3D food printing – facts and future

* Corresponding author
Warsaw University of Technology, Faculty of Production Engineering, Institute of Mechanics and Printing,
Department of Printing Technology Konwiktorska 2, 00-217 Warsaw, Poland
Joanna Izdebska
3D food printing – facts and future
KEYWORDS: 3D printing, food printing, food components, printing technologies.
3D food printing is a rapidly developing market with huge potential. The article is an overview of the major
food components that may be printed now and the components which could be used in near future.
Besides, the technologies used for printing are described and key aspects of printing food safety are discussed. Moreover this article
makes an attempt at an introductory survey of 3D printers commercially available on the market and future projects in this area.
Additionally, advantages of 3D food printing are indicated. Furthermore the main areas where it is expected to be used are presented.
A few years ago the idea of the printed food on demand
seemed very distant or even abstract, taken from science
fiction films or associated with space missions. However,
changes in this area occur very quickly. Nowadays, thanks
to 3D printing technology both food and packaging can
be printed.
The PERFORMANCE project (Development of Personalised
food using Rapid Manufacturing for the nutrition of elderly
Consumers) is currently one of the more important initiatives
in this respect. It involves development of technologies
for 3D printed food and was finalized in October of 2015.
The Performance concept requires further development
in order to be fully introduced to commercialization,
but the products developed during the project will be
commercialized as standalone solutions. 3D printed
meals are designed for older people who have difficulty
swallowing and chewing (1). 15-25% of elderly people suffer
from problems with swallowing, which makes it necessary to
look for the techniques to adapt the food. Food in the pure
or pre-frayed form is a good option, but often does not look
too appetizing and attractive. New printed products with a
proper consistency and attractive design that imitate the
traditional meals may be a solution (2).
Extensive research is also conducted in the field of food
printing for space missions. Powders for printing used by
NASA have best before dates of 30 years (3). Another
potential purpose of 3D printing is the food sent to third
world countries. Fresh food is unfortunately prone to
fast degradation, but specially prepared for printing
“cartridges” can have a much longer shelf life and selected
nutritional compositions.
Agro FOOD Industry Hi Tech - vol. 27(2) - March/April 2016
It is hard to predict how the market will accept 3D printing.
Meanwhile, the pace of development and of course the
price depends on the interest of consumers and their
acceptance of new inventions. However, the 3D printer
that you can buy for the household, is already available
on the market. For the time being only simple things can
be printed, such as the compositions of up to several
components. Multimaterial printing is still in the early stages
of development (1, 4-5). Engineers will need to spend a
lot of time and work before one could print out a whole
hamburger with all its ingredients and taste (4). However,
work is in progress and the number of researchers interested
in the subject is growing.
3D printing (3DP) is a process for producing physical,
three-dimensional objects based on a computer
model. The model is created in the program for graphic
engineering (CAD) in the form of STL files. Initially, 3D
printing was applied for rapid prototyping, but now
with the development of technology it is also used for
manufacturing final objects. 3D printing is young, its origins
date goes back to the eighties of the twentieth century,
when Charles Hull developed a Stereolithography (SLA).
After that another techniques developed rapidly, for
example Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) or Selective
Laser Sintering (SLS) (6-7). The basic materials in 3D
printing are different kinds of plastic, but also metal,
resins, rubber, concrete, paper and composites, ex. wood
and plastic, plastic and plaster, as well as chocolate and
other food components.
Additive Manufacturing (AM) also known as Solid Freeform
Fabrication (SFF) or 3D Printing can be used in food printing,
as well as in other three-dimensional objects printing. AM is a
technology that build objects by adding layer-upon-layer of
materials. It reduces down time, the capacity utilisation and
overall operation costs (8). Three-dimensional food printing
is also known as Food Layered Manufacturing (FLM) (9). Not
only nutritional value and taste are important in the food, but
also its appearance. We would eat something with relish if it
looked attractive, the same ingredients in an unsightly form
would taste significantly worse. With 3D printing, you can
design and create new forms of food so far inaccessible or
difficult to prepare, among others openwork spatial solids, a
variety of geometric figures, carved ornaments or food logo.
In the printing process of food, it is important that the layer
has sufficient strength to maintain its own weight as well as
another layer without significant deformation and change
of shape. Heat from the laser, hot air, heating element, or
sprayed binder or solvent may be used for fusing and joining
layers. Powder can be sintered or molten or the material can
be extruded. 3D printing is to convert food in a semi-liquid,
pure or powder form to normal food form. Part of the food
after the printing process requires further processing such as
cooking, baking or frying (8).
