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Nov 13, 2020

We recently received a request to comment on the abundance of 'fake images' (computer generated imagery) of 3D printed food that is spreading thoughout the internet.

This is something we have noticed increasing over the past few years, and our stance on this matter has been made known at events and tradeshows where the public has come to inspect our technology in person, with many being wary of our claims about our technology, largely due to misleading information created by the suppositions of tech-journalistics and the poor quality results of copycat competitors.

Put simply, we feel only 'real life' 3D food (chocolate) prints should be used in promotional artwork, to truthfully represent the outcomes a user can expect to achieve.

When 3D food printing reached the mainstream consumer, we knew it would only be a matter of time before we would see new companies appearing every week, all hoping to grab a piece of the "3D Printed Pie". While the dissemination and adoption of 3D food (chocolate) printing has alway been our goal, and we are immensely proud of all the work we have done to start this revolution and single-handedly introduce the world to ALM food (chocolate) manufacturng, we are also very concerned as to how newcomers to this industry are protraying this technology, and how inaccurate some of the descriptions of the current capabilities are, leading to confusion as to what kind of results a user should expect now that we are a decade into this revolution, and what they can realistically hope to achieve with this technology.

Perhaps what concerns us most is the use of 'fake imagery' in lieu of actual printed results, as this completely underminds all the work we have done to keep the world updated as to exactly what the current status of 3D food (chocolate) printing is - What can we acheive now in 2021? In what kind of time per print? In what quality and/or resolution? etc.

In the modern world of online selling and pop-up companies, it's nothing new to see 'fake imagery' used as a way to encourage sales, often when the actual product is of such poor quality that it becomes impossible to disguise or present it using images from 'real life'.

Of course, there is a level of tolerance for this, such as T-shirt companies displaying their designs by compositing graphics over images of plain white T-shirts, which is not a 'real life' product but nevetheless presents a close enough approximation of the final screen-printed garment that it is acceptable and causes no issues in terms of what the consumer is expecting to receive.

It is, however, the 'fake images' that are claiming to be the results of 3D food (chocolate) printing equipment that we feel to be incredibly detrimental to the work of our community and, even more worrying, such
false claims damage the credibility of the process, causing potential users to avoid what they feel is 'too good to be true', and refusing to adopt the technology due to lack of faith and trust.

From the very beginning, everything ChocEdge has presented to the public has been real, with everything photographed from 'real life' 2D/3D chocolate prints that have been designed and printed personally by Anthony, and photographed by either Anthony himself or Mark. In fact, a lot of our 'behind the scenes' images are designed to show how we arrive at our final prints, and we are completely open about what is and isn't possible with all forms of 2D/3D food (chocolate) printing, even going so far as to show our rejected works and failures.

Nothing is hidden or disguised - Aside from the legalities in terms of the rights the consumer has to see the actual results of a technology they are contemplating on adopting, we understand our role in helping to track the progress of the technology in this field that we have largely contributed to the creation of.

We have always believed this approach accurately informs the public (consumers) of how far down the line we are to a completely mature product that performs as intended by our design team, and provides the outcomes expected by the user. This is one reason reason why a decade ago we advertised and sold the Choc Creator V1.0 as a 'prototype', which caused no issues at all, as the results we presented to users in both image and video form were true representations of what could be achieved at that time. Likewise, for the V2.0 Standard, we presented a fully matured 2D/2.5D/2.75D gallery, with 3D being conveyed as a still-maturing extension of our 2.75D work. The V2.0 Plus is accurately presented to the best of our ability, with promotional images of the results from 'direct printing' (no assembled parts) with 'passive curing' (no forced cooling).

What can be considered a saving grace is how smart the public actually is, which they certainly don't receive enough credit for, and we often receive requests for our opinions on companies that make claims of achieving things that we have yet been able to, or hiding factors that the consumer should know, such as 3D printing in chocolate-flavoured grease paste and calling it 'chocolate', or indeed Photoshopping complex plastic prints to make them appear as if they are made from chocolate.

In summary,'fake imagery' in the world of marketing is very sneaky but also a very grey area in some people's eyes, and if cunningly exploited can encourage huge sales, often with no harm to the business or customer base. Our eyes, however, see only in black and white, and we are always careful to market the results of the Choc Creator V2.0 Plus as honestly and accurately as possible.

