Silk-based bio-ink can be 3D printed at room temperature, could help advance tissue engineering

Sep 3, 2015 | By Alec

While lives are already being saved by quality 3D printing in academic hospitals all over the world, most of these cases involve 3D printed implants and replicas used to prepare for unusual surgeries. Doubtlessly, the real 3D printing revolution in the medical world is yet to come: bio 3D printing. Involving special bio-inks made from biocompatible polymers and cells, these could be used for 3D printing just about everything in the human body. And while most existing bio-inks are very limited in their usage, a team of scientists from Tufts University has now developed a silk-based bio-ink that is far more flexible and use and can even be 3D printed at room temperature.

For while the concept of bio-inks sounds fantastic – after all, 3D printing cartilage, blood vessels and even entire organs truly saves lives – the truth is that current bio-inks just aren’t very potent yet. Most of these inks with express 3D printing purposes in mind are made from a variety of materials, including thermoplastics, silicones, collagen, gelatin or alginate. While all have different properties, they share a few negative characteristics. For example, all are highly vulnerable and fluctuating temperatures, changes in pH values and even crosslinking methods – which are all crucial in their use – can also damage the cell structures that are 3D printed. This means that other materials need to be added to improve the bio-inks, and some have been successful with a number of additives, including cytokines and antibiotics, which can be useful to control cell functions or deal with infection dangers.

However, it is obvious that none of those options are really perfect, as what we need is a bio-ink capable of withstanding or not even needing fluctuating temperatures, changes in pH values and crosslinking methods. This has seriously stalled the advance of 3D bioprinting research. But now, finally, it looks like the solution has been discovered. To address the limitations of bio-inks, professor David L. Kaplan, professor of engineering at Tufts University, and his team turned to silk proteins.

With it, they developed a bio-ink that doesn’t even require these harsh processing conditions, but that can instead be simply 3D printed at room temperature. As they explain in a paper published in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering, they created it by combining silk proteins (which are biocompatible) with glycerol, a non-toxic sugar alcohol very commonly used by the pharmaceutical industry.

This created a biocompatible ink that was clear, self-curing, flexible and very suitable for a number of laboratory applications. It was even very stable in water, so very versatile. Most importantly, ‘[it avoids] the need for chemical or photo initiators,’ they write.

The research team behind this silk-based ink very optimistic, and have stated that it could be used in a variety of biomedical applications. As part of their research, they developed inks for specific 2D and 3D printing applications. ‘By varying the formulations the crystallinity of the silk polymer matrix could be controlled to support printing in 2D and 3D formats interfaced with CAD geometry and with good feature resolution,’ they write. Furthermore, the self-curing characteristic of this ink was optimized to enable to formation of structural and support materials during printing.

The hope is that these ‘biocompatible aqueous protein inks’ can now start a new wave of bioprinted innovation. Perhaps we won’t have to wait years before seeing some actually applicable medical results after all.

Posted in 3D Printing Materials

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These 3D Printed Carbon Fiber Shoes are an Engineering “Feet”

SilviaFado-HXX-shoe-8Fashion designers are navigating the gauntlet to test the limits of 3D printing, materials and style. Footwear designer Silvia Fado, working in conjunction with 3D printing experts HXX, decided the push the envelope to the edge by creating some outrageous shoes with carbon fiber.

Fado focused her efforts on new technologies and engineering, and that’s due in large part to her studies as an architect. Though she ultimately found herself more attracted to fashion, her designs for footwear exhibit the sort of structural considerations one might expect from a builder.

Silvia Fado

Silvia Fado

After studying traditional techniques for making shoes with one of the renowned footwear manufacturers in her adopted home of London, she went on to complete her Master in Fashion Footwear degree at the London College of Fashion.

Fado’s fascination with the relationships formed between the movement of the body and fashion or sports footwear design has led her to consider the philosophical and aesthetic consequences of changing the dynamics of those relationships.

Her initial investigations and designs looked at absorbing impact from a mechanical point of view, and she uses tools and techniques which range from traditional making to high-tech processes like 3D printing, laser cutting and CNC milling.

Her latest design, made for the South 36.32n, Fashion Festival in Cádiz, is called CARBONALISE, and it’s a collaboration between her workshop and 3D printing company Hxx, a group of engineers specializing in 3D printing.

SilviaFado-HXX-shoe-7-600x400This new prototype was developed with carbon fiber to provide both light weight and exceptional strength.

