The physical design world has arguably been rocked by the emergence of the 3D printer. The 3D printer is a fantastic piece of technology, allowing many plastic models to be manufactured very quickly in an affordable way, enabling us to make rapid prototypes for different clients’ needs. Because of the rise of new types of design technology, it might seem hard to see the contemporary relevance of traditional model making methods.
However, 3D printers are but one tool at a designer’s disposal. Any good designer knows that they can’t restrict themselves to a single mode of design and must choose their methods appropriately. This is why traditional model making is still very relevant to modern design work.
A quality service
The beauty of 3D-printed prototypes is that they can give you a good feel for how a certain product might end up. However, 3D printers exclusively utilise a plastic filament to print different items with. Computer-aided designs are printed directly through the machine, as you might know.
However, this places certain limits on the end product. Firstly, it severely restricts any variations in texture and colour. Traditional model making, on the other hand, allows for a vast range of different base materials, including wood, metal, plastic and rubber. Because traditional model making is often done by hand, it means a traditional model can be made to a much higher and more diverse standard, whether the model requires different textures, colours or materials.
Secondly, 3D-printing offers the designer less control over the end product. 3D printers obviously have the potential to be much more accurate than traditional model making, but as anyone who owns one will tell you, they have to be perfectly calibrated and very often require several attempts in order to end in a more precise product in line with the original design. This is largely due to the infancy of 3D printing technology. As one academic commentator, Bjarki Hallgrimsson, has said: ‘The promises of 3D digital printing, make this whole process sound very easy. “Need a replacement part for a product? Just print it”. These kinds of statements undermine the deep learning and appreciation of geometry, which design students need to develop in school.’
With traditional model making, however, designers are more involved in every minute detail of the production process. The methods of traditional model making have evolved over many decades, and it is the area in which many professional designers are most experienced. You can more or less guarantee that the measurements and complexities in a traditional model will be much more accurate and of an overall higher standard. If there’s a mistake or problem, the designers are able to flex their creativity and come up with real solutions without having to totally re-design the model in a way that isn’t as possible with 3D printers. If you’re in need of a larger or more conventional model, traditional model making might just be the key to a higher quality end product than one produced by a 3D printer.
Environmental sustainability is an important consideration in any design work, and traditional model making is no exception. 3D printers have the potential to be much more eco-friendly than they currently are, but because of the filament they use, there is still room for improvement.
Traditional model making often involves the use of a wide range of different materials, all of which the designer can source ethically and responsibly. Wood is a particularly good example. Overall, designers have much more control over what goes into the product as they are not necessarily relying on an environmentally-unfriendly base material (such as plastic filament) produced by a third party.
A model making service worth considering
If you’re looking for maybe one or two high-quality prototypes, traditional model making still has the edge over 3D printing in that it allows for much greater customisation and control over the production process. Of course, 3D printing is still very important, particularly when mass-producing plastic models and rapid prototyping. However, traditional model making still has the edge for certain applications, providing end-users with a unique product of professional quality.