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CLIP 3D Printing Technology: Objects Created in Liquid Resin

Linda Crampton taught science and information technology to high school students for many years. She enjoys learning about new technology.

The TED conference is held in the Vancouver Convention Centre at Canada Place.

The TED conference is held in the Vancouver Convention Centre at Canada Place.

A New Method of 3D Printing

A new and impressive method of 3D printing was introduced at a TED conference in Vancouver. It's now available commercially and is continuing to improve. The technology uses ultraviolet light and oxygen to create an object from a pool of liquid resin. As shown in the videos below, the object appears to "grow" from the liquid, reminiscent of the creation of the T1000 from the Terminator 2 movie. In fact, the former CEO of the company that created the technology says that he was inspired by this movie.

The new printing method is known as CLIP, which stands for Continuous Liquid Interface Production. CLIP enables strong, functional, and attractive objects to be printed rapidly in an all-in-one process. In other 3D printing methods, a medium is deposited in layers in order to gradually build an object. This process is known as additive manufacturing.

Printing an object by additive manufacturing can be a time-consuming process, taking hours or even days to complete. In addition, because the object is made of layers that are fused together, the final product sometimes lacks strength. The layers may be visible in the final product, giving the object a banded appearance. CLIP can overcome these problems.

Printing a Lattice Shape With CLIP Technology (7X Speed)

The Carbon Company

The CLIP technology belongs to a company known as Carbon, which is based in Redwood City in California. The company was formerly called Carbon3D and still has the official name of Carbon3D, Inc. Based on the staff descriptions on the company's website, Carbon is run by some highly qualified and experienced people. The company has been in operation since 2013 but kept its endeavours secret—or at least unpublicized—until 2015.

The original CEO of the company was Joseph DeSimone. At that time, he was on leave from his job as Chancellor's Eminent Professor of Chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He's now a Stanford professor. He's no longer the CEO of Carbon 3D, but the company's website says that he's currently the Board Chair. He's said to be very knowledgeable about polymers. His team at Carbon consisted of chemists, engineers, computer scientists, and business people.

Chemistry, engineering, and computer science are involved in a CLIP printer's action. The object is created by starting and stopping chemical reactions. The equipment that allows this to happen is an engineering feat. The instructions that "tell" the equipment what to do are provided by a computer program.

We think that popular 3D printing is actually misnamed—it's really just 2D printing over and over again.

— Joseph DeSimone, former CEO of Carbon3D, Inc.

Printing a Mini Eiffel Tower in Six Minutes

Printer Structure and Basic Function

In CLIP technology, a build platform moves upwards, pulling an object with a specific shape out of a container of liquid. The liquid is a resin that is curable by UV light. The term "curing" refers to the hardening of a liquid by the formation of polymers, or long chains of molecules, and the creation of cross-links (bonds) between the polymers. Curing is triggered by the addition of energy, such as ultraviolet light or heat, or by the addition of certain chemicals.

At the bottom of the container of liquid resin is a transparent membrane, or window, that is permeable to oxygen. Underneath the window is a projector that emits ultraviolet light. The Carbon company likens the window to a contact lens, since it allows both light and oxygen to pass through it and enter the resin.

The combination of ultraviolet light and oxygen allows a 3D object to be created. The UV light triggers polymerization and the creation of cross-links in the resin, which causes solidification. Oxygen has the opposite effect. It stops the formation of polymers in the liquid resin immediately above the window and prevents solidification in that region.

The TED conference in Vancouver generally takes place in the spring.

The TED conference in Vancouver generally takes place in the spring.

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CLIP 3D Printing in More Detail

The creation of an object by a CLIP printer involves the following steps.

Image Projection via Ultraviolet Light

A continuous sequence of cross-sectional images from a 3D graphics model is projected into the resin. The images are sent in the form of UV light patterns.

A very thin layer of resin just above the window in the liquid resin container is rich in oxygen. The oxygen-rich layer doesn't polymerize as UV light passes through it and is referred to as the dead zone. The resin above the dead zone lacks oxygen and does polymerize when the light strikes it, forming a solid according to the shape of the projected UV image.

The Flow of Liquid

The solid is slowly pulled out of the liquid as it forms. The suction forces that are created by this movement cause more liquid to move into position below the object. This means that the object that is being printed can be much taller than the depth of the liquid.

