3D Chocolate Printing Guide
Welcome to our FAQ written by designers ANTHONY PRICE & MARK JONES [An extended version can also be downloaded]
Choc Edge Ltd is an Anglo-Chinese technology company that provides chocolate printing solutions for businesses and individuals who wish to design and produce creative chocolates.
The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus is a versatile desktop tool that is designed to print a wide range of designs, shapes, and objects - from 2D to full miniature 3D.
This abbreviated FAQ is intended to provide an overview of all the information users need to get started with chocolate printing, and the potential issues they may encounter. Every possible scenario is accounted for, to help you determine whether the Choc Creator V2.0 Plus is the right solution for your business.
An extended FAQ is now available as the '3D Chocolate Printing Guide' and can be downloaded using the link below:
We will aim to answer the most commonly asked question first:
"What is 3D chocolate printing, how does it work, and how exactly can I create my own 3D designs?"
This question is answered in detail within this FAQ. Put simply, 3D chocolate printing is similar to 3D plastic printing, which itself is based on traditional CNC technology. Instead of printing in plastic, our Choc Creator V2.0 Plus allows you to print drawings and miniature objects in chocolate. The process involves converting your idea for a piece of chocolate art into a 2D/2.5D/3D model, and then converting the model into an instruction code (G-code) for the Choc Creator to read - The code is automatically generated by a computer program called a slicer, because it slices a 3D model into layers and writes the printing instructions for each of these layers. [The slicer used by Choc Edge is best described as an advanced command line program with a basic STL visualizer.] Once the code is ready, it can be loaded into the Choc Creator and the object will be printed layer-by-layer. Although the slicer will automatically generate the code, the 3D model must be manually designed [sculpted using CAD software] by the user, or acquired from other sources.
If you are yet to learn or still learning digital design, the Choc Creator V2.0 Plus can still be used in a variety of ways with access to the following:
* 15 pre-installed ready-to-print codes of our classic designs
* 50+ basic templates in our 2D/2.5D Mix&Match (web-based app) library
* ChocText (web-based app) for creating quick-fire 2D/2.5D text
* ChocDraw (Android OS app) for coverting drawings/doodles into codes automatically.
* Free 3D models [STL] found on the internet which are suitable for chocolate printing
Note: All 3D chocolate prints start life as a digital 3D model produced using CAD software - See the image above - In order to print exactly what you want, you will need to create the model, or find a ready-made model that is similar to what you hope to print.
"What type of chocolate can be used in the Choc Creator?"
We highly recommend the use of high-quality, machine-tempered, dark couverture chocolate as it has consistently shown better printing results compared to other types of chocolate, due to its high level of cocoa solids. However, it is possible to print with different kinds of chocolate including milk chocolate and white couverture chocolate.
"How do I melt the Chocolate for Printing?"
The Choc Edge design team mainly uses machine-tempered couverture chocolate (Dark: Callebaut 811NV). For the best results, we recommend using a professional tempering machine but there are other methods of tempering chocolate:
BBC Good Food: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/how-temper-chocolate
"What kind of tempering machine would you recommend?"
Choc Edge uses a Rev 2 chocolate tempering machine from Chocovision.
"Does the chocolate need to be tempered for printing?"
For reliable results, it is essential that the chocolate is properly tempered. If the chocolate is not tempered, results may be unpredictable or unsatisfactory.
"Does the machine keep the chocolate warm during the whole process of printing?"
Yes. The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus has a heating system. The barrel which houses the syringe while printing keeps a constant temperature. For example if you set the temperature to 31°C, you will see "Temp: 31°C" on the touch screen. Sometimes this bursts up to 32 or 33 degrees momentarily while printing - the heating system is compensating for a slight drop in room temperature and is smartly keeping an even 31°C.
"What are your cartridges made of?"
The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus does not use cartridges - It has a syringe loading system. In simple terms, tempered chocolate is loaded into the printer via a syringe (meaning that the chocolate is drawn up into the syringe by hand) and the syringe is then loaded into the printer. This process was chosen because it is food-safe, clean, efficient, enables the use of different chocolates, and the chocolate you load will always be fresh.
"Could the chocolate dry up in the syringe?"
When recommended operating temperatures are followed, the chocolate should not dry inside the syringe. As soon as you load the syringe with chocolate (which will be approximately 30-31°C from a tempering machine), it should be inserted into the printer's barrel and the cover closed. If the printer's heating system has been set to 31°C, the barrel will already be at that temperature, so it will be a smooth transition from tempering machine to the printer (with perhaps half a degree of fluctuation at most). When using a 0.8mm nozzle, the longest we usually print a single 3D model for is 40-50 minutes, with 50-60 minutes being the absolute maximum we would recommend. For 2.5D designs which are much quicker to print, the chocolate should not dry out while printing. Under optimum conditions, the 0.8mm nozzle has proven itself suitable for extended printing times.
"How do you get the chocolate out from the machine at the end?"
For ease of use, we chose a syringe system for our printer. After you finish printing, you remove the syringe from the printer's barrel, and squeeze out any remaining chocolate into a cup (since it can be re-tempered and re-used if needed). Then simply clean the syringe and nozzle with warm water and dish soap. We supply a little brush for this. After the syringe is dry, you can reload it with freshly tempered chocolate and start the printing process again.
"Can it also print using other foods or different mixtures of chocolate?"
The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus was designed specifically for use with chocolate, dark chocolate being the best type for 3D printing. Chocolate from the same family of couverture chocolate could theoretically be mixed together and printed with, but this will not create the desired marble texture due to the size of the nozzle. Two-tone prints are achievable but require a little more effort than regular printing - the printer has a pause function, so if you have two syringes, you can experiment with changing syringes during a single print. For example you could print the first half of a 3D object in dark chocolate, and the second half in white chocolate. Most importantly the printer's warranty does not cover other materials than chocolate.
"Can I use a coolant to cool the chocolate faster?"
