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3D Printed Type Embosser: Revitalizing a Historical Artifact

Embossing is the process of printing relief images and text on paper and other materials by providing three-dimensional effects. The concept of the embossing technique can be traced back to letterpress printing around 1450 AD, years after the cylinder seal. The cylinder seal was invented around 3500 BC to make an impression on two-dimensional space, generally in wet clay. This project investigates how the ancient historical artifact—cylinder seal—could be revitalized using 3D printing. Digital technologies can help designers enhance the user’s physical experience. Notably, 3D printing can be an agent to not only to amplify visual and tangible interactions, but also bridging old and new technologies. 3D printing is one of the exciting digital printing methods of our time as it provides various advantages to designers, such as speedier iteration; single-step manufacturing; affordable production; and customization. The 3D printed embosser uses the same idea as the ordinary embosser. However, it has a modified mechanical system, like a cylinder seal, and a roll press to produce the pressure efficiently and to keep it portable. Unlike today’s digital printing, the embossing process is a rich and tangible experience, which is more intuitive and memorable. As a user turns the rolls, they can fully interact with the device with sightline into the process and physically feeling paper. The new embosser is portable and customizable, allowing it to be used for participatory activities at promotional events and campaigns. This project can also be implemented in both professional practices and educational settings. A new application of this design could be developed for people with vision impairment. This design methodology of revitalizing historical artifacts and printing techniques with 3D printing could be applied to various design projects.


Taekyeom Lee

Assistant Professor Iowa State University

Taekyeom Lee is an educator, researcher, and designer using the artist’s materials and artistic sensibility. He is currently an assistant professor of graphic design at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. His research explores unconventional methods for creating tangible type, graphics, and even designed objects with materials and techniques unique to typography and graphic design. He has infused 3D printing into his research and experimented with various digital methods and materials in 3D printing.