IceRap – Water deposition for ice printing?

What if you could use water, straight out of your tap, as a feed stock for your 3D printer?

This is an idea that has been in the back of my mind for quite some time.  Obviously you couldn’t use liquid water directly, but would need to freeze it to form ice. If this could be done successfully with a respectable resolution then you would find that you have a cheap, near unlimited and environmentally friendly feed stock. Not to mention the crazy coolness of being able to sip your next Martini out of a cocktail glass made of nothing but ice.

The RepRap IceRap?

Obviously, your newly printed creation wouldn’t last long at room temperature and so would limit the useful applications drastically. Although it could be an alternative for test test prints of half finished models with out wasting filament. Parts could also be stored in a freezer until needed.

After a quick search it appears this idea has been considered before, as seen on the Future Tool Ideas page over at the reprap wiki. To quote from it:

“Water ice extruder

For mass-produced ice sculpture, individualized ice lolly, etc.”

That’s as detailed as it gets and so isn’t much to go on.

So how exactly could you ‘print’ ice? This is one possible solution that I have been toying with:

  • Step 1 – Create a sub zero (degrees Celsius) print environment.

Probably the most practical way of doing this would be to place the entire 3D printer into a walk in freezer or similar. Alternatively, an insulated build area such as Nopheads ‘wooden overcoat‘ or the Gunstrap’s insulated build chamber could be actively cooled. This could be achieved through the use of a conventional compressor based system scavenged from an old freezer, a thermoelectric cooler (Peltier) or through the use of dry ice/liquid nitrogen. The system used isn’t important provided the print area is well below freezing over the duration of the build.

  • Step 2 – Use your 3D printer to deposit fine beads of liquid water.

The idea is that you deposit a very thin bead of water onto your build surface is the same way that would extrude plastic. Once a layer has been laid down there would be a delay of a few minutes while it freezes in the cold build chamber. Once frozen, the next layer is deposited and the process repeats. By keeping the beads of water only a few millimetres in size surface tension alone should be enough to keep them in place. I suspect that even limited overhangs could be achieved. Once printed, a quick once over with a hair dry or heat shrink gun would turn the object clear.

So how would you deposit very small beads or even individual droplets of liquid water in a controlled manner? Well thankfully this problem has, for the most part, already been solved with Adrian Bowyer’s Reprappable-inkjet print head. This was inspired by a previous design by Johnrpm’s Piezo Printhead.


Adrian's reprappable inkjet.

A video of the print in action can be found here. With a little tweaking it should be possible to further reduce the size of the output nozzle jet to increase the printable resolution. It would also be necessaries to insulate the inkjet head and feed pipe to stop it freezing as it operates in a cold environment. Similar precautions would also be needed for the electronics and stepper motors if directly exposed to the cold. Condensation would be the real killer hear.

  • Step 3 – Get creative.

Add food dye for colourful creations! Include cordial in your water so you can print a tasty, lickable version of Andy’s face. Print your own spiral drink cooler that cools your drink as you pour it. Design an ice swan centrepiece for your next dinner party. The possibility’s are endless.

I have created a reprap Wiki page on the topic of 3d printing with ice which you can view or edit.


About Richard

I am a Materials Engineering working in the field of Magnetic Materials in Melbourne, Australia. This blog covers my personal interest in all things CNC.
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3 Responses to IceRap – Water deposition for ice printing?

  1. Erik says:

    Some guys at McGills have used the Fab@Home to print with water/ice:

    It’s definitely cool to use this for lost ice casting. It’s probably the cleanest burn-out you could get.

    • Richard says:

      Thanks for the link. Its good to see this is already being worked on, even if they are a little thin on details.

      I will update the reprap wiki page I made to include this.

      EDIT: I may have have been a little quick with the “thin on detail” comment. I just came across their Publications page on their website. That’s quite a bit of reading I have ahead of me.

  2. ganter says:

    This idea came originally from Professor Ming C. Leu, Missouri Science & Tech (former Missouri-Rolla) perhaps 10+ years ago. It is called “Freeze-Form Extrusion” process. I thought it is a patented process (but I can not find it). It is described in many RP or AM textbooks. Also, Leu has quite a number of papers on the process. Please check them out as you may find some useful information. ….M

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