The Digital Mine Part 2: From 3D Printed Ceramics to 3D Printing Jewelry

Ceramics? Huh? What the heck do they have to do with jewelry making? When they are 3D printed in front of you by Taekyeom Lee, ideas for 3D printing jewelry explode like fireworks inside your brain.

Since all of this is new, Lee has had to teach himself how to cobble together and make parts for a pressurized 3D printer that extrudes clay according to computerized designs. It and a couple of its siblings sit in his office at Appalachian State University, where he is assistant professor of graphic design. Unlike most ceramic artists, he does not have a studio.

Taekyeom Lee

Taekyeom Lee

Name: Taekyeom Lee, Boone, NC

Education: MFA degree in Graphic Design from the University of Illinois

Traditional Jewelry Making Experience: None!

Background: graphic arts, specializing in 3D typography

Secret Sauce: Lee has no formal training in ceramics, mechanics, building machinery or making parts. These are all self-taught skills, although he consults with fellow experts.

What makes him unique: Lee is the first graphic designer/typographer to work with 3D ceramics printing. This winter, I heard him give a presentation in the ceramics classroom at North Central Michigan College, courtesy of the Crooked Tree Art Center in Petoskey.

Inspiration: In 2015, Lee began building 3D computer-driven ceramic printers with off-the-shelf technology, so he could explore three-dimensional typefaces he was designing. These experiments morphed into small ceramic containers. Working with Bowling Green State University metalsmith instructor Marissa Saneholtz, he also experimented with 3D printing jewelry, specifically printing rings out of copper metal clay (above).

Quote: “Simply put, I made my own tools to make something I wasn’t able to make with my own hands . . . I made a prototype with an idea, tested the prototype, documented the result, and made another prototype. Much like other designers who highly value the power of the design process, I learn something from every failure and success.”

Software: Lee used Rhino to create the 3D model, converting the CAD drawing into a .stl file. The next step was to digitally “slice” his design with Repetier Host Mac, using G-code along an X-Y axis. Scanect software turned his design into a kind of balloon, revealing where data holes needed to be filled in, so he could make the shape digitally “water tight.” Controlling software, Open Source, created a “tool path” for the nozzle of the extruder to follow digitally.

3D printing jewelry ceramics clay

Bill Millar of Petoskey studies Taekyeom Lee’s 3D ceramics printer as it creates a small computer-designed pot in 10 minutes.

Printer: Lee bought a Delta 3D printer for about $300, then swapped out the plastic printer parts for an extruder system, which he developed through trial and error over a three-year period. Each ceramic pot is “coil built” by the extruder. In other words, an air compressor pushes slip from a pressurized tank through a fine nozzle operated by Lee’s computer.

But there’s more: During his demonstration at the college, Lee pulls out a hand-held $50 scanner. It is a black plastic rectangle with two eyes and a camera attached to his computer by yet another cord. He asks a member of the audience to slowly turn around as he holds the scanner in the air and aims it at her. Through various apps, she eventually appears on his computer screen as a 3D object he can rotate and add details to.

Idea: If you apply this technology to jewelry and use a conventional 3D printer, her 3D twin could be scaled down, printed out, and cast into a sterling silver charm. Imagine such personalized 3D printing jewelry!

What’s Next? Lee is generous in sharing his technology. His goal is to produce research papers, which help put him on a tenure track. “I am an educator, who likes to share what he has learned so far. For me, that is the reason to become an educator. I am always looking for opportunities and venues to show my research.”

Read part one of Betsy’s series on 3D printing jewelry and finish with part three.

Betsy Lehndorff has been writing for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 2010. You can reach her at


Learn more about metalsmithing, including special techniques like 3D printing jewelry, in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine!


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