The 3D Printing Revolution

February 22, 2016

This is a very special post!  A guest post!

Barry Hand from Reify has been kind enough to collaborate on an article about 3D printing. Barry is an expert in the field of 3D printing and his company Reify has printed dozens of models for LS3P over the last few years.

In this post I will share how 3D printing has been a game changer for our practice: saving our clients money, saving us time and improving the overall quality of our presentations.  And Barry will answer the following questions:

  1. What are the the most common types of 3D printers?

  2. How much does 3D printing cost?

  3. How does the process of 3D printing work?

  4. Should you own a 3D printer or outsource?


How 3D Printing Became a Game Changer

Before I let Barry take the reins, I want to briefly describe how we use 3D printing at LS3P.

During my first 5 years at LS3P Charleston we rarely used physical models.  The rare occasion would be for presentation purposes such as an interview presentation or for a Board of Architectural Review meeting.   

Although model making was once a revered trait for an architect, the art and craft of model making has slowly dwindled.  In our office, it had become a dreaded task because it took a ton of time and nobody was particularly good at it.  In fact, the chore was usually handed down to the lowest ranking intern.  The last one in the door policy.

Cue the violins......

But 2013, we decided to try our hand at 3D printing.  The price for the technology had become much more reasonable and the quality was excellent.

We got hooked up with Barry's company Reify and began to outsource 3D printed models.  We were already digitally modeling our buildings in Revit, so there were only a few extra steps needed to get the Revit file ready to print.

We found the 3D printed models to be very effective and in 2014, LS3P purchased our own 3D printer.  We are now the proud owners of a MultiJet printer.  More on the different types of projects below.

We now print about half of our projects in house and outsource the rest to companies like Reify.

It has been a real game changer.

Rather than dreading the cumbersome handmade model, we now look forward to the opportunity to see our abstract digital creations come to life.  


Why should architects use 3D printed models?

  1. $$$ Cost

  2. Quality

  3. Time

I should point out that the model on the left was one of the best hand made models I could find in our office.  And it still doesn't approach the quality of the 3D printed model.

Also, it should be noted that the cost would be the cost for the client.  We don't pay our interns $85 per hour!  Haha.  I wish.

The timing is hard to compare.  Our outsourced models typically take 5-7 business days, but can be rushed at an up charge.  If we print in house we do have the availability to have something the next day.  

The key point is that once we send the digital model into the interweb, we don't have to do anything.  So the timing is irrelevant. 

At this point I am turning the article over to Barry Hand.  Take it away Barry! 

Getting Started with 3D Printing


by Barry Hand, President of Reify

The world of architectural model building is seeing a revolution of sorts.

Traditional methods of fabricating in-house models using balsa wood, foam, and foam core board can be very labor and material intensive.  A model constructed at a professional model shop can run in the 4-5 figures for a single model.

3D printing offers a digital solution that can save you time and money, and let you pursue revenue generating activities instead of long hours building a model.

3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) creates models by putting down layers of material in patterns created by 3D computer aided design software (CAD). Each layer is a “slice” through the digital model, producing a very accurate representation of the original design.


What are the most common types of 3D printers?

  • MultiJet: binding powder with resin

  • SLA: liquid resin hardened by UV light

  • FDM: extruded plastic filament

  • Material jetting: multi material

MultiJet 3D Printer:  Architectural models are most often made using the Multi Jet process, also known as Color Jet Printing (CJP), because the printers use ink-jet like printer heads. CJP can print in color for little additional cost, produces models that look and feel like sandstone, and can reproduce fairly detailed surface features.  (This is the type Steve uses at LS3P)

SLA 3D Printer:  SLA yields the highest resolution, producing very fine detail and smooth surfaces. However, it can’t print in color, and is usually more expensive for larger models.

FDM 3D Printer:  FDM produces crude models which can be perfect for context or massing models. They are monochrome and have multiple color options.

Material Jetting Printer:  Material jetting is relatively new on the market, and can print in multiple materials and colors. However, this is an expensive process and should be used only when high detail or accuracy and color are required.

How much does 3D printing cost?

There are two main factors in calculating the cost of a 3D printed model:  

  1. file repair or conversion

  2. printing cost

Many CAD files can have hundreds of thousands, even millions, of “facets”. Facets are triangles created by software that represent every piece of the surface of a model, both inside and out.

Sometimes, these facets have errors that make the files un-printable. Talented designers with special software can repair and convert those files, which costs money.

The main printing cost is based on the volume of the material used to print the model.

