Three-dimensional (3D) printing is also known as additive manufacturing or rapid prototyping. Additive manufacturing creates prototype via layer-by-layer addition of material using computerized 3D solid model. This concept had its origin during the late 1980s and was developed with time as well, as it has been applied in a wide range of industries that include food manufacturing activities to fabricate food designs (Pitayachaval et al., 2018). According to ASTM International (2012), 3D printing is a pioneering manufacturing technique that includes combining material (usually layer by layer) to create an object using 3D model data, in contrast to subtractive manufacturing methodologies. Application of 3D printing has grown significantly with several applications in numerous industrial fields. These include applications in various fields such as architecture, automobile, medicinal, pharmaceuticals, food, textiles, military, aerospace, electronics and many more (Nachal et al., 2019).

3D Food Printing Technology (3DFPT) is promptly developing areas with prodigious potential. Foods can be printed by means of extrusion, sintering, ink-jet printing and bioprinting techniques (Nachal et al., 2019). It is a print-and-eat technology in conjunction with the competence to accomplish nutritious and personalized foods through the concept of additive manufacturing. One of the vital roles of 3D food printing is personalized nutrition that focuses on dietary necessities that are specific to every individual. 3D food printing provides personalized nutrition by easing the process of converting a diet plan into a real food by digitally manufacturing food into creative and complex forms. 3DFPT is applied by considering the global agenda of sustainable nutrition and food security (Krishnaraj et al., 2019).


3D printer was developed in late 1986 by Carl Deckard and Joe Beaman and he named the technique as “Stereo-lithography”. It printed items made of metals, ceramics and polymers, but nothing edible (Lipson & Kurman, 2013).

Hod Lipson and collaborators from Cornell University established a 3D food printer in 2006. It constructed food by a syringe-based extruder. First commercial 3D chocolate printer was officially launched in the market in 2012 by the Choco Edge company (Izdebska & Zolek-Tryznowska, 2016).

In the later years, edible advanced shaped sugar sculptures, pastas, meat and chocolate were 3D printed. Currently, 3D food printers are available for consumers and extensive research is being carried out for expansion and sustainability.

3D Food Printer (Food Fabricators)

3D food printers are available commercially in the market, although their price is elevated due to technological innovations. Few well known food printers are namely, Choc CreatorTM, ZmorphTM cake and chocolate extruder, ChefJetTM series printers, BocusiniTM 3D food printing system (Procusini), FoodiniTM printer, Fab@HomeTM etc. that have variable applications and price range (Izdebska & Zolek-Tryznowska, 2016).

3D food printers have diverse characteristics and working principles to fulfill distinct needs of food and food ingredients. Efficiency of a 3D food printer depends upon several parameters such as, printing head type, printing head height, nozzle diameter, printing rate, nozzle movement rate, layer thickness etc. Selection of 3D food printers also depend on food to fabricate, type of 3D technology to use, suitable food ink and many such parameters (Pitayachaval et al., 2018).

Working Principle and Procedure of 3D Printers

A general production system comprises of series of operations, procedures, regulations that meet customers demand as well as transform raw material to an end product. Hence, it is not enough to completely rely on single additive manufacturing unit.

The first step in 3D food printing is to suggest a digital geometric design, create the G-code that is suitable for technology. Appropriate food ink and variables for 3D printer should be developed. 3D model of the object is usually designed by the CAD (Computer-aided design) software and then another special software is used that slices this model into cross sectional layers and saved as in a specific format (.stl file). STL stands for stereolithography or Standard Tessellation Language that is made up of series of linked triangles that illustrate the surface geometry of a 3D model. This file is sent to 3D printer where each layer is produced by selective dispersion of food ink (Aydin, 2019).

Types of 3D Food Printing

3D food printing technique is widely classified into four categories that are depicted in the figures mentioned below:

Categories of 3d Food Printing Technique

Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) consists of constructing a food model by extruding food layer-by-layer from the nozzle with constant pressure and the nozzle may be heated. It is believed that this method is easily effortless and a wide range of food products are fabricated. The preliminary material of FDM consists of paste, liquid based, powder based, with low viscosity (Kaur et al., 2022). In this method, a dual-feed extruder, either one or more extruders can be equipped, which facilitates simultaneous printing of various components in correct proportions with diverse colours. In this technique, the material is loaded and subsequently extruded through nozzle, followed by heating (either by laser or hot air) and cooling that leads to solidification or hydrogel-forming extrusion. Sugar cookies, lemon juice gel, fish surimi gel, pasta and chocolate were prepared by using this technique of 3D food printing (Izdebska & Zolek-Tryznowska, 2016).

The multiple three-dimensional food printing processes

Selective sintering technique is also called powder bed fusion method. It is the second most desirable system in 3D printing, subsequent to extrusion process. It is generally carried out by selective hot air sintering and melting (SHASAM) and liquid binding (LB). A laser is employed as power source at specific locations to layer powdered materials appropriately and they are heated at specific areas. The substrate is lowered to a tad and another powder layer is draped as well as sintered in analogous manner repetitively to construct a finalized 3D product. The final fabrication is then completed using liquid binding (e.g. layering of fat and sugar together) which depends on the laser absorptivity of material and powder densification mechanism. Various sweet-and-sour candies of several flavours formulated food powder of water-soluble protein and/or hydrocolloid over a powder bed are created using this technique (Kaur et al., 2022).

