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3D printing guide

Sugar 3d printing: the complete list of 3D printers and services 

For all sweet tooth lovers, today we will detail the existing solutions for sugar 3D printing or for ordering it. What forms of sugar are 3D printable? What technologies are used? Can we 3d print sugar at home?

After the article on chocolate 3D printing, we are tackling another pillar of baking: sugar!

Sugar is a great material, essential for making cakes. Sometimes called white gold, its use is often criticized.

 The role of sugar in baking

 Without wanting to get into controversy, it can however be said that sugar in itself is not dangerous, as long as it is consumed in reasonable quantities. Today, many pastry chefs devote themselves to de-sweetening traditional recipes, or else use less refined sugars.

  This is what sugar is used for in baking, it:

  • brings the sweet flavor.
  • softens the acidity and bitterness.
  • colors and brings a golden color to pastries during cooking.
  • increases the crispness.
  • feeds the yeast in yeast dough.
  • is a texture agent in meringues, sponge cake and cookies.
  • promotes the incorporation of air into battered dough.
  • Adds water or alcohol, it turns into syrup and is used to soak, soak
  • is used in the manufacture of sorbets (syrup)
  • decorate (icing sugar, royal icing, pulled sugar, pastillage)
  • is a preservative for fruits, jellies, jams, etc …     
Mixed with other ingredients

Sugar is very often mixed with other ingredients. But it can be used on its own to make decorations using its ability to become viscous under heat. 3D printing enthusiasts therefore worked on the different forms of sugar: icing sugar, powdered sugar, caramel, royal icing…

3d printed sugar by Culinary Printworks
An example of 3D printed sugar by Culinary Printworks

 The full list of sugar 3d printers

 Powder-based sugar 3d printers

 How to solidify a powder of sugar? 2 techniques have been mainly used in 3D printing

  • add a water-based liquid because sugar is soluble in water
  • heat the sugar in a targeted manner so as to make it liquid

 3D printing sugar by heating

Historically, 3D printing from powdered sugar has been a maker and designer business. Indeed, we cannot talk about 3D sugar printing without talking about Candyfab.

Candyfab is a hobby project carried out from 2006 to 2009 by Windell Oskay and Lenore Edman. The two researchers built a DIY powder printer with a head that blows hot air, which causes the sugar to melt in a targeted manner, in order to achieve each of the layers.

 tests of suger by Candyfab
 Demo image from the Candyfab’s website

This is an efficient process, but it does not allow perfect control of the shape of the 3D shape. Why ? If you take a good look at the photo above, you may notice that the sugar shrinks and forms a small ball rather than liquefying into a straight line.

Indeed, sugar has immense surface tension! We experienced this ourselves for a few weeks, when we wanted to make caramel with a laser cutting head.

Probably, you must have experienced it yourself when you cook dry sugar in the bottom of a saucepan, it forms little balls which then clump together. There, the same thing happens on the powder bed.

writing "baking" in sugar
Writing in sugar and then pouring caramel…

 If we were to compare this technique with a pastry process, know that we learn to pour caramel in an inscription made in a bed of sugar in order to create personalized decorations in pastry schools. To my knowledge, no one has ever poured caramel into a bed of powdered sugar layer after layer to achieve a 3D shape. But it might be an idea!

Binder-jetting sugar 3D printing

The technique of binder projection is commonly used in the world of 3D printing with various materials: gypsum, metals. This consists in depositing drops of binder on a bed of powder layer after layer, with a view to their solidification.

And you can use glue, wax, water … it’s also possible to add colorants. Binder projection 3D printing is thus the oldest color 3D printing technique. Several projects have been set up to adapt this techno to the food world.

In 2012, Kyle and Liz von Hasseln created The Sugar Lab, a design studio dedicated to 3D sugar printing. Then in 2013, the studio was bought by 3D Systems which created a culinary division. During CES 2014, visitors (and me in particular!) were able to discover the chefjet and taste their first sweet printing. In September 2020, the project finally announces the launch of a 3D printing service for sugar parts and an upcoming commercialization of the machine.

Exemple of sugar cake by The University of Toronto
 An example of sugar 3D printing by the 3DS Culinary Studio

At the same time, many fablabs and universities have adapted binder projection 3D printers to test other materials.

The University of West England, the University of Washington have done a lot of testing. In some cases, the results are even public. If you’re looking for recipes to test in your own powder printer, here are a few resources:

  • recipes from the Open 3DP department of the University of Washington
  • formulas tested and commented on the Reprap forum

After having reviewed the different 3D printing solutions based on powdered sugar (or icing sugar), I suggest that you take a look at cooked sugar!

liquid-based sugar 3D printers

 Do you know which property of sugar interests researchers the most? This is because sugar is perfectly soluble in water. Therefore, it is a perfect backing material for making biological prints. In addition, living cells love sugar and can use the material to perform certain chemical reactions. It is therefore a good candidate for 3D printing of organic tissue.

Also, when looking for liquid sugar 3D printing projects, we quickly come across applications related to living materials:

  • in 2018, the University of Illinois developed a printer for printing isomalt ribbons, which serve as a three-dimensional support for cell culture
  • since 2016, the Université de Laval has been working on structures printed in sugar for the construction of an artificial pancreas


And in video, what does it give? Here is a project carried out in 2012, (good news: open source plans are available through Thingiverse.) 

Finally here is a video from the University of Illinois whose experiences we cited above. 3D printing takes around 40 minutes.

Royal-icing (paste)-based 3D printers

As in the case of chocolate, in this category, you can find “general” dough extrusion 3D food printers and FDM 3D printers which offer special versions for food.

