3D Printing Light?! Yes!

Additive manufacturing has influenced, improved, and created a countless number of industries since its inception in the 1980’s. However – the ripple effects of 3D printing extend far beyond the improvement and design of a tangible object.

The Princess Leia Project proves exactly this point. The project, inspired by the iconic scene in the original Star Wars, wanted to make images like this a real possibility. Although we currently have the capability to make life like holograms, the Princess Leia message is no hologram. It is in fact a volumetric image. A hologram can only be seen from a particular range of angles while a volumetric image can be seen from virtually any angle with no distortion and continuity in its visual form from any perceived angle. In other words – an image that is taking up 3-dimensional space. Details of this process were recently published in an article on Nature.

The project is creating promising technology in which laser beams can trap a single photosensitive resin particle in air while a second set of lasers push light through the particle creating a movable point of light through space. These lasers can be moved and drive this particle through space creating a movable object.

3D printing or additive manufacturing has influenced this project by creating a launching off point on how to design and shape the object you’re seeing in air. This is essentially the 3D printing of an image in space with these light particles acting as the material.

As the particle is dragged through the air, it scatters light creating the image we can see from all physical angles. The improvement in this process is also having a symbiotic influence on innovating 3D printing.

As these images are created – they are to be done all at once from multiple angles rather than layer by layer - as with 3D printing. It is starting to shape the way we view the future of additive manufacturing and how the time-consuming process of printing layer by layer can be improved upon and adapted with volumetric imaging.

Although the image displays at the moment are small, more and more time and research is going in to increase and improve upon this process. We may be able to have full size volumetric images in the not too distant future – with 3D printing playing an important part in that process. Very awesome stuff!