Going Digital–Why I’m 3D printing.

Posted on Mar 25, 2015

Sometimes I work in Secret. Sometimes I have an open sharing process. For the past 18 months I have been secreted away learning new skills–figuring out how to use digital technology to make my design visions real. Things are starting to work out like I want them to and I’m ready to share.

Grant Diffendaffer is 3D printing. Yes my friends, I did it. After more than 20 years of working with clay– including ceramic, polymer, and metal clay, I’m now sculpting in digital clay. Why bother? Because the miracle of modern technology allows me to bring these designs back into the real world, and reproduce them in the materials that I am familiar with.

My Printrbot 3D printer cost me $399 when I bought it. I’ve put in a couple hundred dollars in upgrades (including 18 parts that were printed by the machine), and hundreds of hours of practice. I’m now able to create precise and highly detailed small models with impressive surface quality. These models flow right into my typical jewelry process, which usually involves modeling in polymer, molding in silicone, and recreating in metal clay for durable, beautiful, long lasting creations. At the moment, I’m skipping the polymer part of my process completely. Instead, I print models with naturally derived PLA filament, and move from there to mold-making.  My latest experiments have moved to flexible filament, which will allow me to directly print multi-part molds. Beyond that, there are currently available machines and materials that allow either direct metal output or precision lost-wax casting.

I’m currently creating metal surfaces with subtle and intricate detail using this process.  It enables me to engineer solid connections and precise bezels, to create surface decoration at the same time, and to control dimensions and material usage of the final work.  The possibilities for form and finish are great.  I’m making married metal–two metals in one smooth surface with the contrast defining a graphic image.  Other techniques beckon, like guilloche and cloisonné

I have several exciting announcements regarding my plans with 3D printing and related technology. I’ve been busy designing–working to debut new jewelry that combines multiple materials to intricate ornamental effect. Having a 3D printer and CNC embroidery machine in my studio is bringing me much closer to bringing these dreams to fruition soon. They have won a place of honor alongside all my other tools, allowing these two hands to do more quality work–and to put it in your hands soon.