It is possible to easily make a paste based mainly on sugar, which can be extruded. The most known :

  • royal icing (a mixture of sugar and raw egg white)
  • fondant and sugar paste (a mixture of sugar and glucose syrup)
  • the meringue (a mixture of sugar and whipped egg whites)
  • honey and agave syrup are also sweetening liquids (chemically they are not sucrose and therefore they cannot be called sugars)

It is probably possible to print sugar paste on the majority of general-purpose food 3D printers. However, I decided to name the ones for which I found a photo.

  • Byflow was developed by Nina Hoff and Jacek. This versatile food 3D printer is well designed to make different 3D prints from extruded pasta. The site offers recipes and an online studio to support you.
     Printed pink meringue Byflow
 3D printed meringue by Byflow
  •  Bocusini by Print2Taste offers marzipan prints (sugar + almond powder)
 Marzipan print (sugar + almond powder)
 A marzipan printing example by Bocusini
  •    Zmorph offers a thick paste extruder to be mounted on its general machine. In 2017, they released this sample use to achieve sweet personalization.

 Sugar 3D printing at the Digital Patisserie

 After having reviewed the printers available on the market, I suggest that you tell you in a few lines about the experiences that we have carried out at the Digital Pastry Shop.

In the summer of 2019, we did quite a bit of 3D printing using a “syringe pump” system. And we restarted it to make the Rosette of Notre-Dame on the chocolate pie you can see in this video.

But to be honest, we weren’t happy with the results with a syringe plunger. This is what prompted us to imagine Cakewalk 3d and we have made dozens of 3D prints of meringue and royal icing with this simple device that mounts to any Cartesian FDM printer. It was much more satisfying!

It is necessary to deploy a high speed of extrusion to obtain satisfactory results but there is no longer the problem of having to manage the retraction / pressurization after having made a non-printing move.

Tart of chocolate with cream an/d Cakewalk 3d
 Royal Icing 3D printing with Cakewalk 3D

Finally, this sharing would not be exhaustive our tests with a laser cutting laser on icing sugar. Because of the surface tension we told you about above, we had great difficulty in obtaining interesting results. Here is a photo of my attempts to produce a surface by changing the parameters and as you can see, I had not found the solution yet!  

test with laser
  Tests of cooking sugar with a laser…. it’s not convincing! 

 We have summarized the technologies and 3D printers available for 3D printing sugar. Now let’s move on to the second part of this article: where to order 3D printed sugar?

 Sugar 3d printing services

So, curious about tasting 3D printed sugar? Several services have opened in recent years and offer their creation.

As discussed earlier in this article, Culinaryprintworks is the 3D printing service set up by the 3D Systems culinary studio. Based in Los Angeles, it primarily targets chefs and professionals and offers them applications in pastry and mixology.

3D print coktails by Devoray
 3D prints of cocktails made by the company Devoray using the binder jetting technique

 If you like cocktails, we suggest you check out the Canada-based devoray website. They have developed an innovation that allows them to 3d print cocktails ready to be infused into your glasses!

Do you live in Europe? 3Dchef.nl is a Dutch site that offers you to make designer cake in colored sugar.

In France, you can contact the company Tridifoodies which has developed its own binder projection printing process and offers different textures of sugar.

French Tech in sugar
 An example of sugar 3D printing by Tridifoodies

 Sugar 3D printing at home

So, has this article made you want to try 3D printing of sweet products at home? In this part, we share with you some tips based on our own experience.  

 Chocolate tart with sugar 3D
 

 Let’s talk of royal icing again…   

Already, it should be noted that we are a bit addicted to royal ice cream. If you are not familiar, it is a mixture of icing sugar, egg white and a little acid (citric acid or cream of tartar) in the following proportions:

  •  1% cream of tartar (or lemon juice)
  • 16% raw egg white
  • 83% icing sugar

Depending on the amounts you are preparing, you can mix all the ingredients in a bowl with a fork, or use your food processor fitted with a leaf.

You get a viscous paste that can be perfumed or colored. It is often used to decorate flat shortbread. Warning: it air dries quickly, so you better cover it with a film if you are not using it immediately.

The 3D printer is a mechanization of the classic pastry cone. Here are some constraints to take into account:   

  •   As the material is viscous, it is important to apply some pressure before starting
  • Not all 3D files can be printed. Because royal icing solidifies when it dries, but not quickly enough to build layers in most cases.
  • Also avoid 3D models that require supports, as you will never be able to remove them cleanly.
  • As with all food materials, there is no dedicated slicer. Allow time to play around with the settings.
  • A big cleanup of your favorite 3D printer is MANDATORY! Fat from engines doesn’t taste very good… and is sure to give you a VERY stomach ache.
  • Take your time to print very slowly. You must allow time for the viscous material to settle (think of honey drips on your toast). Our reference value is 15 mm / s.
  • Always allow space around your printer, an area that you can easily clean. Finding royal icing on your raspberry PI is surely not your goal …

 If you’re more fan of caster sugar

Do you want to print powdered sugar using the binder projection technique, but you do not have a suitable 3D printer? No problem, we have the solution. This is a maker project that will occupy you for many weeks!

We recommend that you watch the Oasis project on Hackaday which is really well detailed.

For those tempted by the impression of cooked sugar or caramel, there are instructions for the Baricuda Extruder Project on Thingiverse. We haven’t tried to do it ourselves, but there are detailed explanations.

In conclusion, there are quite a few possibilities to taste 3d printed sugar, even if it is less common than chocolate! Let us know your comments and your tests, we will be happy to add them in this article!

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