Most people who have wondered if 3D printed sculptures are art have now realized that 3D printers themselves are simply tools, like paintbrushes, potters’ wheels and cameras.

With 3D printing, however, some people continue to fear that once artists create their original CAD designs, they will then simply print popular sculptures over and over, creating the sort of “copies” 2D artists make with offset prints and giclees. Many in the art world are bothered when artists offer inexpensive (or sometimes not so inexpensive) copies of their work this way.

For me, although it is, of course, technically possible to print multiples, whether to do so is really a philosophical issue. I had to consciously consider and develop this philosophy as a lodestar for my 3D-printed creations.

Sure, once a design has proven popular, I could simply reprint multiples, but that isn’t something I choose to do any more than I do it when I create sculptures in metal. In metal, it is a little trickier to recreate a form exactly, which would be quite easy with 3D printing. Still, I think there are issues for patrons if they feel they are not really buying an original.

My philosophy is straightforward, but took a little time to think through ….

Take my sculpture Sunscraper, which is shown below, right.

Printed in luminous yellow translucent filament, this 40″ tall 3D-printed sculpture sold before it even left my house, which is where my 8-foot-tall Cerberus 3D Gigante 3D printer is located and where I do all of my 3D printing. The man who bought Sunscraper didn’t ask any questions; he just wanted it. Like me and many others, he’d fallen in love (it always feels good when other people “get” my sculptures).

The sculpture then appeared in the show “Endless Line,” which was devoted to my 3D-printed sculpture. Again, the response was terrific – people just loved this sculpture. So do I.

But I won’t be printing any more Sunscrapers. It is unique, not a word I use lightly. I want my patrons to know they won’t walk into a friends’ home, an office, a museum or anywhere else and see exactly the same sculpture.

The beauty of working in CAD and 3D printing, though, is that I can do many things that  – like any art series – build upon a design.

For instance, I haven’t done it with this design yet, but I could print the same form in a different color filament.

I could apply a patina, paint or other type of embellishment.

I could even play with the CAD file, as I did to create the sculpture Scarlet Spires (above, right). (Actually, Scarlet Spires was my original design, which I initially printed in a smaller version on my Cerberus 3D 250 3D printer, and the design for Sunscraper grew out of it.)

And what if someone asks me to do an exact copy? The answer is no.

Here is my philosophy:

  • Each design may be printed only once in a specific size, filament color and filament type.
  • Any design may be modified, printed larger or smaller, printed in a different material or embellished, or any combination thereof.
  • The title of each sculpture can be vastly different or be a variation on that of the original print.

That’s pretty simple, but thinking it through has allowed me to proceed confidently – and to explain to anyone who is interested that when they buy one of my 3D-printed sculptures, they are getting a one-of-a-kind original.

That is probably important to them, and I know it is to me.