In last week’s Tate Debate we asked you whether you need to know an artist’s process when looking at art. This week let’s hone in on the provenance of one particular process that is at once a method of open mass-production and an apparent cause for ethical concern: the 3D printer.

Last week the Design Museum announced nominees for their annual Design of the Year award. The nominees sit in seven categories, from Architecture and Fashion, to Digital and Transport. Antwerp-based designers Unfold were nominated for their entry Kiosk 2.0 in the Product caterory, a transportable 3D printing lab based on the carts of mobile street food vendors. The Kiosk 2.0 can print 3D objects on the move and in their entry founders Claire Warnier and Dries Verbruggen replicated two works by the other finalists, testing notions of authorship, authenticity and intellectual property.

Tony Cragg, 'Cumulus' 1998
Tony Cragg
Cumulus 1998
unconfirmed: 2650 x 1200 x 1200 mm
Presented anonymously 2001© Tony Cragg

As reported by Marcus Fairs for Dezeen last week, with no pre-existing 3D format production data available to download, the duo developed their own computer scripts by watching films online on how the products were made online and downloading drawings from the web.

Fairs notes intriguing questions raised by Curator of the award exhibition Daniel Charny: ‘some people have reacted very strongly to it…This is part of what’s going to happen with 3D printing. Is it a cheap fake or is it a new piece? When is it okay, when is it not okay?’

Based on an earlier design and inspired by Bruce Sterling’s science fiction short story Kiosk, Unfold’s prompt for the project was an interest to explore what a near future digital era would look like for designers:

Kiosk is a project that explores a near future scenario in which digital fabricators are so ubiquitous, that we see them appear on street corners, just like fast food today is sold in NY style mobile food stalls. A place where you can quickly get a custom made fix for your broken shoe, materialise an illegal download of Starck’s Juicy Salif orange squeezer that you modified for better performance or quickly print out a present for your sister’s birthday.

How does this scenario challenge our perception of authorship, originality, design and what is the role of the designer when goods are moved around in the form of digital blueprints and appropriated in ways beyond our control?

So, with 3D printers set to cost less than a PC by 2016, how do you feel about 3D printing changing the way objects are made? Would you mind if your artwork or design was reproduced in a 3D print replica and do you think there is a danger to anyone being able to create certain objects? Let us know.


I have had sculptures 3D printed. I think its great, its art for the masses where everyone can express themselves in positive ways if they want to.


Another means of production but if the artist signs the work then it can become an editioned work.

There is already a website offering printable guns... albeit single shooters. Funny but dangerous.

You wouldn't be concerned about 'Joe Public' owning screenprinting equipment; therefore I ask what is the difference here? In print circles, this is not much of an issue (people are more concerned with the possibilities this technology affords: the Royal College of Art being a prime example). This is an old subject, discussed back in the sixties as regards the definition of 'the original print' when photomechanical methods previously used for commercial printing were being employed in artist's editions. There have been various print councils' definitions drawn up about the originality question since then, which roughly consist of the following:

1) A print physically designed and printed by the artist.

2) A print designed and inscribed onto a printing matrix by the artist, but printed by a master-printer and studio assistants with the artist providing creative guidance.

3) A print designed by the artist and transposed onto the matrix by the master-printer, and printed by the master-printer and studio assistants, again with the artist in attendance, making creative decisions about the process.

4) A print designed by the artist and remotely submitted to the master-printer to be printed in his/her absence, and proofed and signed to edition. Henry Moore famously sent images drawn on transfer paper for his lithographs (to be chemically transferred, as did Philip Guston at Gemini).

5) A reprographic print of an existing image (say, a painted image) - essentially, in a modern context this is a poster. Sometimes these are sold as giclee prints in "limited editions" (which are not so limited), so watch out if you intend to buy. Sometimes reprographic prints may be approved by the artist, but this has not been common in the 20th/21st centuries! Reprographic printing after existing artworks was more a 19th century phenomenon before photographic imagery appeared in periodicals (so these were often line engravings).

6) A print made without the artist's approval and editioned. Sometimes artists' estates allow this posthumously, but it is treated by people in the original print publishing and print curatorial sectors with suspicion - often, these can be photographic giclee prints. Sometimes this may be a case of printing without the permission of a living artist, though this is rare. Hogarth famously suffered this, when his plates were continually printed, exceeding their original edition size (hence the Artists' Copyright Act Hogarth instituted). This is perhaps where there may be an issue concerning the replication of artworks via a 3D printer - however, it should be possible to discern the original and the replica, just as people can with, say, giclee print copies of original lithographs. The only difference is that we have new media to create a new kind of fake: once there was concern about photography, lithography, and screenprinting; now it is 3D printing. I think Walter Benjamin would be amused.

One more thing - I should ask, is the Cragg work a 3D printed one? I don't reckon it is, but please do correct me if I'm wrong!

Rachel Whiteread has produced stereolithographic (3D) prints, which are in the V&A (doll's house furniture), and Anish Kapoor printed with cement. See here:

The Centre for Fine Print Research at Bristol has worked on several 3D printing projects too. All very interesting...