What can you do with a 3D printer?
It’s a question I hear a lot, and there are many answers. But the most delightful application I’ve encountered so far came in the form of a thin, round disc–a record. This week, I slipped on a pair of headphones at Autodesk’s Pier 9 makerspace and early-’90s grunge eked out over a background of scratchy crackles: “Load up on guns, bring your friends/ It’s fun to lose and to pretend.” Nirvana. The band, I mean.
The record was printed by Amanda Ghassaei, a software engineer who works for online DIY-haven Instructables. Since she first posted her method for making the records on Instructables, it has garnered international attention. So much so that Bloc Party lead singer Kele Okereke announced he will use her method to 3D print records of a new song he is releasing next week.
Ghassaei decided to 3D print a record after a set of top-of-the-line Stratasys 3D printers arrived at Pier 9. The printers are very high resolution, so she decided to see just how high of a resolution she could coax out of them. Printing the tiny ridges that line records would be a great way to do so.
But first, she had to figure out how to use software to create a printable design. Records are so complex that it would be impossible to design one by hand. Ghassaei decided to write a script that would automatically turn a music file into a record design.
After a lot of trial and error, Ghassaei was ready to try her first 3D printed record (“Debaser” by Pixies). It worked.
“That was a pretty good moment,” she said.
She didn’t stop with 3D printed records. Using a laser cutter, she also made wood, vinyl and paper records. They sounded more scratchy than the 3D printed records, but that’s likely because heat from the laser cutter warped the records as it carved them. Radiohead’s “Idioteque” actually sounded pretty natural over heavy scratching.
Ghassaei said the instructions posted to Instructables are meant to be thorough enough for anyone to make a 3D printed record, but it still requires some serious work to go from song to plastic disc. She also said you need a high-resolution printer to make it work; a MakerBot isn’t enough.
Ghassaei said she isn’t sure that home 3D printers will ever be good enough to make printing records a common activity, but she could see bands following Okereke’s lead and using printed records for promotional records. They could print a unique record for each person that orders one, for example. In the end, she hopes that people who see the Instructables page are inspired or just learn something new. Even if people don’t have personal access to a high-end printer, they can use one of the multitude of online printer services to order their own record design.
Okereke recorded the song, “Down Boy,” with the help of singer Bobbie Gordon. It will be available as a 3D print December 13 and 14 in London and all proceeds will go to charity. Ghassaei actually never managed to fit an entire song onto a record on her own, so “Down Boy” is the first-ever full song to be 3D printed.