3D printing allows us to prepare meals with the same
appearance, but with different nutritional value depending
on the individual characteristics of the person for whom they
are prepared. Knowing biometric data and health status, it
is possible to prepare personalized meals (3-4). Furthermore,
there is a growing need to personalize products on the
market for some time. The stores increasingly have separate
shelves with gluten-free, sugar-free, lactose-free, organic or
bio foods, etc. (10).
The following technologies are applicable to food 3D printing:
• fused deposition manufacturing (hot melt extrusion),
• selective sintering technology,
• powder bed binder jetting,
• ink-jet printing (2).
Fused deposition manufacturing involves applying material
extruded from the nozzle layer-by-layer, and the nozzle
may be heated. This technique is the most applicable for
3D chocolate printing, although other materials may be
used. The extruded material is heated slightly above its
melting temperature, to allow quick and easy cooling when
combined with the previous layer. This is the technology most
widely used for three-dimensional food printing. This type of
printer can be equipped with one or more extruders, which
enables simultaneous printing of several components. Also
dual-feed extruder may be used, which makes it possible to
obtain a third colour by an extrusion in correct proportions of
two materials with different colours (7).
Selective sintering technology is based on melting together
the particles of powder layer-by-layer. The most common
shapes are formed from sugar or powder rich in sugars.
A very thin layer of powder is applied evenly on the bed,
and with a heat source, which may be a laser or hot air
moving along the x and y axes; the particles are melted
and sintered together. The substrate is slightly lowered
and another layer of powder is applied and sintered in an
analogous manner. The process of applying the powder
and sintering is repeated to form the final product, which is
then purified from unfixed powder. Excess powder during the
process was a structural support. It is a technology that does
not require post-processes.
Powder bed jetting binder involves applying uniform layer
of powder and combining it using a liquid binder sprays. As
in the case of selective sintering technology, the process
is repeated until the final product, and excess powder is
removed. However, unlike the first technology, a finishing
process may be required, involving additional curing and
improvement of the connection layers.
Ink-jet printing technology used in the food printing is similar
to the traditional one used to print e.g. books, booklets, labels
in the industry, or ink-jet printers used at home or office, with
the difference that instead of the printing ink, the edible
ink is used. The print heads working in drop-on-demand
technologies are used (2, 7).
FOOD COMPONENTS FOR 3D food printing are solid or
semi-solid for extrusion or in the form of powders. Chocolate
is an interesting, commonly used material, creating great
opportunities in the market of personalized products. The
3D chocolate printing technology was developed at the
University of Exeter and is a quite well known material (1112). Frosting, cheese (13) and ice cream (7) are beside
chocolate other food components used for 3D printing
which do not require any finishing processing.
Components for food printing are divided into three
• natively printable materials,
• non-printable traditional food materials,
• alternative ingredients (2).
In the first group there are mainly materials directly
extruded from a syringe, such as chocolate, icing,
hydrogel, cheese, hummus, pasta dough, butter, jelly,
etc. However, these include also the materials in the
form of powder, such as sugar, starch, etc. Non-printable
traditional food materials include meat, rice, vegetables
and fruits. In order to make them suitable for extrusion
used in 3D printing, the hydrocolloids are added to these.
Xanthan gum and gelatine are examples of commonly
used hydrocolloids. Insect powder may be an alternative
additive, which was studied as a protein source to replace
traditional meat (2, 14-15).
An important point in food is mouth feels and its perceptible
texture. Different amount of hydrocolloids allows to change
the perception of food from smooth to granular and from
hard to soft (14). People (13) believe that printable food
material must be compatible with traditional techniques
of cooking (boiling, baking or frying). Traditional foods like
turkey, celery and scallops after grinding and modifying
by additives (agar for vegetables and transglutaminase
for meat) can be successfully 3D printed and subjected to
various processing steps.
The viscosity, consistency and solidifying are the properties
that determined the printability of food components.
Commercially available 3D printers are becoming available
on the market, although as with any technological
innovations, their price is still a little bit high. In 2012, the first
commercially available 3D chocolate printer was launched
officially to the market by a company the Choc Edge.
Agro FOOD Industry Hi Tech - vol. 27(2) - March/April 2016
Device called Choc Creator works in FDM technology and
creates 3D edible chocolate models. Melted and heated
in the syringe, the chocolate is applied layer by layer to
obtain the final product. Since then, new models were
introduced by this and other companies. For example an
improved model of the device is currently available on the
market, more reliable and easier to use. Its price is £ 2,380
Power WASP EVO is also dedicated to chocolate printing.
