There are many misconceptions about the use of 3D printing for jewelry. One thing can be said for sure – this technology has changed the rules of the game for everyone who has anything to do with this industry. Learn why jewelers and goldsmiths from all over the world have fallen in love with this technology and why it is considered even better than CNC machining in some cases.
Is it possible to use 3D printers for jewelry manufacturing?
You may have heard that 3D printing is widely used in the manufacture of jewelry but are you familiar with the reasons why though?
It actually has nothing to do with direct metal 3D printing technologies as most people would think. Although it’s possible to use direct metal printing, the costs are simply too high and therefore majority of goldsmiths prefer using other options. So, let’s find out how additive manufacturing can help. First of all, let’s take a close look at the traditional ways of manufacturing precious items that are used by jewelers from all over the world. We will skip the technical details describing the primary processes. The frequency of actions can be seen in the infographic below.
How to 3D print Jewelry?
1.Master design (Jewelry model)
First, the master model is made. Usually it is made manually by modeling clay or special wax.
2. Making the press form
Using the master model, a press form is created. The master model is covered with a liquid. After it’s hardened, the object is halved. Now it is possible to create intermediate wax models for casting.
3. Intermediate model
Using a special wax and press form, the intermediate model is made.
4. Making the casting mold
The intermediate model is covered with gypsum, that’s how the casting mold is made.
5. Casting the piece
After hardening the gypsum inside the mold, the liquid metal is poured. It replaces the wax.
6. Post processing
The final item is carefully taken out, mechanically handled and polished.
So, what does 3D printing have to do with this complicated process? Well, some of the stages are simplified with the help of additive manufacturing. New technology has made the process much more faster and cheaper. In cases of complex objects, it can be considered revolutionary.
Direct 3D printing of the master model
Businesses using high precision 3D printing technologies such as SLA (Stereolithography) and DLP (Digital Light Processing) gain a competitive advantage over their rivals who continue to stick with traditional manufacturing methods. With 3D printing, making the master model has become easier than ever before. There is a special resin that can be molded as a regular wax. This helps to save time as it is much simpler to make a digital 3D model and then 3D print it. SLA and DLP 3D printers use laser/light projections that can form tiny elements which are difficult to even near impossible to achieve manually. Such machines solidify resin layer-by-layer, eventually forming amazing and high-detailed objects. With further advances in technology, such devices are evolving to be even more precise, efficient and cost-effective. In addition, customers can see and hold 3D printed prototypes and request changes before jewelers commit to the manufacture of the final product.
3D printing the wax model for casting
3D printers that are capable of making a model directly with a castable material like wax are extremely popular amongst jewelers. Making such intermediate models can save time and money by shortening the technological process. Thus, one needs less time for the finished product. Sometimes, the item can be so complicated that making a press form and intermediate model is impossible. In such cases, only 3D printing can help.
Is it possible to 3D print gold?
As mentioned already, 3D printing serves to optimize the casting process and should not be seen as a total replacement. The process of making jewelry with the help of 3D printing shouldn’t be confused with direct 3D printing in metal such as DMLS (Direct metal laser sintering) for example. In the latter, the object is formed using metal powder and using gold or other precious alloys is much too expensive. Furthermore, the minimal size of elements for direct metal 3D printing shouldn’t be less than 1-2 mm whereas jewelry usually contains many small elements. However, 3D printing in precious metals is still practiced. For example, designer Lionel Theodore Dean made a series of golden adornments with 3D printer for metal.
To sum it up, 3D printing makes jewelry much more affordable. This technology can be supplemented by the traditional methods of manufacturing that are already in use by jewelers such as CNC machining and milling. Many customers like buying unique pieces that were made on request rather than regular goods from the shops. Some jewelry entrepreneurs make all their products on demand. Before the customer chooses the item on the site and clicks the “Order” button, the product doesn’t exist. So, the jeweler doesn’t have to spend extra money on showrooms or expensive storage facilities. Meanwhile, the cost of SLA and DLP 3D printers capable of 3D printing in castable resin continue to become less expensive every year, whilst the quality becomes higher and higher. It’s important to note that it’s not just the machines that you need, but a high-skilled operator too. In case you are not going to spend money on a new 3D printer and expand your staff, you can order that particular piece that is made as a wax model through Treatstock. Our new 3D printing services directory, among other options, makes searching for local 3D print shops capable of such work easy and convenient.
Using CNC and 3D printing for Jewelry
Jewelers all over the world use different methods and technologies in their work. Both CNC processing and 3D printing can be beneficial for goldsmiths. Let’s consider the benefits and advantages of each.
CNC for Jewelry
- Desktop CNC machines cost less than SLA/DLP printers
- Solid wax is cheaper than liquid polymers used in 3D printing
- Special skills are not required
3D printing for Jewelry
- 3D printers can produce extremely complicated shapes and geometric forms that cannot be produced using only CNC
- SLA and DLP 3D printers can “grow” several wax patterns at the same time
- Speed of manufacturing is much higher in comparison to other methods
In summary, the choice of CNC machining or 3D printing depends on what kind of product you need to create. If you need to make relatively simple shapes like rings or bracelets, CNC is usually suffice. Goldsmiths state that 4- axis and 5-axis machines generally can fulfill most functions of a 3D printer. Besides, solid wax that is used for machining costs less than special castable photopolymers for 3D printing. However, when one considers very small and delicate work that can be only be done manually, you can use all the potential of SLA and DLP printers. We have professional service providers that are able to help deliver your project at extremely affordable prices. Search and compare prices using our user-friendly directory with filters designed to help you find the best manufacturer for your needs.