On a final amusing note, we once received an email containing an image of an barn owl claiming to be printed in chocolate, with the sender concerned that she has been tricked into purchasing a cheap food printer. The image looked too good to be true with impossible levels of detail and a gravity-defying structure, and when she followed our advice to request another image from a different angle, she received the original National Geographic image of the owl before it was photoshopped, as the company in question had panicked, hit the wrong button, and sent this version of image to her in error. When she questioned them about this, they informed her that the image of the 'chocolate owl' was moulded (when it clearly wasn't). Finally, when she asked as to why she received an image of a 'moulded' item when she had clearly purchased an ALM printer from them, she received a reply saying, "We struggled to print this, and then struggled to mould it, so we just coloured a photo for this one".

Well, as you can probably guess, we know a little about start-ups, and anything less than an honest approach is a recipe for disaster for any start-up.

Jul 20, 2020

“I still don't understand how you can 3D print without scaffolding. How are you guys deiying gravity?”

We're often asked this question, and the answer is quite simple : We design and build chocolates that don't require any form of support.

As mentioned in our literature, no exterior support structures (known as "scaffolds" or "rafts") are used when 3D printing in chocolate. Despite videos showing objects being built in real time, the fact that no support structure is used seems to perplex many of our followers, as if it should be impossible to build an object without it.

Although support structures are commonly used in 3D plastic printing, the same approach to building complex structures with areas of overhang simply isn't suitable for chocolate. There are a number of reasons why support isn't used, which include :

(1) We print using tempered liquid chocolate with lines that are 0.8mm in thickness, which means the liquid chocolate deposited for any kind of exterior structural support would be equally thick (and even with a heavily tailored system, no smaller than 0.4mm, which would itself reintroduce the unreliability factor we put to bed a few years ago). Any support structure in liquid chocolate, in equal thickness, will interconnect and adhere/bind itself to the rest of the model. Tempered chocolate is like the cement of the food world, and it can't be cleanly detached from itself - It's simply impossible to break away (or even gently scrape away) unwanted areas without snapping parts of the model and destroying its beauty. It's a matter of material - When we produce any 3D plastic prints on our state-of-the-art FDM printers, we regularly need to tidy the results by sanding down the remnants of the support to get a perfect finish, and there is no real process that equates to this for chocolate with any reliable outcome.

(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. However, this is a moot point - See (1).

(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. However, this too is a moot point - See (1).

(4) With so much liquid chocolate being deposited in such a small space, it would be near impossible to stop the lines of chocolate bleeding into each other, which would not only cause dragging but also change the shape of the model when they cure and adhere/bond to each other. Even by cutting or snapping these away, the model would be left scarred and can't be refinished - If you are going to that much trouble for every chocolate, the output rate wouldn't be viable for any business, but this is again a moot point - See (1).

(5) Even with a machine designed to use support, the function could never be used to any reliable effect due to the time that would need to be dedicated to manually removing the support, which is an impossible task even for our expert chocolatiers. Even if there was an automated method for this, it is again still a moot point for all the other aforementioned reasons.

In summary, 3D chocolate designs 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. Any areas of a model that are "floating in the air" with no underlying support will simply not print as expected.

Now, the above doesn't include any mention of "experimenting" as we focus solely on what our clients need to understand and what they will be able to achieve. We are certain there will be students in a university somewhere you might want to challenge all of the above for their graduation thesis, but we prefer to focus on what can be done repeatedly and reliably.

However, we do encourage our users to push their designs to the limit - If you take a look at the LOVE design in our gallery, you might notice that it almost overhangs, and it should be noted that this was the revised version for clients to use. The original version was actually overhanging, and although it could be printed under optimal conditions, the all-important level of user tolerance wasn't there, and that verision didn't pass the validation process for that reason. (Please see our article on validation to learn more).

If you're looking to produce a single item that shows off the prowess of the Choc Creator V2.0 Plus, why not try pushing the limits of unsupported printing as far as you can go ?

So use your imagination, get designing, and see what you can create !

Below you'll see an image featuring a variety of interesting designs mid-validation, and you might notice that some of the designs are really pushing the boundaries of unsupported angular ascension. Not every design shown here made it into the current library, as we listen to feedback and remove those that our expert chocolatiers feel cross the line between a 'severe angle' and 'overhang'.

