3D printed hair

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon have developed a system for 3d printing soft strands of realistic looking hair for printed objects. The hair can even be brushed, cut, curled and braided.

The system includes a FDM 3D printer (the most affordable type of 3D printer in today’s market) along with a special program that extrudes small amounts of plastic and then pulls away, creating a string-like ‘hair’. The technique was inspired by the operation of a handheld glue gun, whereby hair-like strands are unintentionally formed after pulling the nozzle head of the gun away. “You just squirt a little bit of material and pull away,” said Gierad Laput, one of the PhD students who developed the technique. “It’s a very simple idea, really.”

The problem the researchers here faced however is that a 3D printer head cannot move up rapidly like a glue gun. 3d printer beds however can move quickly from side to side. By extruding the molten printing material and ten moving the print head and the print bed sideways, the researchers were able to replicate the functioning of a glue gun and create hair-like printed strands as a result. The software program allows the individual hairs to be customized in terms of colour, density, thickness etc. and the resulting hairs are strong enough to be used as bristle on a broom or brush, a customized troll doll or even human wigs and toupes (although the process of doing so is still incredibly time consuming).

The researchers here print the hairs with PLY (polylactide), a common material for their project. However, in the future, Laput explains that ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) might make it possible to create magnetic hair, or hair with other interesting properties.

You can watch the team’s video explaining their work here.  The full method is described in detail in the paper “3D Printed Hair: Fused Deposition Modeling of Soft Stands, Fibers and Bristles” by Gierad Laput, Xiang ‘Anthony Chan and Professor Chris Harrison.

The research was supported by Google, Yahoo!, Qualcomm and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.