For a 9” x 3” x 3” MultiJet model that required minimal repair and scaling, the final model cost would be approximately $800. On the other end of the spectrum, a 24” x 18” x 4” model with a lot of detail that has to be printed in multiple pieces and assembled would cost over $4000.

As stated earlier, color adds little to the printing cost. If you have texture files you can send them together with the CAD model. It is also possible to apply color to the model using graphical renderings, which adds to the file preparation time, and therefore the total cost of the model.

One important thing to note is that there is no added cost for complexity.  Therefore having a building with lots of ins and outs and organic shapes would not drive up the printing cost.  This is especially beneficial compared to hand made models where these types of complexities were extremely challenging to model and would translate into additional labor.

Get it printed!  The process of outsourcing your 3D printed model.

The idea of trying that first 3D printed model can be intimidating to many people.  Relax!  We have provided some simple check lists outlining the process.

Here is as helpful checklist for making sure your CAD model is as printer-friendly as possible:

  • Check your model to be sure that it is structurally intact. Detached roofs are the most common error.
  • Hide any features/layers you will not see: interior walls, staircases, cabinets and doors, etc.  Remember that you pay for material, so no need to print money inside of your model.
  • Consider the desired final model size and determine the scale of the model. Keep in mind any landscape details.
  • Separate each building into separate models. Don’t combine multiple context models into one file. This allows the printer to nest the models in the most efficient manner.
  • Remove any potentially delicate features that are not important in the final model. Sometimes lamp posts or railings are insignificant. But balcony rails may be critical to the visual perception and acceptance of the design.
  • Consider any coloring desired and have texture files or color renderings available.

Step-by-Step Process

  1. The first step is generally a phone call. You will discuss the project goals and timeline, as well as defining the CAD software you use. Most software can generate files that can be used or converted for printing.
  2. Upload your file through a portal, like This is a secure upload and can handle very large files.
  3. Getting a cost estimate is free and can typically be turned around in 1 business day or less. You should be sure to review the quote carefully to confirm the desired outcome. The final cost may be slightly higher or lower, but no more than 10% typically.
  4. Place your order! Include any last minute updates. Remember that large structural additions or subtractions will affect the final cost.
  5. The file is reviewed by a designer and converted to an STL (surface tessellation) file that is compatible with the printer. Some details may be too small to preserve after the walls and other thin elements are thickened for structural integrity.
  6. Printing is most efficient in batches, so models are printed simultaneously if possible. Printing can take 1 hour for every ¾” (19mm) of height.
  7. The model is cleaned up and additional bonding agent is applied, then allowed dry.
  8. Models ship very well. Your model can be shipped directly to you at whatever rate you choose.


Should you own a 3D printer or outsource?

Owning a 3D Printer

  • Many 3D printers are office friendly, while others require venting and special work space for post processing. 
  • The decision to purchase a printer must include whether there is space and power available for the printer and post processing, personnel to attend to the printing (typically one trained technician can handle a few machines), and dry storage for materials.  Many resellers offer maintenance packages, spare printing supplies and training.
  • Today there are ways to improve the fabrication of architectural models. The technology has improved a great deal in recent years and will continue to get better and less expensive. With a large enough volume, purchasing a printer might be right for you. There are many types of printers and they require some skill to operate.

Outsourcing 3D Printing

  • For some, outsourcing may be a wiser choice particularly if volume is small and personnel resources short. As you can see from the list above, the return on investment can be lengthy if you are not keeping a machine busy 24/7.
  • Outsourcing can also be a very cost effective solution.  The benefits include fast turnaround, highly detailed model features, and ability to change designs at low cost. Companies like Reify can help you find the best fit for your application and provide a turnkey service for your firm. 


Thanks to Barry from Reify!

Much love to Barry Hand from Reify.  I have been wanting to write a post on 3D printing for a while and Barry was kind enough to offer his expertise.  If you have any questions or are in need of 3D printing, give Barry a shout:

Steve's Final Wrap Up

Still not convinced?

The models pictured above are 3 iterations of the same project.  Over a couple of months we changed the design of the front facade and printed a model at each step.  

If we had somebody in our office model the same building 3 times by hand they would go nuts.  In fact, on one occasion our cleaning crew accidentally threw away a bin full of printed models.  It sucked, but at the end of the day it was pretty easy to have the models reprinted.

3D printing has saved our clients money and has saved our architects a ton of time.  Perhaps the best part is that the quality of the models is superb. 

If you have any other questions about 3D printing shoot me an email or reach out to Barry.  And remember.....sharing is caring!