Microprinting: The Future of 3D Printing?

We’ve all heard about conventional 3D printing. But have you heard of micro-printing? Yes, the world of 3D printing normal sized objects is no longer at the forefront of the technological frontier. The world has moved on – and now it is possible to 3D print things that are invisible to the naked eye.

Wikipedia defines microprinting as “the production of recognizable patterns or characters…that requires magnification to read with the naked eye”. While this sounds like something out of Blade Runner or Star Wars, it’s actually right here, right now, on this planet in our time. How exciting is that? And it’s not just a theoretical possibility we’re talking about here. Not at all. Recently, it was announced that USA-based 3D printing company Optomec have applied for and received new patents to 3D print micro-structures, at resolutions as high as 15 microns – that’s 0.015 of a millimetre! These objects would, consequently, be completely invisible to the naked human eye.

microprinting examples
Images of microprinted objects. Source: TCT Mag

So, how does this work? Optomec will be using a method of 3D printing using aerosols – much like how your deodorant or hairspray works. The aerosol droplets are jetted onto a target surface, but as they are jetted they are dried by a UV light shining on them. Thus, they turn solid, and can form 3D shapes.

An example of microprinting on a money bill. Source: Wikipedia

But why is this useful? True, it’s all very sci-fi to print something that can’t be seen by the naked eye, but what benefit does it actually bring? What does it do in terms of improving society and improving human progress? As with any innovation, we don’t really know yet. But there are things that microprinting could immediately effect. Take money, for example. Monetary bills currently use microprinting to protect them from counterfeiting. Cheques also carry similar protections – microprinted seals and slogans that can only be produced by the correct issuer and are extremely difficult to replicate successfully. With the advent of 3D microprinting, this process could become a lot less expensive and a lot less finicky. Mass production of cheques and monetary bills could be increased in rate and volume due to this innovation.

That’s not the only usage for 3D microprinting. Dr Michael Renn, Chief Technology Officer at Optomec, commented that they are already seeing uses for their microprinted 3D products in “semiconductor packaging and medical device markets”. For those who don’t know what semiconductors are, they are a vital part of electronics, which conduct more than insulators but less than conductive metals – in this way, they are vital for controlling electrical currents. And microprinting couldn’t have come at a better time. Due to rising demand for electronics, semiconductors are currently in shortage worldwide, affecting everything from cars to alarm clocks. The ability to 3D microprint anything related to semiconductors might take the strain off of more traditional production methods, enabling stocks to fill back up again.

As for medical devices, the appeal is obvious. As anyone who has watched Casualty knows, medicine can be very, very intricate at times. As such, the ability to microprint medical devices is an extremely useful one, one that could lead to new innovations to make life-saving operations safer and more likely to be successful. Yes, 3D microprinting literally could end up being the difference between life and death if you’re going to go under the knife. And even more mundane operations and check-ups could be made a lot more effective with this new technology. We might even be able to see inside the body using microscopic cameras using this new technology at some point – what a boon that would be to doctors trying to make a diagnosis.  

On-chip microprinting. Source: Silicon Semiconductor

Really, the uses of 3D microprinting could be endless. As we grow increasingly into a computerized, automated society, there’s more and more need for microchips and for the components that make them. With that in mind, 3D microprinting could unlock a whole new world of innovation, both at the frontiers of industry and even in terms of cottage industry – it’s not necessarily impossible that you could be 3D printing your own microchips in 15 years’ time!

We hope you enjoyed this blog. While sadly we can’t (yet) print anything on a microscopic level, we can still print normal sized things. If you’re looking for a print, you can get a quote from us here.