This is a printer at a price less than $ 1,000. Tests are carried
out on the use of other food components for printing on this
printer (18-19).
Another device for liquid mass extruding is Zmorph cake
and chocolate extruder. It is a very simple and cheap
solution (less than $ 350). It can be used in decorating
cakes. It can produce three-dimensional article or only
apply three-dimensional ornamental designs to an existing
product (18-19).
Another printer, currently in prototype phase, XYZPrinting
food printer should be available on the market in the
second quarter of 2015 (the launched date has since been
postponed). Its price was projected at around
$ 2,000 (20-21).
ChefJet series printers also were to be available around
the same time as food XYZPrinting printers. Depending on
the model their price was projected to be about $ 1,000
for monochrome printer and about $ 5,000 for a multicoloured one (22). When they were finally introduced to
the market, they turned out to be more expensive than
expected. Relatively high price compared to other printers
available may result from different technology (sintering),
and is the first commercially available professional 3D
printer able to create three-dimensional edible creations
with sugar with such high level of complexity. Printed
products may have different flavours, such as chocolate,
vanilla, mint, apple, watermelon or cherries.
Another sample of selective sintering technology which
is dedicated to building 3D prototypes from sugar is
CandyFab 3D printer. However, it is not designed for
printing edible items (14, 16).
In addition to printers dedicated to chocolate,
confectionery products and sweets, there are printers
designed for other food components available on the
market. Fab@Home 3D printer is a multihead printer and
can print using a wide range of materials – the only limit is
the ability to place food components in the syringe
(2, 4, 14, 23).
Another example is a Bocusini 3D food printing system,
which is a simple, economical printer, that can be ordered
now, and received after the shipping starting in March 2016.
Earlier prototypes have been sold. The company offers
thirty different cartridges with different products: sugar,
chocolate, sweet jellies, pastries and marzipan, cheese,
mashed potatoes and vegetables, as well as ground meat.
In addition to products in the form of flowers and figures,
the printer can create patterns and inscriptions on user’s
request. The cost of the printer is less than € 1,200 (24-25).
At the beginning of the year the presale of Foodini printer
produced by Natural Machines is also planned. The
expected price is approximately $ 1,500. The machine will
offer the possibility to apply a variety of products such as
meat, pasta, chocolate, cake or mixed fruit. The printer
is equipped with a 5 capsules that are filled with printed
material (18, 26).
These 3D printers are not yet widespread digital
gastronomy, but perhaps just the beginning of changes
that will occur in our kitchen. However, future changes
will probably not be limited to new ways of preparing
food, but also will include new food components used to
prepare meals. This is what for example Ikea started to
look into.
3D printing creates for example the possibility of replacing
meat protein in a diet by a protein acquired from raw
materials, such as beet leaves and insects, which now
not widely used due to our eating habits or a feeling of
disgust (27).
Among the advantages of 3D food printing, the following
may be mentioned:
• food personalization,
• meal composition adapted to individual diet,
• the use of new components, which are not used or are
not popular among consumers,
• ease and simplicity of preparation of meals,
• both aesthetic and functional customization can be
achieved at the same time,
• novel food textures,
• longer shelf life,
• ease of transportation even to the most remote corners
of the world or into space (NASA),
• new opportunities to create dishes, their artistic design creating culinary works of art,
• the ability to design your own food – being a food
• economical and efficient technique of mass
The future of 3D printing will be developed in the coming
years. Undoubtedly, food printing can have many
advantages, but whether the market is ready for such a
big change and the technology will grow fast enough are
the questions. Can the 3D printed food replace traditional
meals? Certainly not today, but it may already be an
interesting alternative to traditional meals, as well as an
edible decoration limited only by our imagination, difficult
or impossible to prepare in other ways. The rest is up to the
technology development, lower prices of printers, extent of
the food components palette useful for printing, as well as
development and availability of recipes.
An important aspect in the promotion of 3D printed food
may be the ecological and health aspects. Also it seems
to be the right solution to meet the needs of today’s
consumers, who increasingly have too little time to prepare
meals on their own, especially in small or single-person
households. In the future, ready, healthy meal, tailored to
their individual needs, will be waiting when coming home.
It will be prepared by a previously programmed device
thanks to 3D printing technology, or even the printers will
be programmed remotely via mobile phone, from office or
on the way home. Furthermore, no food will be wasted; a
portion will be one, fresh and prepared especially for us, at a
time when the need arises.
Agro FOOD Industry Hi Tech - vol. 27(2) - March/April 2016
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Agro FOOD Industry Hi Tech - vol. 27(2) - March/April 2016
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