3-D Chocolate Printing: Coolest. Thing. Ever.

Chocolate printing, always a cool thing, has reached such rarified heights that we can now print 3-D choco-objects!

Confectioners have practiced basic chocolate printing for years, using images and messages printed onto chocolates with special edible inks and dyes. But oh, how far we've come recently.

Now scientists at the U.K.'s University of Exeter have developed a printer that can fabricate three-dimensional objects from nature's most perfect food. If that thought doesn't make your mouth water, then you're probably dead or hate chocolate (which are basically the same thing, yes?).

Three-D Printing

You might be surprised to learn that we've been able to print three-dimensional objects for well over a decade now. You can pop an arrowhead or Bob's face onto a little stage, take a holographic picture, and soon have a solid replica in your hands.

Most 3-D printers work by zapping a pool of special liquid or dust with a laser, and build the object a thin layer at a time. Obviously, this won't work for chocolate, so the clever lads at Exeter have figured out a slightly different way to do it.

Delicious Details

First, you load a three-dimensional image of the desired product into a computer program. It can be a photo, or a 3-D drawing like those produced in CAD programs. Then the printer basically spray-paints the chocolate item into existence.

The machine feeds molten chocolate down from reservoirs to nozzles that move around over a stage, precisely laying down the image. The stage moves downward a bit after each layer solidifies, allowing the printer to deposit the next layer... and so on.

It takes a while, but it just might be worth the wait if you can get the perfect chocolate. All you have to do is select the design details and chocolate variety. You can even send your design over the Internet to the nearest fabricator, and go pick your piece up later!

But Why?

You may wonder: why build a 3-D chocolate printer? Well, why did Hilary climb Mt. Everest? Because he could, you might say.

Actually, the technology has applications in materials design, and with some modifications might be used to manufacture objects out of plastic or metal. Want to spray-print a brand new TV remote? It could be possible in a few years.

Imagine boutique shops where you can get just about anything made -- and enjoy a much greater level of participation in the manufacturing process.

Bittersweet Reality

So, does this mean you can soon buy a 3-D choco-printer and print out your own Vosges bacon-chocolate bars or the latest Godiva selection? Well... no. Not yet. However, who knows what the future may bring?

Someday, our fondant -- er, fondest -- dreams may actually be achieved... and three-dimensional chocolate printing may become available at the flicker of a thought!