Prevention of Banding

Due to the oxygen-rich resin at the bottom of the container, there is always liquid below the solidifying object, so the object doesn't stick to the bottom of the container. In addition, the object is both created and pulled upwards continually and smoothly without any pauses. These factors help to prevent the formation of layers and bands in the finished product.

The Baking Process

Once an object has been printed, it's baked in a forced-circulation oven. This triggers a new chemical reaction that strengthens the object. The process is known as thermal curing. The double curing process involved in CLIP printing technology is said to produce an engineering-grade material.

The western building of the Vancouver Convention Centre is located at Canada Place, which is located next to Burrard Inlet and a pier with a promenade.

The western building of the Vancouver Convention Centre is located at Canada Place, which is located next to Burrard Inlet and a pier with a promenade.

Potential Benefits of the New Technology

CLIP printing is 25X to 100X faster than related printing techniques. (The process may eventually reach 1000X times faster than conventional 3D printing.) This is a highly significant increase. It should end a lot of the frustration created by the time needed to produce a three-dimensional object. It should also greatly increase the number of applications for 3D printing, allowing custom-built items to be printed whenever we need them.

In addition, the all-in-one printing method should create a stronger object, depending on the printing medium that's used. Printed parts have consistent properties and look much more like injection-molded parts than the usual 3D printed items.

The new technology can also make flexible and rubbery objects. For example, Carbon is involved in the mass printing of the 3D midsoles for the Adidas Futurecraft 4D shoe.

Versions of the Printer

In April 2016, Carbon's first printer (the M1) became available commercially. When this article was last updated in 2022, the company provided M3 Max, M3, M2, and L1 versions of their printers as well as the M1. The printers differ in build volume (the size of the object that can be created) and/or resolution. Anyone who is interested in using one of the printers should check the manufacturer's website, since products and their specifications can change.

Evolution of the Technology

The Carbon company calls their latest printing process Carbon DLS (or the Carbon Digital Light System), though they say that the process is driven by CLIP technology.

When the original printer was first announced, there were concerns about the limited types of print media that were available. The list of materials is expanding, however. They currently include an elastomer. Elastomers are elastic polymers, as their name implies. The materials that can be used in the printer currently include the following:

  • silicone
  • flexible polyurethane
  • rigid polyurethane
  • elastomeric polyurethane
  • cyanate ester
  • epoxy
  • urethane methacrylate
  • various dental materials

Another concern about the original technology was the size of the objects that could be printed and the time needed for printing. The existence of the L1 and M2 printers may be at least a partial solution for these problems. The fact that CLIP 3D technology is continuing to evolve is encouraging.

The revolving globe in the Vancouver Convention Centre is an appropriate symbol for the new ideas presented at TED, including CLIP printing.

The revolving globe in the Vancouver Convention Centre is an appropriate symbol for the new ideas presented at TED, including CLIP printing.

The Present and Future for CLIP

Carbon says that its printers are being used by companies and institutions. The printers are professional models and aren't aimed at consumers. The current models are available on a subscription plan rather than a purchase one. Even so, a subscription is expensive and is only affordable by certain businesses. Even more money is required for the printer installation, a training period, and other necessities.

Joseph DeSimone predicts that the printers will eventually offer many benefits. In the future, doctors may be able to create stents of the correct size for a patient during an operation. (Stents are used to keep blood vessels open.) Dentists may be able to print tooth implants while a patient is sitting in a dentist's chair. Car parts and other manufactured goods may be produced rapidly whenever they're needed.

Further Developments

Other companies are now creating their own versions of 3D printers that pull a printed object out of a pool of resin. The objects that can be created by the technique are becoming larger.

Many ideas in technology fail to live up to their expectation and eventually disappear. Others are successful and allow technology to take a leap forward, sometimes improving our lives significantly. CLIP 3D and related printing processes may provide many benefits for us. It will be very interesting to see if this is true.


This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2015 Linda Crampton


Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 25, 2015:

Your comment is so true, Mel - the world is changing faster than we think! Thank you very much for the visit.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on July 25, 2015:

Weird, science fictiony stuff. Our world is changing faster than we think and in ways we can't forsee. Great hub!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 21, 2015:

I agree - 3D printing is definitely amazing! Thanks for the visit.

Arun Dev from United Countries of the World on July 21, 2015:

It was interesting to read this hub! 3D printing technology is amazing!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 12, 2015:

Hi, Colin. Yes, there's a lot to think about in regards to 3D printing and its uses. The future should be interesting!

