need all the tools. As long as they can create the 3D model, there are a ton of companies out there where they can have the model printed for them. This saves time and resources as they are out-sourcing part of the work.
The SLM process is quite different from start to finish. This process is a way to actually 3D print with metals. It is a special type of 3D printer that works similar to a desktop 3D printer in that it creates the object layer by layer. However, rather than plastic filaments we typically see, SLM 3D printers use a powered metal filament that is melted by a laser. Once melted it is pushed through the extruder to begin constructing the object.
As you can imagine, this technology is becoming very popular since you can create a lot more objects than just plastic structures. As well it is becoming cheaper as people are discovering ways to improve technology. The SLM process is ideal for custom, one-off jewelry projects that are unlike any other.
Types of 3D printers to use for Jewelry
You don’t have to be a professional Jeweler to design and create jewelry with 3D printing. Anyone with wants to make jewelry, and of course, the right 3D printer can make jewelry too. Of course, which printer you need depends on what your end goal is.
For the at-home Jeweler or workshop users, quality is the name of the game. You need a 3D printer that is reliable and consistent so you know exactly what you’re going to get each time you use it. A printer with high resolutions, accuracy, and smooth surfaces will create the best jewelry. Two that we really like for this case is the Formlabs Form 2 and the Wanhao Duplicator 7 Plus.
The Formlabs Form 2 is an SLA 3D printer. It comes from Formlabs, which is one of the pioneers of 3D printing so you know you are getting an amazing machine. What makes the Form 2 so great is the consistency in quality. Time and time again the machine performs exactly as it did the print before. This allows you to know you are going to get the perfect piece you need, every time.
The Wanhao Duplicator 7 Plus is a budget-friendly option for those looking to get in 3D printing jewelry. Although it is budget friendly, it still creates pieces just like any top of the line printer would. It comes with all the bells and whistles you need, triple cooling fans, high-speed printing, and a large user-friendly touchscreen. It may not be as consistent as the Form 2, but for the price, it is tough to beat the Duplicator 7 Plus.
Plastic Filaments 3D Printers
Some users may not need a top of the line 3D printer and would prefer something that prints with plastic filament. The classic 3D printers we typically hear about fall into this category. With these, you will be printing in PLA, ABS, PETG, and the like. While they are not metals or metal composites, you can still create beautifully crafted and designed pieces of jewelry.
One thing you need to be on the look for is the ability to swap out nozzle size. While the industry standard 0.4 mm nozzle is great for most users, we need something a little more precise. A 3D printer that allows you to use a 0.2 or 0.25 mm will help you produce those very fine, intricate details you need for jewelry. Two great printers to consider are the Ultimaker 2 and the Prusa Mk2.
Both of these printers are considered absolute workhorses in their respective category. They create high quality, flawless pieces every time. They are highly regarded amongst the desktop 3D printing community. You can’t go wrong with either of these.
Another option for creating jewelry is using metal 3D printers. These machines take a composite metallic material and produce amazing pieces with very high tolerances and quality. They are still fairly new to the industry, but they are picking up steam as companies are advancing the technology. Two great options are the Markforged Mark 2 and DesktopMetal 3D Printer series.
These companies produce monsters of 3D printers. The Mark 2 is more desktop friendly due to its compact size. Desktop Metal, on the other hand, was backed by multiple major companies including Google and Ford. Given their backing, you can be assured they create a high-quality machine. These 3D printers use a composite filament to create metal pieces. If you want to create jewelry solely with a 3D printer, these are the machines you need.
As you can see 3D printing is beginning to make its moves into the jewelry industry. There are multiple ways to accomplish designing and making jewelry and multiple printers that can get the job done for you. Depending on what you want to do will determine which printer and which process is best for you.