Cooling the chocolate should not be necessary to achieve 3D printing when tempered chocolate is used. (Please note that all the prints in our gallery have been produced without the use of a cooling system.) If your room temperature is very difficult to control, it may be marginally helpful to place a small cooling appliance in the room. Cooling the chocolate too quickly can also negatively affect the quality of the chocolate and cause it to become brittle.
"What chemicals or additives do you use to make your chocolate suitable for 3D printing?"
Absolutely none. We use chocolate straight out of the bag and place it into our tempering machine. We recommend Callebaut's Dark Belgian Chocolate for best results.
"How do I keep the chocolate I've printed in a good condition?"
Chocolate will keep well for months if stored in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight at 21°C or below. The humidity should be 50% or under. Airtight packaging will help to preserve the chocolate.
"Why do you not recommend compound chocolate?"
Our extensive tests have shown that compound chocolate is not as reliable as other types of chocolate for the 3D printing process. Without experience and specific tailoring, compound chocolate is not as workable or as stable as couverture chocolate. Compound chocolate's contents can change the chocolate very quickly from a wet and loose state to a mousse-like viscosity, which makes it a difficult medium to print layers accurately with. Although many of our experiments with compound chocolate have been successful, we prefer to introduce customers to couverture chocolate first as it is easier to work with.
"The dark chocolate you say you use has a 3 out of 5 viscosity and approximately 54% cocoa solids. If I would like to work with milk and white chocolate should I look for same viscosity and 54% cocoa solids?"
Theoretically, this would seem like the best way to ensure similar results to dark chocolate. However, the percentage of cocoa solids in milk and white chocolate will usually differ substantially to that of dark chocolate. This is simply due to the mixtures used to create milk and white chocolate. In comparison to dark chocolate, the cocoa solids percentage of milk and white chocolate is much lower, and there is also a milk solids percentage for milk and white chocolate. The viscosity of 3 out of 5 can be matched, but milk and white chocolate will always behave slightly differently to dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is slightly better for 3D printing because the milk content in other types of chocolate can cause the chocolate to be soft, moist or even greasy depending on the quality of the chocolate used.
"My country is very hot for most of the year, with my room temperature ranging from 55°C during the day and 40°C during the night. Will this be an issue?"
Yes. Unless you employ a temperature control system (air-conditioning) in your room, studio or factory, a temperature of 40-55°C will make printing impossible. Chocolate behaves differently according to ambient temperatures. Chocolate is considered a 'cool temperature medium', meaning that it behaves well in a cool and non-humid environment, and becomes difficult to control in warm and humid conditions.
We recommended using a Choc Creator in an environment with an average 19-22°C ambient temperature, as our research has shown that most chocolatiers who sculpt their work (similar to 3D printing) do so in an environment that is monitored to an average temperature of 19-22°C. As an example, dark chocolate that has tempered at 31.5°C will lose its tempering while still in the tempering machine when it is exposed to heat greater than 33°C. If your room temperature is 40-50°C, you will find it near impossible to work with chocolate on any level. For 3D objects in particular, the room temperature (approx. 21°C) is absolutely crucial in achieving the results you see in our website gallery. If you install an air conditioner, you simply need to set the temperature to 21°C and the Choc Creator to 31°C to create optimum printing conditions.
"I need an idea of the capacity. For example, what could I get from a 1kg bag of chocolate?"
The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus has a 30ml syringe loading system. In simple terms, tempered chocolate is loaded into the printer via a syringe (meaning that the chocolate is slowly drawn up into the syringe by hand) and the syringe is then loaded into the printer. This manual process was chosen because it is simple, food-safe, clean, efficient, and the chocolate you load will always be fresh.
A 30ml syringe can hold approximately 60 chocolate callets in melted form, which weighs 25-30g. A 1kg (1000g) bag of chocolate callets could therefore theoretically fill over 20 syringes, but this would only be the case if there was absolutely no waste or residue, so a maximum of 15~20 syringes would be a more realistic estimate in our experience.
If a design is a simple 2.5D design, you may be able to create 2 or 3 prints with one 30ml syringe. If your design is a 3D object, the full 30ml syringe will likely be required for a single print. For multiple refills throughout a working day, a constantly running tempering machine is recommended.
"Can you give me any real life examples of productivity?"
As demonstrated by our videos Choc Creators are desktop printers for chefs, chocolatiers and food innovators to utilize - they are not large portable chocolate factories as some people have assumed. During a production run our Choc Creators are working for approximately 6-8 hours a day, though the amount a single Choc Creator V2.0 Plus can produce depends entirely on the design.
We would suggest that potential Choc Creator V2.0 Plus users enter the world of 3D chocolate printing with the understanding that itis a desktop printer which is more suitable for smaller batches of regular 2D, 2.5D or 3D designs, and medium-sized batches of simple 2D or 2.5D designs.
For example we once used our Choc Creators to produce 600 pieces for a customer in the USA. The designs made and printed for this customer were very simple 2.5D designs. The design took 7 minutes to print and was 6 layers high. A very simple design was necessary to meet the customer's deadline and quantity of 600. To make the 600 pieces, we worked in a team of 3-4 people, and aimed to produce 30 pieces per day. Over 3 weeks (20 days), we produced 650 prints, so we had 50 extra pieces in case some broke during the journey from the UK to the USA.
Likewise, in the past, a customer working to a very strict deadline of just one week asked us for a very large production run of a very detailed 3D design which took 45 minutes to print. After calculating the required printing time and manpower, we decided to decline their commission, as there is an obvious limit to the amount of prints a single desktop Choc Creatorunit can produce in a single day. Fortunately, we find that most customers want their company logo, name or motif printed in chocolate, which is usually a simple design and can be printed relatively quickly.
"Have you ever experimented with the brightly colored chocolate that some chocolate companies produce?"
Yes, we have experimented - take a look at our colourful Easter Basket in our gallery. However, we must state that we do not recommend coloured chocolate as it produces very poor quality results due to the colourants used, which affect the behaviour of the chocolate. Some coloured chocolates (such a orange and green) have proven to be both soft and greasy even after correct tempering. We have therefore classified coloured chocolate as an unsuitable medium for quality and reliable 3D chocolate printing.
