At this point, some sort of 3-D-printing explosion seems like an inevitability, with desktop machines getting cheaper and more functional at a rapid clip. But we’re still only starting to grasp what that revolution will mean. Certainly, for independent designers and artists, rapid prototyping will continue to be an invaluable resource. And we’ve seen how agile companies can adopt the technology in novel ways, like letting customers print accessories at home, free of charge.
But as shown by a recent project from Instructables employee Amanda Ghassaei, 3-D printing may not only be useful for bringing new objects to life. Her 3-D-printed records show the technology’s potential for revitalizing forgotten objects and products that companies have long left behind.
On Instructables, Ghassaei posted an in-depth breakdown of how she turned digital audio files into real, 33 rpm records, playable on standard turntables. Using the open-source language Processing, she created an algorithm that analyzes a given audio file and translates it into the groove, of varying depth, to be printed on the record. "This way," she explains, "when a turntable stylus moves along the groove it will move vertically in the same path as the original waveform and recreate the original audio signal." The audio from the resulting piece of printed media isn’t pristine by any means—the tracks by New Order and Nirvana sound like they’re being intercepted fleetingly from some underpowered college radio station a few cities away—but as a proof of concept, they’re undeniably interesting.
Ghassaei made her records with Objet Connex500, which offers some of the highest resolution 3-D printing available, and in all, she says, each record used around $200 to $300 of resin. So, sorry, you probably won’t be using your MakerBot to fill out your Sarah Records collection anytime soon.
Still, Ghassaei says she’s already working on tweaks to her process that might allow for higher quality audio—things like using a thicker needle and higher rpm on the turntable—and she suspects that even lower-resolution consumer printers, like the MakerBot, might be able to use the same technique to churn out records that are at least recognizable. And even in its primitive state, Ghassaei’s project has caught people’s attention. "I’ve already had quite a few inquires from labels/artists about the possibility of 3-D printing one-of-a-kind, customized records or even special promotional releases," she says.
Despite being on the cutting edge of the available hardware, Ghassaei writes, her Objet printer "is still at least an order of magnitude or two away from the resolution of a real vinyl record." But as they continue to improve, don’t be surprised to start seeing some rare vinyl crop up that isn’t made of vinyl at all.