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Fast Forward to the Bronze Age?

3D Printing Bronze: How to Get Bronze 3D Prints

Picture of Benjamin Goldschmidt
by Benjamin Goldschmidt
Nov 1, 2019
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Need a bronze model that's hard to make using traditional methods? Check out some of these bronze 3D printing processes! You'll be glad you did.

Bronze 3D Printing Bronze Printing Basics

i.Materialise offers 3D printed bronze objects using the lost-wax method, as shown here
i.Materialise offers 3D printed bronze objects using the lost-wax method, as shown here. (Source: i.materialise.com)

Want your 3D printed object to be made of bronze? While it might seem hard to do, there are several options for turning your 3D print into a full bronze object. In fact, there are even ways you can 3D print bronze in the home setting.

Granted, if you need to 3D print bronze for a one-off project, the best option might be to use a 3D printing service. In that case, you might find it helpful to use Craftcloud, the 3D printing and price comparison service from All3DP. You’ll instantly find the best price and provider for your needs.

Now, let’s take a look at some bronze 3D printing processes!

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Bronze 3D Printing Method 1: FDM Printing

A bronze ring made from metal clay.
A bronze ring made from metal clay. (Source: pinterest.com)

There is, in fact, a way to directly print objects in metal. The Virtual Foundry offers bronze filament (Filamet) that allows you to print bronze on any FDM 3D printer. Once the object has been printed, it can be fired in a kiln to fuse the object into a solid metal part. This method does provide a very straightforward method of 3D printing a metal object, but some makers believe the filament is too brittle to print well. Additionally, the high price of the filament ($182 per kilogram) may be too pricey for larger objects.

In terms of directly printing, it’s possible to 3D print with metal clays, as well, which do come in bronze and work similarly to the Filamet product. The Mini Metal Maker is an example of one such machine, claiming to be able to print in metal clays that can be fused into real metal. Unfortunately, there’s no way to buy this machine, but the maker did write a book about how you can make yourself a DIY copy.

Price: $182 per kilogram, plus the cost of a kiln, or a few hundred dollars to DIY a Mini Metal Maker and kiln. Kilns typically range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

Accessibility: Despite the drawbacks of being expensive to normal FDM and the filament being brittle relative to other forms of 3D printing metal, this is one of the more accessible methods you can use to 3D print metal at home.

Performance: With these methods, features under 100 microns likely won’t show since they can be lost in the sintering process. However, the produced parts are 100% metal and retain all their physical properties.

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Bronze 3D Printing Method 2: Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)

DMLS uses high-intensity lasers to fuse metals together at high temperatures
DMLS uses high-intensity lasers to fuse metals together at high temperatures. (Source: atlanticprecision.com)

Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) is a 3D printing process that uses lasers to fuse metal powder together layer by layer to make a fully metal part.

DMLS machines are expensive devices that start at around $100,000 for a base model. In addition, the fine powder used in these machines is dangerous to breathe in. Therefore, stringent safety considerations like gloves, eyewear, and an appropriate method of recapturing the metal dust is required. Nevertheless, there are print-on-demand options where you can send your model to be 3D printed with DMLS technology.

Price: Depending on the geometry and complexity of the part, estimates can be over $1,000 per kilogram.

Accessibility: In terms of being able to print a DMLS part yourself, the accessibility is essentially zero since the machines are so expensive. However, you can get bronze parts printed using DMLS from a 3D printing service.

Performance: Layer thickness can be as low as 38 microns, with the final part having the same properties as the raw material.

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Bronze 3D Printing Method 3: Lost-Wax Casting / Lost-PLA Casting

To make a bronze object, create a plaster mold and burn out the PLA
To make a bronze object, create a plaster mold and burn out the PLA. (Source: mtyka.github.io)

Lost-wax casting is a process of creating a wax mold of an object to cast a metal version of the object. Many different metals can be used in lost-wax casting, and bronze casting is a popular use for this type of casting.

Lost-PLA Casting

Lost-PLA casting is nearly the same process as lost-wax casting except PLA is used in place of wax. Since nearly every FDM 3D printer can print in PLA, extremely intricate objects like a wedding ring can be 3D printed and cast using the lost-PLA casting method. The method involves the following steps:

  1. Design an object in 3D modeling software.
  2. Use the PLA object to create a plaster mold.
  3. Once the plaster mold has dried, put the mold into a kiln to burn out the PLA material and leave a void where you can then pour liquid metal.
  4. Once the PLA has been removed, pour liquid metal into the mold to create your silver object.
  5. Once the object and mold have cooled, you can remove the plaster mold and cut away the sprues (tubes of metal allowing you to pour the metal into the object) and sand and polish the object for use.
  6. Once this process is done, you should have a silver part with the same properties as raw silver would have.

It should be noted that this type of technique can lead to shrinkage of the part or loss of small features, as you’re using several mold steps. Compensate accordingly during the design of the object, especially if you need dimensionally-accurate parts.

Price: Several hundred dollars for a kiln, plaster, and the 3D printed parts, plus the cost of the raw bronze material.

Accessibility: This requires a kiln and casting experience.

Performance: A part can be printed down to 20 microns, but features this small may not remain after the molding process.

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Bronze 3D Printing Alternative Method: 3D Printing Service

This brass T-Rex head shows the detail you can obtain from lost-wax casting
This brass T-Rex head shows the detail you can obtain from lost-wax casting. (Source: i.materialise.com)

If you’re excited about getting your object printed in bronze but don’t want the fuss of doing it yourself, consider using an external company to get your object printed. The following companies offer DMLS or lost-wax casting:

Don’t know which to pick? Not to worry! Through Craftcloud, the 3D printing and price comparison service from All3DP, you can easily find the best price and provider for your needs. Using your designs and location, we offer real-time prices from major global and local providers. In addition to taking the work off your hands, you can benefit from professional quality, a wide range of materials, and round-the-clock support.

(Lead image source: madison.com)

License: The text of "3D Printing Bronze: How to Get Bronze 3D Prints" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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