And that kind of functionality and design doesn’t come cheap. Fado says the custom shoes in the CARBONALISE line can take up their place in your closet for a rather premium £1,000 (or approximately $1,560).

Her Kinetic Traces collection also examined the relationship between the movement of the body and fashion footwear.

“The principal functions of footwear are often sacrificed in Fashion. This project brings Sports footwear fundamentals to high-end fashion. Sports footwear design is based on function and wearability, which are not features commonly applied in Fashion footwear,” Fado says. “I have been analyzing comfort elements in footwear, particularly impact absorption, shoe weight, traction (the relationship between shoe and surface) and upper durability. I sought to bring these concepts into the design of high-end women’s high heels.”

photo+2The shoes collections feature elements which account for internal movement into these structures, and Fado and her engineering partner developed various mechanisms to handle those movements. The mechanisms range from springs to rubber balls to pneumatic hydraulics and metal rings, and now, to carbon fiber.

The manufacturing of her shoe designs utilizes traditional making techniques such as leather work, traditional machining, metal work and wood shaping, but she also relies on rapid prototyping to create the 3D milled, laser cut and 3D printed elements of her footwear.

What do you think about designer Silvia Fado’s 3D printed, carbon fiber high-fashion footwear? Let us know in the 3D Printed Carbon Fiber Fashion Shoes forum thread on


Paper Engineering Revised & Expanded Edition: 3-D design techniques for a 2-D material

Paper Engineering explores graphic design that extends beyond 2D. From a simple fold in a letterhead to the structural intricacies of a pop-up book, the construction of a 3D paper object requires as much input as its surface decoration. This stylish and inspirational book unfolds the conceptual complexities of paper engineering, studying the techniques of eminent international designers. Case studies are illustrated with photographs of finished work, as well as detailed diagrams and commentary. Now available in a fully revised and extended edition, Paper Engineering also explores the functions of paper architecture in graphic design, ranging from greeting cards to invitations and from point-of-sale to packaging.

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Airwolf 3D Showcases High-Performance 3D Printers at USA Science & Engineering Festival

WASHINGTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Airwolf 3D will be showcasing its American-made high-performance 3D printers in Booth #3125 Hall C at the 3rd USA Science & Engineering Festival taking place April 26 and 27 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center here from 9am to 6pm daily.

Airwolf 3D has been encouraging youth and teaching teachers to build and operate 3D printers for the classroom for nearly a year. To demonstrate its commitment to the K-12 community, the company sponsored the 2014 Maker Challenge, a collaborative project of Career Technical Education of Orange County California that provided an opportunity for local students to participate in an integrated STEM design project.

For the largest science festival in the United States, Airwolf 3D will demonstrate how students can use 3D modeling and printing to design and build or significantly repurpose products that will solve problems, needs, or wants.

Airwolf 3D is noteworthy in that it uses its own 3D printers to replicate themselves nearly 24/7 at the company’s headquarters. Not only does this maintain quality control, it enables Airwolf 3D technicians to seamlessly refine and improve the machines. The process also acts as quality control (QC) to ensure the 3D printers perform flawlessly over long periods of continuous use.

Airwolf 3D’s flagship product is the AW3D HD that features a class-leading build envelope of 1,150 cubic inches (12” x 8” x 7”), making it ideal for large prototyping. Because the 3D printer is fully autonomous, no link-up to a computer is required. The AW3D HD 3D printer comes standard with Matter Control Pro host software and a six-month warranty. It’s compatible with both Windows and Mac computers and accepts 16 materials from multiple sources, making it remarkably cost efficient.

About The USA Science & Engineering Festival

The USA Science & Engineering Festival is the country’s only national science festival. It was developed to increase public awareness about the importance of science and to encourage youth to pursue careers in science and engineering by celebrating science in much the same way we celebrate Hollywood celebrities, professional athletes and pop stars. Lockheed Martin is the founding and presenting sponsor of the Festival, a grassroots collaboration of more than 1,000 of the leading science and engineering organizations. For more information, visit, connect with the Festival on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @USAScienceFest.

About Airwolf 3D

Airwolf 3D is committed to manufacturing high-performance 3D printers that are fast, affordable, durable and easy to use. All 3D printers are made in America, manufactured in the company’s 5,000 sq. ft. facility in Costa Mesa, Calif. Currently, Airwolf 3D printers can be found in engineering firms, government agencies and schools worldwide. For more information visit, telephone (949) 478-2933, email, or visit the company’s showroom at 130 McCormick, Suite 112, Costa Mesa, CA 92636 for a free demonstration.