Facade Printer Inkjets the City

By Tiffany Chu / Published by Dwell
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Touted as 'an inkjet printer in architectonical scale,' the Facadeprinter works by taking a vector or pixel file, and 'shoots' it dot by dot onto a vertical surface.

The German design trio has essentially combined a two-axis turntable with paintballs -- the 17mm balls are shot with pressured air up to 200 kilometers per hour, and upon collision the shells burst and create an explosion of color. From a position of 12 meters away, the facade printer can print an area up to 8 by 10 meters, made up of dots between 5 and 10 cm in diameter.

Having often seen the morass of shells left behind post-paintball session, I was curious about the waste that this machine creates. Apparently, the shells are made from gelatine, so they can be easily cleaned up or left to decompose naturally by the rain. The balls themselves can have different lifespans: they can be starch-based, which desaturates soon afterwards, or wax-based, whose results are durable up to two to four months, depending on weather.

Any surface that is stable enough for the gelatine balls to burst can be printed on -- concrete, plaster, brick, steel, glass, particularly unreachable, uneven surfaces, which can alter the colors and the viewer's perception of typical 'graffiti'. The designers, who hail from Karlsruhe and Berlin, have groomed their machine to function for installations, live performances, street marketing, even potentially large-scale communication during a crisis.

This project also reminds me of Nike's Chalkbot, a machine that printed messages on the street for the Tour de France, or Contrail, Studio Gelardi's concept for bicycle wheels to draw paths on the pavement. Yet these shooting balls empower graphic designers to move from a 2D to a 3D realm as well, speaking more towards a method of digitally producing architecture and spaces, alongside advancements in CNC milling, the Shopbot, 3D printing, and more.

Armed with the Facadeprinter (it's available for bookings, but not yet for purchase), you can forget all about sticker paper and that laborious Kinko's trip. Now anyone can prowl around the urban fringes, hide under a black hood, and become a digital Banksy.

Tiffany Chu


Besides writing and designing, Tiffany Chu's passions include photography, cartography, and all things Scandinavian.

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