"Precisely controlled room temperature is not an option for me. Could I still build objects at 23-25°C? This is the absolute lowest I can get my room temperature in my hot country."
The answer to this question will depend on the design. It is certainly possible to print 2D and 2.5D in a room with an ambient temperature of 23-25°C, but that is approaching the breaking point for tempered chocolate. We would advise keeping your room temperature closer to 23°C rather than 25°C if possible, but even at this temperature it is unlikely that complicated 3D objects with severe angular ascension will print correctly - they will most likely semi-collapse. Simple 3D models will more than likely build to completion. Keep in mind that thermometers are not always 100% accurate, and the chocolate may experience a "fat bloom" if your thermometer states 23-25°C but your actual room temperature is 24-26°C. We advise a room temperature of 21°C maximum for precision printing. As previously stated in this FAQ the Choc Creator works best at chocolatier studio temperatures, which typically range from 19-22°C in Europe.
"I want to start a 3D face scanning and printing business from my home, but my rooms are 40°C. I never bought an air conditioner because I catch cold, and I prefer to keep my costs down. Will this be a problem for 3D printing chocolate? What about working underground?"
Since tempered dark chocolate is finalized at the 31.5°C mark and works most comfortably in an ambient room temperature of 19-23°C, your house temperature of 40°C is simply too hot to work with chocolate. As a test, try to stack up drops of chocolate using a small spoon. You will see that the chocolate does not stack up but instead melts into a pool. You will also notice that the chocolate never dries. If you have access to another location with a cooler ambient temperature, try the same test there.
"Does this replace traditional moulding and chocolate screen printing?"
No. Our technology and methodology does not replace moulding or chocolate screen printing. Instead, it is another highly useful tool in the arsenal of a chocolatier. Every chocolate-making method has 'pros and cons', and it makes sense to use the most suitable tool for the task in hand, and that may even be traditional hand piping or hand sculpting if it is the most efficient way to complete a task.
Moulding is tried and tested, however, bespoke moulding for short runs or one-off items of chocolate has also proven to be very expensive. This is one of the major 'cons' of moulding for chocolatiers who regularly receive commissions for designs that require more control than hand piping. We do not believe in 3D printing chocolate just for the sake of it, as we ourselves realize that time and effort is all monetized in the world of business.
The Choc Creator
"What room temperature/humidity does the Choc Creator need to be operated in?"
For reliable and accurate printing we recommend the printer is operated, and the chocolate prepared, in room temperatures between 19-22°C - ideally around 21.5°C. The humidity of the room should be 50%.
"What is the size of the Choc Creator's print bed?"
The build envelope for the Choc Creator V2.0 Plus is 18cm (X axis) x 18cm (Y axis) x 4cm (Z axis).
"If the chocolate is tempered and all other conditions are perfect, what is the longest the Choc Creator can print a single model for?"
60 minutes is the absolute maximum. After this point, the chocolate loses it properties and printing loses it quality. We recommend keeping your print time to no longer than 50 minutes for a single 3D print. Scaling down models and increasing the print speed will help to reduce printing times. However, speeding up a print may negatively affect the print quality on 3D models as there is less time for each layer to dry.
"What is the minimum and maximum size for printing quality reliability?"
For the maximum and minimum printing sizes, it is indeed important for us to list the sizes that will guide users to create quality results with reliable printing. Resolution is an important factor which needs to be considered for each design. Although very small and very large prints are not impossible, there may be factors that make it difficult to achieve perfect prints each time.
For 3D objects, the maximum printing height (or "Z-axis height") of the Choc Creator V2.0 Plus is 4cm, with most of our 3D objects ranging from 2.5cm to 3.75cm in Z-height. The widest XY (width/length) point on any of our models is 5.5cm.
For 2D prints (such as a drawing or portrait), 15x15cm (XY) has been a default size we have used a number of times for printing 2D portraits onto icing sheets. Our largest 2D prints have been no more than 17x17cm (XY) and printed onto icing sheets.
For 2.5D prints, we recommend 6-8cm (XY), increasing size to 9-12cm if necessary. Any print larger than 8cm is susceptible to the "bowing" or "curling" of tempered chocolate, which reduces the print success rate.
For 3D objects, the minimum printing height (or "Z-axis height") of the Choc Creator V2.0 Plus is based around resolution - It is important to keep in mind that every layer is 0.8mm (almost 1mm) in height, so "miniature models" will have very little resolution or will not print to a satisfactory level of quality. This is why most of our 3D designs ranging from 2.5cm to 3.75cm in Z-height.
For 2D prints (such as a simple icon or logo, no text), we would rarely print anything smaller than 5x5cm as there will simply be no room for any detail.
For 2.5D prints (no text), anything from 4-6cm could be considered the minimum size for accurate printing, depending on the design.
"If the maximum printing height is just under 4cm, how did you print those giant Albert Einstein and Paul McCartney heads?"
The printed heads on our website are miniatures. Depending on the camera lens and settings, photographs of miniatures can make the object look larger that it actually is. For the designs in our gallery any subjectivity regarding scale is unintentional, as we only aim to take photographs that are clear and sharp with accurate colouring. As you can see by the thickness of the 0.8mm lines in the Albert Einstein and Paul McCartney photos, both these heads are approximately 3.75cm in height.
"I want to print onto cakes that are 14'' (35cm) in diameter. Is this possible?"
No. Please see: What is the minimum and maximum size for printing quality reliability? (above)
"I want put a 15cm high cake onto the platform and print onto it, but you say that this isn't possible. Can't I just take a screwdriver and fix this?"