Jul 9, 2020

We received the following question :

"You keep using this phrase 'validation' or 'validated'. What exactly does this mean, and should I do it?"

Validating a design simply means testing a design repeatedly until you are certain that it prints correctly with a slight tolerance for minor changes in temperature, etc.

If a design isn't valdated, it should never be used for any projects or production runs, as it may have printed successfully and in adequate quality once or twice, but if (for example) a design is hastily tested and then used for a run of 50 prints, how many of these prints will fail? What happens mid-print if the room temperature rises by a degree or two - Will the design still print correctly? Finding your design isn't printing as it should during a production run creates what could be described as 'a bit of a panic', and you have get back to the drawing board with an extra pressure on your shoulders to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

Validating isn't a term you hear a great deal in the hobbyist world of 3D plastic printing, as practically anything you design in a CAD program will print in plastic as a 1:1 replica. For 3D plastic printing, users may find that they need to tweak their model slightly in their CAD program after a few test prints, just to perfect the outcome, but they very rarely need to experiment with the parameters to get their models to print. In fact, on this note, we have a 3D plastic printer in the Choc Edge studio and we've just realised that we've never actually had to touch the settings (which are the factory defaults) as it prints everything flawlessly as is.

3D printing in chocolate is, however, a slightly different process. When designing 3D models with the intention of printing them in chocolate, it's vital to remember that whatever you design will not only be printed in liquid chocolate, but also without any kind of external support / raft / scaffolding, and in a resolution suitable for chocolate that is lower than the latest micro-fine plastic printers.

This design process involves far more consideration than that required for plastic printing, as you need to be creative but at the same time not let your imagination run wild. While designing your model, keeping an image in your head as to what the design will look like building up layer-by-layer in liquid chocolate will help to keep you grounded - If you don't think the tiny details you've have added to your model will print in 0.8mm liquid chocolate, remove them and keep everything simple, compromising however you can.

Once a suitable design has been created, the next step is to test it by generating a G-code using the default parameters and seeing what the outcome is. If the print is a success, it should be printed again immediately with the same batch of tempered chocolate. If the print fails the second time, the first print may have only been successful by chance or serendipity, as we've witnessed moments (often during days of unusual weather) when temperature / humidity suddenly changes and a design that should be impossible to print has actually printed, albeit not perfectly, but it does prove that designs need to be properly validated by having their success rate tested and documented.

If the design appears to have printed twice without any flaws, such as missed layers or areas of collapse, it's a good sign that the default parameters used to generate the G-code are suitable for the design, and no further tweaking of these parameters in required. In this case, the design should now go through a validation process. To validate a design, it should be printed multiple times, with slight changes to the external factors that affect the success of a print. A validation example could be as follows; The print should be repeated 20 times under recommended conditions, followed by 20 prints with a slight increase in ambient temperature, followed by 20 prints with a slight increase in room humidity, followed by 20 prints using chocolate that has been tempered but kept heated (and without re-seeding) for more than 30 minutes, etc. This careful validation process may involve printing the same design up to 100 times, and from that quantity, the aim is to have a success rate that is as close to 90% as possible (understanding that there must be a tolerance for 3D printing models in liquid chocolate).

If a design simply will not print after testing it with a variety of parameters, the design is likely to be unsuitable for printing in chocolate, in which case it should be reworked with a little more consideration for the restrictions highlighted in our literature.

So what if your design appears to print without issues having tested it once or twice? This all depends on the purpose of the design. If you simply want to print a piece of 3D cchocolate for display in a cabinet in your chocolate store, then as long as you have a perfect print, there really is no need to validate the design. Likewise, if you want to create a photoshoot of a collection of 3D printed chocolates for a store website, there is no need to validate your designs if they have printed accurately. It is only when you plan to print the design in large quantities that the repeatability factor and success rate becomes important. We ourselves have a number of designs on file that are never given to clients simply because they were created as one-off items for an event, magazine article or TV appearance and we had no need to validate them.

If you are undertaking a production run, the design needs to be valiated so there are no suprises when it comes to the success rate calculated at the end of the run.

For a dozen prints of the same design, we would again suggest seeing how many perfect prints you can make without fully validing the design, but for full scale production, especially under strict time constraints, you really need to have that confidence that your design has been validated, and that leaves only the chocolate preparation and temperature control to manage.

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