How 3D Printing can help tell the story

Can 3D printing help to tell stories? Or can it be the whole story, itself?

Stories are part of the human condition – we have told them for thousands of years. Stories have been passed down from generation to generation. One of the oldest stories ever recorded in writing is Gilgamesh, on stone tablets more than 3,000 years ago.

Today, stories are told using a plethora of media – mouth to mouth, books, comics, TV, movies, theatre, puppet shows, through music and song, poetry, speeches, pictures, dance. Even a plaque on a wall can tell a story.

Their primary purpose is to teach us – all good stories have a message or theme. It could be good over evil, look after others, don’t jump to conclusions, love will find a way, keep trying until you succeed, don’t be greedy, be careful what you wish for or a host of others, including the re-telling of facts.

The best ones entertain us and evoke emotion - we can be frightened, enthralled, entertained, saddened, thrilled. Good stories can make us laugh or cry, they can even change our behaviour or the way we think about things. To be a story, it should have these 5 common elements - a message (or theme), a setting, a plot, characters and conflict.

We have a new media – 3D printing. How can this be used to help tell the story?

can 3d printing help
Plaques showing royal succession at Linlithgow Palace, Scotland

3D Printing can help with the telling

3D printing has never been more relevant in the world of TV, film and theatre. One off pieces are required, often needing to fit an actor exactly.

3D printing can help with the costumes, props or set to enhance the story. Here are a few examples:

Aragog from Harry Potter made by Creative Character Engineering
Star Lord Helmet from Guardians of the Galaxy made by Stratysys
MJÖLNIR Hammer yielded by Thor made by Propshop

3D Printing can help with the context

One of my favourite uses of 3D printing initiatives recently has been the Scan the World project. Now you can bring stories into your living room or use them as props to bring your own stories to life.

can 3d printing help Taino statue

Taino Shaman

In the carved Taino Shaman figure, from the Dominican Republic, we catch a glimpse of the cultural story of the indigenous population of parts of the Caribbean. We can use it in our history lessons or use it to remind us of their story.

can 3d printing help michaelangelos david


Michelangelo’s David and tells a story of brain outwitting brawn.  It also tells the story of the genius who created this sculpture.  Thanks to 3D printing, it can be admired in art classes, living rooms and museums without having to visit Florence, Italy.

can 3d printing help saint basil catherdral

Saint Basil Cathedral

We can also use 3D printing to appreciate architecture. This world famous landmark, Saint Basil Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, reveals so much about the time it was constructed. Thanks to Scan the World, we can tell the story of this unique building.

3D Printing can help tell the whole story

“For Sale: Baby’s shoes, Never Worn” is said to be attributed to Ernest Hemmingway after betting he could write an entire story in 6 words. We can tell this story using mostly 3D printing.

This made me think about other stories that could be told through a few 3D printed objects. A dog curled up next to a gravestone could tell the story of Greyfriars Bobby.

I made up my own story in a 3D print …… a forlorn looking man sitting outside a dog house next to a broken, priceless vase!

Of course, we need the details to be a truly good story and these just hint at the 5 elements required. They provide the inspiration or starting point. The story teller can fill in the details. Just like 3D printing, each story can be customised and unique depending on the audience, the story teller and the circumstances.

3D printing can help tell stories; it can help not just with the telling but become a story-telling media in its own right.

What will your story be?

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