No. As you can tell from the photos, videos and information on our website, the Choc Creator V2.0 Plus works to a maximum printing height of approximately 4cm, meaning that the print-head (with an attached nozzle) cannot be lifted any higher than this. 4cm is plenty for miniature 3D printing, but it means that a 15cm high ready-made cake will simply not fit under the printhead. The maximum height a cake could be is approximately 3.5-3.75cm for a 2D image to be printed onto it (with a little clearance to stop it getting messy). There is of course the possibility of printing onto icing paper or similar edible sheets and then transferring them to the top tier of the cake. This process is sometimes more comfortable due to the allowance for any possible printing errors that may be experienced while getting used to operating the printer. The platform of the printer moves along the Y-axis so it is fixed in place and cannot be lowered. For more information, please see: What is the minimum and maximum size for printing quality reliability? (above)
"How long does something the size of a lunch box take to print?"
The maximum printing height (or Z-axis height) of the Choc Creator V2.0 Plus is 4cm, with most of our 3D designs ranging from 2.5-3.75cm in Z-height, and approximately 4-5cm in width/length. The 3D designs in our gallery were printed on a slow setting to ensure accuracy, and took between 20 and 45 minutes per print. The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus uses a 30ml syringe system, and each of our 3D designs requires 60-90% of the syringe's content, which is basically one print per 30ml syringe with some excess chocolate remaining. The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus is considered a desktop tool and most our designs are actually quite petite, with none of our 3D designs close in scale to a lunch box.
"I noticed that the layers of the 3D objects are very noticeble, sort of 'stripy' and sometimes 'messy'. Is it possible to solve this problem?"
This is technically not considered a 'problem'. 3D printing is an ALM (Additive Layer Manufacturing) process, so what you see is the result of the ALM layer-upon-layer methodology. If the individual 0.8mm chocolate layers are visible, it is a good sign that the chocolate used is high quality and has been correctly tempered. When you are 3D printing in chocolate, you should be aiming to have the layers as visible as possible, and you should be able to count the layers and match the exact amount to the value given by your slicing software. (For example: When you slice a 3D model that is 35mm in Z-height at 0.8mm, the slicing software will tell you it has sliced 43 layers, and you should able to count all 43 layers of the finished chocolate print.)
As mentioned, tempered chocolate has the viscosity of toothpaste (very thick) so any "messy" areas of a print are largely due to the material being used. We consider none of the prints in our gallery to be "messy" despite the small scale and low resolution - This is simply what 3D printed chocolate looks like, and we feel these prints show the best chocolate can look when printed at 0.8mm.
Of course, we respect and understand people's opinions regarding the "stripy" look of 3D printed chocolate, and sometimes a moulding method is better suited to these people's tastes.
"I've found some 3D models on the internet. Can they be printed in chocolate?"
It is difficult to say without seeing the models. If the models are very large, have areas of fine detail, unsupported overhang or very steep angles, it is likely that the models will need to be edited to meet the requirements of chocolate printing. However, many models print perfectly as they are without any editing - see the octopus in our gallery for an example.
"Can the Choc Creator print with other materials?"
No. The Choc Creator has been designed and tested specifically for use with chocolate.
"Can the Choc Creator print onto a cake or other surface?"
It is possible for the Choc Creator to print onto shallow surfaces like biscuits, but not deeper objects like cakes. However, prints can be lifted off the print bed and placed onto different surfaces when dry.
"Is any assembly required?"
No. The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus is fully assembled and tested before delivery.
"Does the Choc Creator require much maintenance?"
The only maintenance the machine requires regularly is cleaning the nozzles and syringe after use to prevent clogging. It is not necessary to use the machine every day to ensure that it runs well.
"What consumables does the Choc Creator require?"
The reusable syringe required for printing is included with the printer, the rubber bung may wear down after time but replacements are available by contacting our sales team.
"What is the capacity of the Choc Creator?"
The Choc Creator V2.0 uses a reusable syringe that holds up to 30ml of chocolate.
"What's that faint sound I can hear every time I turn on my Choc Creator from cold?"
This faint sound is generated by the heating system. The system starts heating when the printer is switched on - depending on your default temperature setting (e.g. 31 degrees), the printer aims to heat from its cold state to 31 degrees as quickly as possible. After the initial burst of heat, it takes a short while to balance itself out to 31 degrees.
While the printer is switched on, the heating system will always give out short bursts of heat to maintain the user's desired temperature. If you have your temperature at a high setting, you will likely notice more noise. Likewise, when the temperature is lower than 30 degrees, you may not even hear any sound at all.
"Does the Choc Creator require human control, or is it like a robot? Is there a way to run a Choc Creator unattended for long hours during marketing events?"
The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus is a desktop printer that has been designed as a tool for chocolatiers, confectioners, chefs, and food experimenters to work with in their studios. The size of the printer, its subsequent chocolate capacity, and reusable syringe system has been tailored to what fits best within the average chocolatier studio environment. As a result the printer's syringe and nozzle need to be cleaned, refilled, and reset after each print. However, the use of multiple syringes and nozzles throughout the day helps to speed up the reset process, with chocolatiers washing up all their syringes and nozzles together at the end of a working day.
To leave a printer unmanned for as long as possible at events, printing times of 3D objects could be tailored to a very slow speed, so that 3D objects take longer to print, noting that the maximum longest print time would still be 45-50 minutes before the tempered chocolate naturally starts to solidify - this is simply the science of chocolate and not a flaw in our methodology.
For marketing events that show 3D objects being printed, it is important to note that the room temperature must be suitable for tempered chocolate. If the room temperature is too warm, the 3D object may not build correctly - once again, this is simply the nature of chocolate.
"I have heard that anything can be made because it's like a Star Trek replicator that turns everything into chocolate in seconds."
This is not true. If you study our literature, photographs, and videos you will find that the 3D ALM chocolate printing process has a number of limitations, the majority of which are related to the medium of chocolate itself and not flaws in our methodology. These limitations are explained in detail elsewhere within this FAQ.
"So what is exactly is the deal with the inability to use chocolate scaffolding? And how do you defy gravity?"