Colin Garrow from Inverbervie, Scotland on July 12, 2015:

It's fascinating stuff Alicia, but it does make you wonder just how likely it is that ordinary folk will have access, or be able to afford, 3-D printing. Although, I guess they said the same things about mobile phones and lap-top computers.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 10, 2015:

Hi, stricktlydating. I think it's fascinating, too! Thanks for the comment.

StrictlyQuotes from Australia on May 10, 2015:

Wow, that's fascinating!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 21, 2015:

Thanks for the visit, drbj. The news is exciting, but your comment is very apt. The news is current for now, but there may soon be even more exciting news to report! Technology is advancing rapidly.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on April 21, 2015:

This is very exciting information, Alicia, and the possibilities for future applications may be almost limitless. Thanks for bringing us up to speed on the subject ... for the moment.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 23, 2015:

Thanks for the visit and the comment, ignugent17. The latest developments in 3D printer technology are definitely amazing!

ignugent17 on March 23, 2015:

Very interesting. I saw in the news that they will be using a 3 D printer in making a house. That is really amazing.

Thanks for sharing your information. :-)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 23, 2015:

Hi, Bill. It does seem that the future is approaching rapidly! It's fascinating to think about it. Thanks for the comment.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on March 23, 2015:

Hi Linda. Really fascinating. The company I work for is moving forward with 3D printing, or additive manufacturing as they like to call it. But I have not seen this CLIP technology before. This stuff is amazing. The future is upon us.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 23, 2015:

Hi, Peggy. Yes, 3D printing certainly does have amazing applications! The future of the technology should be very exciting. Thanks for the visit.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 23, 2015:

This is fascinating and to my mind very science fiction-like. It may not be this particular type of printer, but I have read that they even hope to be able to successfully print replacement organs for our bodies someday. Amazing!!!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 21, 2015:

Thank you so much for the visit and the comment, Venkatachari! I appreciate the votes and the share a great deal. I think CLIP technology is great, too. I very much hope that it lives up to its promise.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on March 21, 2015:

Thanks for sharing such great, valuable information, Alicia. It's an awesome technology which can create wonders in printing field.

Voted up, awesome and sharing also.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 21, 2015:

Hi, Ron. I agree - it will be very interesting to see where this technology leads. I'm looking forward to finding out! Thanks for the visit.

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on March 21, 2015:

When I saw the Terminator android oozing back into shape in the movie, I scoffed: that'll never happen. Now I'm not so sure. This is a truly novel technology, not just a refinement of existing techniques. It will be very interesting to see where it leads.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 21, 2015:

Hi, Faith. Yes, the possibilities of 3D printing are mind blowing! I appreciate all of the votes and the shares. I hope you have a great weekend.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on March 21, 2015:

How fascinating, Alicia! Technology is truly advancing at a fast rate. I hope they work out the kinks. I am sure they will, especially after coming this far along. As Bill stated, this would have blown our minds if this technology was around when we were kids, well, it is blowing mine right now LOL.

Up +++ tweeting, pinning, G+ and sharing

Thank you for always keeping us up on the latest science and technology!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 21, 2015:

Hi, Larry. I agree - it does look cool! Thank you for the comment.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on March 21, 2015:

I've heard of this 3D printing. It looks super cool.

Very informative article.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 21, 2015:

Hi, Buildreps. Yes, the technology is very promising. Printing our own car is a very interesting prospect! Thanks for the comment.

Buildreps from Europe on March 21, 2015:

Very interesting article, AliciaC. These kind of techniques are very promising for the future of prototyping and small series production. One day it might even be possible to print your own car! :)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 20, 2015:

That's so true, Bill. Technology has come such a long way since we were children! As always, thank you for the visit and the comment.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 20, 2015:

I saw a demonstration of this on television recently and I was blown away by it. Who would have imagined when we were kids that this would be possible? Great article, Alicia.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 20, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comment and the votes, Flourish. It sounds like your daughter goes to an interesting school!

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 20, 2015:

Very neat. My daughter goes to an engineering specialty high school program where they do have 3D printers but they sure don't have this yet. Awesome to learn about! Voted up and more!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 20, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comment, Ann! It is an exciting topic. I'll be watching closely to see how the printer develops.

Ann Carr from SW England on March 20, 2015:

This is fascinating stuff, Alicia. I saw a feature about it on television just a few days ago. It's an exciting development and something that's caught my interest; unusual as I'm not often captivated by scientific news!

Wonderful explanations and great illustrations. We'll watch this space.


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