Designer Taekyeom Lee uses unconventional methods to create three-dimensional type (printed characters or letters) with materials and techniques unique to type design – such as ceramics and various analogue and digital craft techniques.
He built his own 3D printer and designed paste extruders to produce intricate 3D ceramic letterings and objects. His research reflects on the development of digital fabrication and the unconventional typographic practices in the post-digital age.
Ginkgo3D: How did your research on type design bring you into 3D printing?
Taekyeom: I am a graphic designer and maker who loves 3D type. I research unconventional methods of creating three-dimensional type with materials and techniques unique to type design – such as ceramics and desktop 3D printing. This reflects on the development of the digital fabrication and the unconventional typographic practices in the new digital age. In a series of typographic explorations, I have made three-dimensional ceramic type as tangible type in three-dimensional space.
Ginkgo3D: Why is 3D type so fascinating to you?
Taekyeom: 3D type, as opposed to type printed on paper, does not lie on the static space of a page. These letters thus acquire new characteristics such as texture, structure, volume, and even interactivity. 3D type converges artistic expression, construction technique, and materiality – each has a role to play in creating letters in three-dimensional space. This new technology would provide good tools for unconventional typographic practice. I also like to share what I have learnt from my creative practice.
Ginkgo3D: Did you go into 3D printing immediately to achieve this?
Taekyeom: In 2014, I made handcrafted ceramic pieces in order to create modular type – casting plaster moulds piece by piece. (For more information, see http://portfolio.taekyeom.com/2014_006.html). Since 2015, I also explored combining typography, ceramic and 3D printing as an alternative way using high-tech features. Especially, desktop 3D printing drew my attention because I would no longer need a space and equipment for a clay studio. I could make a more intricate variety of modular designs with the new tool. With the self-built delta type 3D printer and extruders, I was able to print small and medium scale 3D printed ceramic objects up to 300mm tall with a diameter of 300mm. Because there was no 3D printer that could print clay, I had to make my own.
Ginkgo3D: How did you construct your own 3D clay printer?
Taekyeom: In the summer of 2015, I purchased a DIY 3D printer kit. I had been playing with the open source delta style 3D printers to figure out what I could do with this new tool and technology. The affordable RepRap is able to produce its own parts – not everything – but some parts that make it self-replicative. The most exciting feature of these DIY 3D printers is that I can build my own customised tools to make something. Simply put, I made my own tools to make something I was not able to make with my own hands.
After calibrating the first DIY 3D printer, I created my own clay extruder. I tried to use glue dispensers, but it was not a good idea because it could not really extrude clay well. Also, I could not use higher pressure or PSI to extrude clay. Eventually, I fabricated my own clay extruder/container, but it was not still easy to print clay. It required several test prints to find right PSI and slicing configurations. Although early works were not great, I was very excited to make new ceramic objects.
Ginkgo3D: Any problems developing a 3D printer that could print your designs?
Taekyeom: Because the first printer was unable to print bigger pieces, I needed to build a scaled-up version. So I printed parts for the new printer using my existing 3D printer and ordered other parts like steel shafts, motors, switches, Arduino, etc. To make top and bottom parts, I used a sheet of MDF, but I did not get the accuracy I wanted without CNC (Computer Numerical Control). So, I tried to find a laser cutter to cut plexiglass. Finally, I was able to access to a laser cutter on campus after moving to NC for a new job.
I had been struggling to make my printer run properly for about two months. It had a problem with calibration and I did not know how to fix it. Because I had no idea about the firmware for Arduino + Ramp board and no one could teach me, I had to use Google to learn how to create a right firmware. I tested more than 40 different firmware. It was a tedious job, but on Sunday, October 25, 2015, I solved the problem and my printer began working properly. I tested calibration with a pen and paper.
The first word I wrote with my printer was “Hi”.
Now I could write more complicated words with my machine.
…to be continued.
Editor: Taekyeom Lee is an interdisciplinary artist although he prefers to introduce himself a designer using artist’s material and artistic sensibility. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. He received an MFA degree in Graphic Design from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.