As mentioned elsewhere in this FAQ, no exterior support structures (known as "scaffolds" or "rafts") are used when 3D printing in chocolate. It cannot be done to any reliable effect for the following reasons:
(1) We slice at 0.8mm, so we print chocolate lines that are 0.8mm thick - not like plastic which can go as fine as 0.02mm - which means the chocolate deposited for any kind of exterior structural support will also be 0.8mm thick and will interconnect and "adhere" itself to the rest of the model. Tempered chocolate is like cement which cannot be cleanly detached from itself - You cannot simply break away unwanted areas without snapping parts of the model and destroying its beauty.
(2) A single 3D print without any support can use close to an entire syringe of chocolate, so the printing of any structural support would require approximately 30% more chocolate than can be loaded into a syringe.
(3) A single 3D print uses the maximum print time possible with tempered chocolate - So any structural support would add 15+ minutes to the print time and cause it to pass the "breaking point" of tempered chocolate.
3D chocolate designs therefore need to be carefully considered and have very little in terms of overhang and points of severe angular ascension. Chocolate has to be deposited onto a base for the first layer, and then all subsequent layer deposits must be directly on top of a prior deposit - In simple terms, any areas that are floating in the air will obviously not print correctly as we do not use supports and cannot defy gravity.
"I've seen some of your amazing videos. However, one video has a single but admittedly complex print take 30 minutes. Are these print times practical? I still don't understand why you can't turn 30 minutes into 30 seconds."
I will address this question with two points:
(1) The time it takes to print a single 3D model in chocolate is largely determined by the properties and behavior of chocolate, which can only be controlled up to a certain point; we temper our chocolate like any other chocolatier, add absolutely no chemicals, no agents, no artificial ingredients or anything else to the mixture, and control both our room temperature and the heating system on our Choc Creator as precisely as we can. This is the most any chocolatier can do to control their chocolate.
When a 3D model is printed in chocolate at high speed, the layers of chocolate simply have no time to semi-harden before the next layer is deposited on top. After printing the first few layers of a 50-layer model at high speed, it would be obvious that the layers were all collapsing into one, and that the model will unlikely build up in height. At a slow speed, each layer of chocolate would have time to semi-harden before the next layer. A complex 50-layer model will therefore need at least 30 minutes (but more likely closer to 40 minutes) to print accurately. This is the nature of chocolate. Freezing the chocolate from wet to dry while printing would be detrimental to the quality of the tempered chocolate, as the wet to dry process of chocolate is actually part of a crystalization process that is best left to happen naturally. Freezing chocolate takes away its shine, makes it brittle and, from a practical point of view, the icy air would likely cause blockage in the printer's nozzle. Spot cooling with jets of cold air from a spray can of freeze agent would either knock the 3D model over or again adversely affect the chocolate.
(2) The 3D models we produce for promoting our technology are purposely over-complex with overhanging areas that need time to semi-harden before a subsequent layer can be built on top. This is because we want to show our customers the full capabilities, mechanical prowess and infinite potential of our technology.
For more practical chocolatiering, users can choose to make any kind of model they wish and tailor it to their output needs. We suggest using 2D artwork if a very fast output rate is required for a medium-sized production run, and suitably designed 3D models for small runs of bespoke items, such as designs that use an internal infill structure that stops any collapsing and allows the model to build quickly.
"Is the machine easy to use for someone with minimal 3D printing and computer experience?"
We have found this depends largely on the user and how determined they are to use 3D chocolate printing technology. Some new users have learned how to operate the printer within a few hours, while others have taken longer. Similarly, for producing their own designs, some chocolatiers spend time playing with 3D modelling software and start producing bespoke work very quickly, whereas others never truly dedicate themselves - it all depends on the person.
The Choc Creator has been designed as user-friendly as we could make it, and it is wise to note that there will always be a limitation to how user-friendly such an articulate piece of technology can be. In short, we have aimed to achieve the best possible balance of ease-of-operation and functionality, and our users from all kinds of backgrounds certainly seem to agree that we have done our best.
"Does the printer have a built-in tempering machine? If not, how can you get chocolate inside?"
No. The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus is a desktop printer and does not have a built-in tempering machine. Tempered chocolate must be prepared by either an automatic tempering machine (not supplied) or by hand, known as 'hand-tempering'. The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus has a heating system that keeps chocolate warm during printing. Please see other sections of this FAQ for more details.
The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus does not use cartridges or any kind of pre-made chocolate substance - Users are required to prepare their own chocolate, which must be tempered couverture chocolate (not compound chocolate). The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus comes with a bespoke 30ml Stainless Steel Food-Grade Syringe. Tempered chocolate in its thick liquid state is loaded into the syringe, and then the syringe is the loaded into the printer.
To explain the whole process in simple terms; to fill a syringe with chocolate, users must first prepare chocolate in their automatic tempering machine or by hand using a melting pot set ('hand-tempering'). When the chocolate is ready in its thick liquid tempered state, users are required to take their empty syringe and dip it into the Automatic Tempering Machine or pan of warm tempered thick liquid chocolate so that the syringe's exit-hole is submerged, and then pull up on the syringe's plunger so that chocolate is drawn up into the syringe. Tempered chocolate is thick (like toothpaste) so the chocolate must be sucked up slowly and steadily - Rushing the process may result in unwanted air bubbles in the syringe. Once the syringe has been filled, it can be loaded into the printer's barrel and locked into position. This process was chosen because it is food-safe, clean, efficient, enables the use of different couverture chocolates, and the chocolate loaded will always be fresh and familiar to the user.
"What about printing onto non-flat surfaces, like a cookie that is shaped like a dome?"
Any surface you choose to print onto must be as flat as possible. For cookies or other baked goods, the baking process naturally results in items that will not be 100% flat or smooth, but the ability to articulately adjust the printer's nozzle means the printing process has a slight tolerance for non-flat surfaces, but not to the extent of a dome. When printing onto chocolate bars and cookies, the Choc Creator V2.0 Plus does not compensate for non-flat surfaces and the Z-axis does not travel in a curve or arch to deposit the chocolate. If your cookies are at least 90% flat, the result will hopefully be acceptable. If your cookies are shaped like a dome the result will likely be unacceptable. For baked goods, it may be possible for bakery staff to pay special care and attention to the preparation and baking process so that the items produced are flatter than usual.
