Thursday, January 9, 2014

3D Printing Books

There's a new player on the field of publishing: 3D printing. While 3D printing book pages isn't practical yet (although printing with paper yields some amazing results), American culture niche publisher Riverhead Books, a Penguin Group division based in New York, announced in December the world's first 3D printed book slipcover (for Chang-rae Lee's On Such a Full Sea). It's a beautiful, solid piece that gives the text the appearance of sliding, wave-like, toward the book's edge. The covers took around fifteen hours each to print, according to Lily Rothman's Time Entertainment article "Check It Out: The First-Ever 3D-Printed Book Cover," limiting the total number of copies available on the book's January 7 release to just two hundred (and rocketing the price up to $150).

Chang-rae Lee, On Such a Full Sea (New York: Riverhead Books, 2014) 

While high-end electronic books are embracing the path of interactivity (see my 2013 Critical Margins post "Current and Future States of the Publishing Industry, Part 3: Multimedia Interactivity with Books"), it's unmistakable that high-end print books are veering toward exuberant tactility, as with the $980 accordion-fold book Orihon by Chicago artist Tom Burtonwood.

Burtonwood's Orihon

Where else will 3D printing lead in publishing? I expect immediate applications in Braille, making lettering easily applicable to a much wider range of surfaces. I anticipate textured (and maybe even interactive) covers to become a relatively common sight. And how about interlaced strips of print that form a 3D form that you unravel as you read the story—a single digital design could render such a complicated craft mass produceable.

What do you think 3D printing will bring the world of publishing? Leave your thoughts in the comments.


  1. 3D printing is becoming a nuisance, though it does have certain practical uses, e.g. making medical devices. It can be used in art objects like the book jacket here, but it adds nothing but novelty to novel novel marketing(!) It cuts out the die-making step of mass plastic object manufacturing, and enables single object making, but aside from practical specialised uses, will likely be used mostly as a toy to make toys. We have too many useless plastic objects now and the large amount of energy required to operate the machine will be too often wasted. It just depresses me.

    1. I'm so sorry to hear your pessimistic view of this amazing new technology, Margaret! Let me attempt to change your mind a bit. Check out this HuffPo article from November: It makes it pretty obvious that 3D printing has a lot of incredibly beneficial applications, like affordably printing custom prosthetics and replacement/support bones (if you know anyone who uses a prosthetic, you know just how ridiculously expensive they can be to make), printing custom-sized clothing (again, of particular use to people with body shapes or sizes which require expensive custom tailoring), stem cells, and 300-mpg cars! Yes, lots and lots of time and money will be spent printing novelties and toys, just like lots of time and money gets put into useless reality television (by both the producers and the consumers), so why not look forward to the positive effects 3D printing could have on health and the environment in a world already inundated with useless products? And what about novels, like On Such a Full Sea? Is not a novel a novelty?

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