Binder jetting technique constructs a model that employs small droplets (diameter <100um) of binders deposited successively over the powder bed surface. Soon after deposition of liquid binder, the powder bed surface is exposed to a constant heating temperature by using heat lamp, for the establishment of mechanical strength within the layers generated to withstand shear stress and gravitational forces produced by printing of consequent layer. Liquid binders can be mixture of fat and sugars. The binder must have suitable low viscosity with appropriate surface tension of powder material and ink density. (Pitayachaval et al., 2018)

Inkjet printing method is operated by dispensing droplets of a substrate material stream from a thermal head at specific areas to generate surface filling or decoration on food surface (cake, pizza or cookie). Thermal head or piezoelectric heads are generally employed in these methods that are electrically heated to push droplets from the nozzle by pulses of pressure. The inkjet printer usually functions with low viscous materials and hence it does not attain its application on construction of complex food structure. Deposited materials include jams, gels, sugar icing, meat paste, cheese, chocolate, liquid dough and many such foods. (Godoi et al., 2016)

Types of Printable Food Materials (Edible substrates for printing)

The definite purpose, branch of industry and requirements of users are the remarkable elements that should be considered to select material for 3D printing. This precise choice later has an effect on the printing process and overall quality of product. Natively printable materials, non-printable materials and alternative ingredients are the three categories of food printing materials.

Natively printable materials are the substances that adapt to 3D printing needs and formulation development with such materials, as the base is easier. These materials include hydrogels, cheese, cake frostings and chocolates, owing to inherent properties. These materials provide total control over texture, taste and nutritional value of foods.

Non-printable materials are the traditional food materials that are not suitable by nature for 3D printing such as staple foods. Hydrocolloids, especially carrageenan, gum arabic, xanthan gum and gelatin are added to non-printable materials that facilitate their printability and aid them to keep better product shapes.

Alternative ingredients have acquired a worldwide interest with emergent concerns on eco-friendly materials. These include algae, seaweeds, fungi, lupines and insects as material supplies. These ingredients are a rich source of protein, dietary fibre and bioactive compounds. Agricultural waste and residues can also be utilized as an alternative printing ingredient, since they can easily be converted into metabolites, flavours and enzymes. Additionally, researchers have printed steak using proteins, carbohydrates and other nutrients that were extracted from algae or insects. The development of healthier products can be aided by the use of alternative ingredients in food printing. (Nachal et al., 2019)

Advantages and Disadvantages of 3D food printing

Just like every technology, 3D printing of food possesses advantages and disadvantages on various attributes and they are summarized below:
Limitless complexity of manufacturing that human hand and many machines cannot achieve, zero lead time, lesser waste of by-products and precise physical replication. Recently, food printing has become compatible with drawing ideas from other well-known technologies like electrospinning and microencapsulation and is being integrated to help create food items with higher nutritional value and increased bioavailability of nutrients. Bioprinting is one of the additive manufacturing technologies that develop tissues without the use of biological base (Lipson & Kurman, 2013). Raw materials for 3D printing are readily accessible and food production is faster as well as seamless. It also meets the requirements for nutritional quality in food. Further, it is dependent upon by individuals, especially considering their health conditions and physical activity, it is eco-friendly, as ingredients such as edible insect extracts, algae, animal protein (to develop meat substitute) are also used (Emam, 2022). Older people who generally have difficulty in swallowing and chewing would also be greatly benefitted from consuming 3D printed meals, as the unattractive looking purees are transformed into attractively designed foods of a similar consistency. (Izdebska & Zolek-Tryznowska, 2016)

Disadvantages of this technology are higher consumption of energy as compared to conventional methods of food processing. As this technology is not yet profitable in the current market conditions, consequently the cost of 3D printers are still at a higher range. One of the common disadvantages that we may be faced with in the near future would be that of counterfeiting and anybody with the blueprint may design the product or recipes could even be pirated. Hence, tracing back and protection of rights might become extremely tough. It is necessary that proper laws and regulations should be framed regarding food system worldwide. Optimizing of process parameters and product innovation is still under research and development. (Emam, 2022)

Market Survey and Forecast of future of 3D Food Printing

In last few years, development of 3D food printing is exponentially increasing and encompassed its arena from industries to home kitchens. Elevation in the demands for 3D food printing is at a rapid pace, owing to large scale customization and enhanced convenience in terms of tailored nutritional profiling and aesthetic appeal. This can lead to increased purchases of these gadgets for personal use at home. There are wide business opportunities, as 3D food printing has many more areas to conquer. (Singh & Kaur, 2022)

3D food printing is poised to have an enormous impact on global economy by closing the fissure between small and large-scale businesses by giving consumers a greater degree of freedom in the choice of food that they choose to consume. Since, they would be able to produce food based on demand, food manufacturers would be able to manage their inventories more easily and affordably. The use of 3D food printing has the potential to fundamentally alter how food is produced, resulting in improved resource management and lesser food waste. Additionally, 3D food printing offers FMCG food producers the chance to create better and healthier food. PepsiCo, for example, has declared that they are considering using 3D printing to create healthier potato chips. Research on edible plants is also being carried out, which can be produced by using 3D food printing technologies and incorporating alternative ingredients (Soares & Forkes, 2014).


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Shreya RajputAbout the Author:
Shreya Rajput
M. Tech Food Engineering & Technology,
Sant Longowal Institute of Engineering & Technology (SLIET), Punjab.
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