"What is the voltage of the printer? Does it heavily drain power?"
The Choc Creator has a range of 100-240 Volts, and it is 50-60 Hertz compatible. The power consumption of the Choc Creator is much less than most people would expect. The oldest 3D plastic printers needed to heat their extruders to extremely high temperatures in order to melt the plastic filaments, which required a constant flow of power, and this temperature remained the same throughout the duration of the print, which could be up to 8 hours for a large complicated model. The Choc Creator has a heating system that only needs to be set to 31°C for tempered chocolate. Although the Choc Creator does have a bright LCD touch-screen, any kind of fancy flashing lights, music boxes or typical light-up logos have purposely been avoided to keep power consumption down.
"What files are required for printing?"
The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus reads only G-code files. A slicer (ChocPrint) is provided with the unit that will convert STL files into G-codes. ChocPrint is best described as an advanced command line program with a basic STL visualizer.
"Will ChocPrint run on my computer?"
ChocPrint will run on Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 10. For Windows 10, the hard-wire connection has been removed as it is now an obsolete function due to customer preference. ChocPrint will not run on Mac OS, including iMacs and MacBooks.
"If the printer does not connect to a Windows 10 computer, how do you send G-codes to the printer?"
Due to customer preference, users who are running Windows 10 no longer require a hard-wire from their computer to the Choc Creator V2.0 Plus. We are aware that users much prefer to use their Choc Creator V2.0 Plus as a stand-alone unit, without any archaic hard-wire connection that is considered impractical in a chocolatier's studio kitchen. All users now place their G-codes onto a USB flashdrive and insert it into the port on side of the Choc Creator V2.0 Plus. The G-codes can then be accessed using YOUR DESIGN on the LCD Home Screen.
"Is ChocPrint or ChocDraw compatible with Apple iOS iMac, iBook, iPad, iPhone?"
No. They are not compatible with Apple technology. For ChocPrint, you will need to use a computer running a true Windows operating system, such as Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 or 10. For ChocDraw, you will need an Android OS device such as a smartphone or tablet (not iPhone or iPad).
"Is there any free software available that will help me to create simple designs?"
Yes. Google SketchUp, Autodesk, Blender and many more free applications will allow you to create simple designs and save them as STL or OBJ files. As with any piece of software, you may need to dedicate some learning time.
"What software is the Choc Creator compatible with for 3D?"
The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus follows the same principles as any 3D printer, so like all 3D printers, laser cutters and milling machines, the Choc Creator V2.0 Plus reads only G-code files. G-code files contain movement and action instructions for the printers X, Y, Z and E axis.
To get a G-code, you usually need to start by creating an STL (the actual 3D model file). The STL then needs to be coverted into a G-code using a slicer [slicing program].
ChocPrint is the slicer that we supply to users and it is best described as an advanced command line program with a basic STL visualizer. ChocPrint works in the following way: Users open ChocPrint on their Windows computer, import an STL (3D model file) into the program, and press the "generate G-code" button. The program will slice up the STL into layers that are suitable for chocolate printing. When it has finished slicing up the STL, you will have a G-code that you can directly port into the Choc Creator V2.0 Plus.
"Where do the STLs come from to begin with?" you may ask. To create you own models, there is a lot of free software available on the internet. Google SketchUp, Autodesk, Blender and many more free applications will allow you to create simple designs and save them as STL files. As with any piece of software, you may need to dedicate some learning time. For dedicated users, purchasing a monthly license for some of the more popular 3D modelling software, as well as Photoshop-CC, will provide you with a very useful pieces of software.
We also have online apps which feature ready-made STLs - The designs are all simple, but it is a good starting point for many of our users.
"What type of files are required for printing?"
The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus reads only G-code (instruction code) files. The ChocPrint program we issue with the printer can be used to convert STL files into G-codes that are suitable for chocolate printing.
"You mention a 'slicing program' called Choc Print you provide to users, but no mention of a 3D modeling software."
We do not currently provide users with any 3D modeling software. We have found the development of any propriety software (other than our slicer program, ChocPrint) to be unnecessary due to the amount of highly capable freeware already available on the internet. Choc Edge can also advise users on the best software to use for designing their own models depending on their level of experience.
"I tried working with some of the 3D software you suggest, but I just can't get to grips with it. I'm simply no good at this kind of design stuff. What are my options if I still want to work with a Choc Creator?"
If you do not work with a colleague who is capable in 3D design, some of your options are:
Use designs from Choc Edge's 2D/3D library or apps.
Search for free STLs online that appear suitable for chocolate printing.
Commission designs from local design agencies, art colleges and universities.
"Are your apps CHOCTEXT, MIX & MATCH and CHOCDRAW designed to replace the need for 3D software?"
No. CHOCTEXT is a very basic web-based app that has been designed as a quickfire tool for users who want to create simple TEXT and save it as an STL. MIX&MATCH is an enhanced version of CHOCTEXT which combines it with a library of simple 2D designs. CHOCDRAW is a doodling app for on-the-spot drawings and manual photo tracing (which is very useful for entertainment at events). For users who wish to create their own unique 2D or 3D designs, there is still a need for modelling software such as Autodesk, Blender and SketchUp (all of which happen to be free to download and use).
"What can a Choc Creator create?"
The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus is capable of producing detailed 2D art, 2.5D designs and simple 3D models in chocolate. Examples of prints can be found in our creations gallery.
"What is the picture format used for the machine?"
The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus uses G-code, which is a programming language - not a picture format. G-code is best described as the instruction code 3D printers use. Although there are various ways to create a G-code, the most popular way is to create one automatically by 'slicing up' a 3D model. Please see the question: I want to make my own designs...
"How can I upload a photo to the ChocPrint slicing program?"
