My wife and I are fans of Cupcake Wars on the Food Network, so when I saw the Sugar Lab I was fascinated. The company started when Kyle and Liz von Hasseln were graduate students without an oven to make a cake for a friend, so they decided to 3D print some cupcake toppers instead. They were a hit and everything started rolling from there.
Here’s some answers to frequently asked questions Liz graciously provided:
As for the actual printing process, if you’ve ever made frosting and left the mixing bowl in the sink overnight, you know that moistened sugar gets quite hard. That’s the underlying concept of 3D printing with sugar. We use a mixture of water and
alcohol, applied very precisely in a layer-wise manner, to selectively wet and harden the sugar substrate. The process is fundamentally similar to other 3D printing applications, we’ve just optimized the process for resolution and strength with sugar, rather than with a standard 3D printing material.
How long did it take to perfect your technique?
We’re been trouble-shooting and optimizing our process of 3D printing sugar over a period of about two years now, although that timeframe overlapped significantly with a fairly demanding masters of architecture program. We’ve been working on the Sugar Lab full-time for the past six months or so.
Are there any limitations to what you can create due to the properties of sugar? How does the material influence the way you design?
There definitely are design limitations. Sugar isn’t as strong as 3D printed plastic, for example, prints that are too top heavy could break under their own weight. Our backgrounds in architecture have helped us develop design instincts for merging structure and facade within a single 3D printed sugar sculpture. There are also more secondary design elements related to 3D printing sugar like color, taste and surface texture that come into focus when you work with sugar. People have expectations about what food looks, tastes, and feels like, and its really important to hit those notes, otherwise you have a cool design, but it might not look like dessert.
They’re now working on this full-time, we wish them luck and look forward to seeing where it goes!