Thursday, December 03, 2020

Create Your Own 3D-Printed Ancient Inscription Cookie Stamp

The intersection of classics and 3D printing has resulted in some quirky-clever mashups, most notably the famed Julius Caesar pen holder. We’ve gone into the history of this object over on our Twitter account, which reveals how internet collaboration and creativity can build on the work of museums and other institutions that have made 3D models of artworks available online (in this case, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which uploaded a 3D scan of their Renaissance-era Caesar bust as part of MiniFactory’s “Scan the World” initiative).

3D-printed Julius Caesar pen holder
The famed 3D-printed Julius Caesar pen holder,
adapted from a 3D scan of a Renaissance-era bust.
Unable to resist the allure of 3D printing—and inspired by the edible archaeology posts of Tavola Mediterranea, the CREWS project, and many other classicist bakers—I tried my hand at creating a 3D-printed Phaistos Disc cookie stamp. The files for printing this stamp are available at Thingiverse (a treasure trove of 3D print files that you can use and remix to your heart’s content—or perhaps, your 3D printer capacity’s content). While I certainly recommend exploring what’s already out there on Thingiverse and other 3D printing sites, what do you do if you absolutely must have a cookie stamp (or merely a 3D model) of that obscure inscription you love beyond all others?

Well, you’re in luck, provided you have a line drawing of your desired object. In selecting an inscription, think about size and how easy it will be to render the information into a new format. The Phaistos Disc is a little under six inches in diameter, which originally seemed to me like the perfect size to recreate in PLA plastic on a home 3D printer—and, incidentally, the perfect size for a cookie! Note that the disc has over 200 signs impressed on its surface, which is quite a lot of data compressed into a small space. Additionally, my final design also ended up being smaller than the original disc by about half, which further compressed the rather extensive amount of detail on the disc.  

Once you’ve selected your line drawing, it’s time to clean it up using a photo editing program: clean up entails eliminating excess shading or other “noise” that you do not want reproduced in a 3D print. You may also want to heighten contrast as well in order to create a cleaner vector file. As noted above, it’s important to think about how you are translating details from one medium to another. Particularly if you intend to create a cookie stamp, reducing detail will help when you actually attempt to make cookies. (As I quickly learned, cookie dough easily became trapped in the smaller crevices of my Phaistos, necessitating some impromptu archaeological work in brushing my artifact clean between uses.)

Before you can create your 3D model, you have one final step: you need to ensure that your line art is in the proper format. The online program you will be using to create the 3D print files requires an image in scalable vector graphics (SVG) format. There are many free online tools available to convert your file to SVG format; to find one, simply perform a search for “SVG file converter.”

Phaistos Disc cookie stamp design (with optional stamp handle).

With your SVG image file (digitally) in hand, it's now time to create your 3D design with Tinkercad, an easy-to-use free online tool. While creating in Tinkercad is fairly intuitive, the program also offers various tutorials and plenty of support to help you make your 3D inscription–related dreams a reality. If you are intending to print a cookie stamp, I would suggest focusing on a few elements of 3D design. What shape will your stamp be? Consider the shape of the original inscription and use that to inform your choices. Do you want the inscription on your printed object to be raised or to appear “inscribed”? Because I was planning to stamp my Phaistos Disc into dough, I raised the details on my design (which means that my stamp is the inverse of the original disc, which has the symbols pressed into it)—be sure to keep your final goals in mind as you design!

Once you’re satisfied with your 3D design in Tinkercad, you are ready to print. 3D printing is becoming more accessible than ever: printers are now fairly affordable for home use, but if you just want to dabble, look into whether your local library has a printer for patron use. If you are a teacher, your school may also have a 3D printer that you can use. If you’re wary of engaging in the actual mechanics of 3D printing, you can also use one of the many services that will print and mail you your 3D design.

While the Phaistos Disc cookies that resulted from my efforts may not have lived up to the high standards of internet critics, I greatly enjoyed combining my love of classics with crafts, both in terms of 3D design and baking. Of course, my failures in fully and accurately reproducing the intricate details of the Phaistos Disc in its ultimate cookie form suggests a lot about how size and material impacts an object’s appearance—as well as how easily information is lost and distorted as it is repeatedly translated from one format to another. In the future, I may investigate further by trying out different cookie recipes. The one I used was delicious, but had a very stiff dough. Comment below or send a message if you have any recipe recommendations!

The Phaistos Disc in its most perfect form: a lightly spiced, 
brown butter–based cookie. 

In a classroom setting, I could see a similar project raising important questions about how various inscriptions were originally created. Those that were carved into stone invariably look different from those stamped into clay. How did the materials used influence the original creators’ efforts? What is lost, gained, or preserved by translating the ancient inscription into a 3D model? What is lost, gained, or preserved in the resulting 3D plastic print?

You may also wish to explore 3D-printed models of ancient objects more broadly within the classics classroom. After all, physical models can often better bring the past to life, making the intangible tangible. If you’d like to explore this option, there are a multitude of existing designs available on Thingiverse that you (or your students) could print for classroom use. Many museums have uploaded 3D scans of their objects that you can freely print: try exploring the files uploaded by the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Art Institute of Chicago. Here are a few other select objects that would make a fantastic addition to any Latin classroom:


        –Amelia Wallace, Editor

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