You cannot directly upload a photo to the ChocPrint program. ChocPrint cannot accept Raster Graphics (such as JPEG, PNG, TIFF, BMP, etc) or Vector Graphics (AI, SVG, DXF, DWG, PDF, etc). Only STL and OBJ files can be used to generate a G-code with ChocPrint. It is therefore necessary to convert all photos and drawings to an STL or OBJ file, and then convert the STL or OBJ file to a G-code. The quickest way to convert a photo without the need of an STL or OBJ file is to trace it using our CHOCDRAW Android App (not compatible with iPhone/iPad). Simply set your photo as a background image and trace over it. A ready-to-use G-code file will be immediately created which can be sent directly to the printer.
"What's the difference between 2.5D and 2D-relief?"
Although they both belong in the same category of printmaking, there are slight differences between them. 2.5D is a shallow extrusion that is basically the same image repeatedly printed in layers. When printed with four or more layers, 2.5D prints are often presented as stand-alone pieces, whereas 2D-relief usually refers to a shallow extrusion rising up out of a substrate.
"Can solid 2D relief be achieved with a Choc Creator?"
A semi-solid or solid 2D relief could be achieved but only on a very small scale due to the printing time and amount of chocolate required, with the maximum capacity being 30ml before needing to pause and refill. Due to the time and effort required to produce a quality semi-solid or solid print, we advise users to print a 1-3 layer extrusion onto a substrate (e.g. a flat chocolate bar) to achieve the same effect.
"I still don't understand 2.5D and 2D-relief. Can you please elaborate on these terms?"
2.5D: 2D designs are only 1 layer, which is nearly flat at only 0.8mm in height. If that 1 layer is repeated 4 times, you have a design that is 4 layers high. It is not true 3D, but it has more depth than 2D, so we call it 2.5D
2D-Relief: A chocolate bar from a mould sometimes has letters or images rising up out of the bar - this is relief. Depending on the design and if we have a similar flat chocolate bar, we can sometimes mimic this process with a Choc Creator by printing onto the bar.
Occasionally, we have been asked how to create 2D drawings, so we have produced a 2D drawing app (ChocDraw) for this purpose.
"When printing 3D models, how is the exterior support structure (or raft) formed?"
No exterior support structures or rafts are used when 3D printing in chocolate. Designs therefore need to have very little in terms of overhang and any steep angles need to be considered.
"Can more complex models be printed when the printing speed is reduced?"
Yes. By reducing the printing speed, the chocolate has more time to dry, creating hardened layers to build the next layers onto. This helps with areas of slight overhang and steep angles.
"I have a very small (2cm) model that was created for plastic printing. Can the Choc Creator print it?"
It is difficult to say without seeing the model, but it should be noted that the Choc Creator has a limited resolution due to the nature of printing in liquid chocolate.
"I want to make my own designs but I know absolutely nothing about 3D software. I only have some pens and paper. How easy is it to make my own designs, and what software would I need?"
Although Choc Edge can provide customers with some pre-made printable designs, we realize that most customers want to create their own unique designs. When non-artists, non-designers or non-3D people think about "design", they usually imagine a sketch on paper since that is their level of familiarity. Although a sketch of an idea is a great place to start, the creation of a printable 2D, 2.5D or 3D design involves a number of processes which use 3D modelling software.
To put things simply, every 3D printer follows a set of instructions - to print something, the printer needs a code that tells it such things as "move left", "move right", "squeeze out chocolate", etc. Since the Choc Creator has been designed to use a standard kind of 3D printing instruction code, known as G-code, every design method needs to result in a G-code. So if you start with an idea in your head and make a quick sketch on paper, you need to somehow transform your sketch into a G-code.
In the case of Choc Edge and our Choc Creator, our G-codes are usually created by slicing up STLs using our own program called ChocPrint. STLs, G-codes and ChocPrint are linked in the following way:
STL: A 2D, 2.5D or 3D model. STLs have no instructions embedded into them, so the Choc Creator cannot read these files - instead, it needs a G-code that is created from the STL.
G-code: An instruction code that tells the Choc Creator what to do (such as move left/right, move up/down, extrude, etc). The Choc Creator reads these files and they can be created by slicing up an STL.
ChocPrint: Is a slicing program specifically tailored for chocolate. It is not a model-making or sculpting software - It is best described as an advanced command line program with a basic STL visualizer. To create a G-code, import an STL into ChocPrint and use the "STL-to-Gcode" function.
The three main types of print are as follows, and an STL must be made accordingly:
2D: When you make a design (such as a company logo which is flat, not 3D), it is usually a flat design that has been slightly extruded on the Z axis. We consider these STLs to be 2D, because they only have 1-2 layers, and they result in a print that looks like a flat drawing.
2.5D : When you make a design (such as a company logo which is flat, not 3D), the Z axis height can be extruded so that it is 3-6 layers (or even more layers) in height. We consider these STLs as 2.5D, because they have 3-6 layers in Z axis height, and they result in a print that looks like a flat drawing that has been 'raised up'.
3D: True 3D prints from 3D models. Of course, not every 3D model is suitable for printing in chocolate. Unlike 3D plastic printing there is no support structure when printing in chocolate, so it is best to avoid 3D models that have severe angles and lots of overhang. For example it would be impossible to print an open umbrella that is standing upright because of the severe overhang. However, it is possible to print 3D models with a reasonable amount of angular ascension that almost overhangs, such as the 3D LOVE print in our website gallery.
If you are able to create an STL, you will be able to slice the model into a G-code using our ChocPrint program. But we often meet novices who are concerned as to whether or not they will be able to get as far as creating an STL. The Choc Edge team uses a great deal of freely available software and some that is only available via monthly subscription. We try to use free software as much as possible as we need to be able to introduce it to our users and sometimes instruct them on its use. If you are concerned that you may not be able to get the hang of creating STLs yourself after you purchase a Choc Creator, why not try downloading some free software and spend some time experimenting?
"I'm a chocolatier that is actually studying very basic 3D design. I can only make simple shapes at the moment. I originally thought this skill would be useful for ordering custom moulds, but then I discovered your machine. Do you think I could use my basic STLs with your machine?"
Simple designs work very well for chocolate printing, since you don't need to concern yourself with any heavy design factors such as severe angles or areas that are approaching a stage of overhang. If you extrude ('vertically stretch') your simple designs, you could create something like a 2.5D heart or star with 10 layers, which would look very impressive when printed in chocolate despite its simplicity. Remember that chocolate printing is a brand new technology, so everything from a simple 2D logo to a full 3D object looks unique and impressive to chocolate-lovers.
"Following your advice, I downloaded Autodesk and have been playing around with it - pretty addictive! Can you just clarify what I do to get an STL once I've made a cool shape, please?"
Once you have made a shape, use the scale function to double-check that your model is no taller on the z-axis than 37.5mm. If needed, you can change your choice of measurement in the settings menu from inches to centimeters or millimeters. If your model is too tall, use the scale function to decrease the z-axis height. Now select "Export as 3D..." and choose STL. After you name your STL and the export process has finished, you can use our ChocPrint software to slice up your model into an STL.
Ordering, Delivery and Warranty
"Does the machine have a warranty?"
Yes. The Choc Creator is covered by a 6 month warranty. During this period any mechanical problems which cannot be fixed under our guidance will need to be looked at by our team who manufactures the Choc Creator. You will only pay for the shipping cost for sending the machine back to us. We will fix it or replace it depending on its condition. After 6 months, you will have access to our technical support team and if the machine was to break down, you can ask for a repair. We will then diagnose the problem and provide you with a quote. We only charge for the cost of the repair and will not make any profit out of it.
"What is the expected life of the printer?"
The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus should be mechanically sound for at least 5 years.
"What about a Melting Pot? What spare accessories do you have?"
We offer a basic Dual-Pan Melting Pot (£50), spare Stainless Steel Food-Grade Printing Syringe (£70 per unit) and spare 0.8mm Metal FDA-Approved Nozzle (£22 per unit).
"What are your delivery times?"
The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus is drop-shipped worldwide. After clearance of payment, delivery takes 5~7 working days if all the ordered items are in stock.
"How much does delivery cost?"
Please see our delivery page for the cost of shipping to your location.
"Is the machine still manufactured in the UK?"
No. The Choc Creator V2.0 Plus was designed by both a UK and Chinese team. The unit itself is now manufactured in China (where almost half the world's electronic goods are made) and drop-shipped directly from our factory. The manufacturing process is governed by the same UK and Chinese team, upholding quality standards to meet all necessary safety and CE regulations. Manufacturing in China has reduced the cost significantly - The new Choc Creator "V2.0 Plus" is approximately half the purchase price of the retired "V2.0 Standard".
"Will I have to pay import duties on my Choc Creator? Why?"
The Choc Creator units are shipped from Choc Edge's manufacturing facility in China and import duties will therefore apply. Duty will vary from country to country. It is the buyer's responsibility to pay for these import duties. Import duty is a tax that every importer has to pay to bring foreign goods into their country - It is not specific to Choc Edge. Import duty is also known as customs duty, tariff, or import tariff. Import duty can be "ad valorem" and based on the value of the goods, or it can be specific and based on weight, dimensions, or other units of measure.
Choc Edge now drop-ships its products from a new manufacturing plant in China. All orders are shipped via DHL and a World Zone system is used for calculating shipping costs. Depending on your country and region, you may or may not be subjected to an import duty. Customers requiring an import duty estimate should contact their local DHL office.
"I'm a chocolatier. How can purchasing a Choc Creator make me more money?"
As a chocolatier, you will be familiar with generic moulds for chocolate and the fact that customized moulds can be expensive and not cost-effective when making a bespoke item for a single customer. Similarly, you will be familiar with the limitations of moulding and the struggle to produce crisp, clean, and accurate graphics using traditional handpiping techniques. The Choc Creator will enable you to produce bespoke and personalized chocolate in ways that moulding, handpiping and sculpting cannot. The key to making money with a Choc Creator is what we call "added value", which means that regular plain chocolate plaques, cookies, cakes and other confectionery staples can be transformed into unique items and priced accordingly. An example would be a chocolatier producing a batch of flat chocolate plaques or flat cookies to act as a base for printing 2D artwork onto. Without the attraction of being "personalized and 3D printed", even the most attractive regular chocolate plaques need to be priced in competition with the abundance of affordable chocolate items that are now on offer. Marketed as an item produced using a state-of-the-art 3D chocolate printer, personalized plaques (with sometimes nothing more than a simple 3D printed name) can easily be priced at two or three times the standard price of a plaque.
Contrary to popular belief, printing names, drawing and logos in 2D is more profitable than 3D objects, with 2D designs taking just a fraction of the time it takes to print a 3D object. The speed in which 2D designs can be printed onto a flat chocolate plaque enables chocolatiers to offer this service within a matter of hours, whereas 3D objects are best reserved for highly-specialized gifts, gourmet dessert garnishes and luxury wedding cake decorations. Every chocolatier has their own creative ideas - Some are happier working in more tradition ways, others want to experiment a little.
"I'd like to reduce manpower. Will a Choc Creator run unassisted all day long?"
No. The Choc Creator is essentially a desktop printer for one-off bespoke items and small production runs. It is therefore necessary to refill and reset the printer after each print, as well as to intermittently monitor the printer.
"How do I make and where do I get customised models for chocolate (not plastic) printing?"
Even with very little experience you can create your own by simply taking into consideration the following: Unlike 3D plastic printers, there is no structural support when using chocolate, so make sure the model you make does not have overhang or very steep angles. Make sure the model is no more than 4cm in height and that 30ml of chocolate will be enough to print the model. Very tiny areas of detail don't print well - remember the resolution is 0.8mm lines with our standard nozzle - so try not to create too much detail. It is always best to start with very simple shapes and work your way up to more complicated models.