Addi(c)tive popculture

Today we have something special for fans of both 3D printing and technological innovations, but also interested in their impact on our culture. You thought that 3D printers made their screen debut with Westworld or Black Mirror? Well, not quite so.

Stanisław Lem


If we would look for 3D printing in popculture, first things that come to our minds are probably movies and TV series. However to find first published concepts of 3D printing we would have to reach for literature. Stanisław Lem was a polish author known for his brilliant and innovative ideas. His futuristic works foresaw many inventions, for example the Internet. In one of his books – The Magellanic Cloud (1955)  – he presented us Trions, based on quartz, portable memories. Moreover they could store production information, which they send to robots making the desired product for clients. It sounds quite familiar, doesn’t it?

Greg Egan in his novel Diaspora (1997) went even further. His vision of future based on the possibility of building from elements as small as quarks.  Machines described in his book are able to process given material in a special chamber and create something brand new from it. Even though now we don’t have tools to operate on such small objects, who knows what we’ll be able to do in a couple of years.

Probably the most direct approach to 3D printing can be found Cory Doctorow’s book. The plot of Makers takes place in not so faraway future, where big factories were replaced by desktop 3D  printers and local production. The idea of decentralization of manufacturing is already being implemented and goes by the name Industry 4.0.


It won’t be surprising to expect 3D printing in sci-fi movies. That is definitely true, but not only sci-fi industry has monopoly on 3D printers. Adults surely remember growing up with TV series and movies from the Star Trek universe. Most likely first to be seen 3D printer is the Star Trek’s food synthesizer. Although it kept the whole crew free from hunger it’s not as famous as the REPLICATOR. Who haven’t dreamed about having one at home? Even if it’s not called 3D printing it’s obviously additive manufacturing.

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Not only Star Trek creators thought of using 3D printers on screen. Lately we hear quite frequently about bioprinting, so it’s sounds like it’s a new idea. But do you remember „The Fifth Element” where Bruce Willis wanders through space and is a die-hard protector of main heroine – Leeloo? At the very beginning of the movie Leeloo is reconstructed by a bioprinter. The process of bone creation differs from what we call 3D printing, but printing of cells looks exactly like the way we expected it, however it’s a lot faster. We will also mention bioprinting in one of new Netflix series. Do you know which one?

The Fifth Element

Also we have to mention that 3D printers are already being used on International Space Station. The cost of transporting anything into space is really high, that’s why astronauts depend on 3D printers and models that are send to them if they need anything. People behind Cloverfield Paradox also used 3D printing on a space station, but they took it to a next level. Their 3D printers are used not only to print for example guns, but also food.

Paradox Cloverfield

In Jurassic Park prehistory and future meet each other. Dinosaurs are being resurrected with the help of pinnacle of technology. In the third part of the series we are presented with Rapid Prototyper, something that we would call a 3D printer. It was used to create a resonating chamber of which helped one of protagonists to imitate the sound of a dinosaur and somehow communicate. It’s worth noting that the print is very realistic. We can see all the defects that should be later removed by post-processing.

Jurassic Park 3

Have you ever wanted to give your child a unique 3D printed toy? That might be great unless you give that toy a mind of its own. At least that’s the thoughts that you can have after watching Small Soldiers. In the movie printed toys which have malfunctioning artificial intelligence started a war in the town they found themselves.
3D printing is not only used for toys and gadgets. It plays a major role in the industry. Not so long ago we wrote about 3D printing in the automotive industry. The popularity of additive manufacturing finds its reflection among movie inventors and designers.
Marvel universe contains loads of strange, sometimes unbelievable visions of advanced technologies. So it’s not surprising that the workshop of a famous genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist – Tony Stark – has something as casual as a 3D printer.
Also inventor Hank Pym hasn’t forgot to place his own 3D printer in his lab. We don’t know if he used it while creating the Ant-man suit, but for sure he’s using it in his current research.
3D printers are not only exclusive to Marvel heroes. They also play an important part for designers. That seems obvious for Evan Webber – an architect from Knock Knock. We have a chance to watch him design models which he will most likely print later.

Let us move to not so legal professions. The dream of every thief is to perform a perfect heist. The plot of Chinese Zodiac hovers around retrieving twelve bronze sculptures, symbolizing the zodiac signs featured in the title. The scanner along with a 3D printer that are used in the movie allowed the protagonists to replace one of the artifacts, so at first glance the switch couldn’t be detected.

Chinese Zodiac

A very similar idea was used in this year’s trilogy spin-off about a genius robber – Danny Ocean. In Ocean’s 8 the priceless necklace from Cartier-Toussaiint is scanned with microcameras placed in a pair of glasses. Thanks to the received model a band of thieves is printing a fake and they are planning to replace it instead of the original.

Not so long ago we saw a trailer of a movie where 3D printing will play an important role – Hotel Artemis. We don’t know what exactly it is for, but we can see a gun being printed in the trailer – so we can guess that’s something crucial to movie’s plot.

TV series

As you can see 3D printing appears in the movies more often than you would think. Sometimes you could get just a short glimpse at a 3D printer in the background, however more and more often additive manufacturing techniques become the main plot. 3D printing is not only present on the silver screen. We have mentioned the Star Trek series as an example of using the idea of 3D printing, but it is not the only show in which widely known printers, filaments and prints appear.

TV shows unlike any other media depict problems and controversies which we nowadays face. Just a few days ago our CEO has given an interview for polish webside on the right to publish on the Internet specific instructions to print out the Liberator gun HERE. This case is trending for a couple of years now, that is why it echoed widely in the popculture, pushing the screenwriters’ imaginations further.

Before we switch to printable guns, let’s take a moment to check a small plot in the background of the series „Bones”, and that is 3D printing in criminology. In episode 5 of series 6 main characters dwell upon a case in which there were only a couple of skull pieces found along with an imprint of the skeleton in the concrete. Thanks to 3D printing they managed to reconstruct the victims skeleton, identify the gender and eventually solve the case.


Elementary is a show about Sherlock Holmes living in New York of our times. Five years ago season two opening episode was aired; it was a murder story where the killer used a 3D printed gun which was latter dissolved in acetone.

Sounds like the perfect crime, doesn’t it? Maybe that’s why the motive of 3D printed guns doesn’t only appear in Elementary. There are a lot of crime shows, and one of the most recognizable productions are the CSI series. In one of the episodes the „bad guy” uses a printed gun which makes it a lot harder for the detectives to track him.

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The possibility of printing guns leads to a lot of legal talks around the topic, and that is perfectly shown in one of the episodes of The Good Wife.  When a 3D printed gun fires accidentally at the shooting range and injures one of the clients, the issue of responsibility emerges. Who is to blame; the man who printed the faulty gun? The designer? Or maybe the printer itself?

The Good Wife

It is no longer a surprise for us that 3D printing has its place in medicine. However, even in one of the Grey’s Anatomy episodes aired in 2013, the medical Staff approaches this technology very cautiously. Only after the first (not necessarily successful) printouts doctors from the Seattle Grace Hospital started to work with printouts connected to lab tests and operations that could actually save lives.

We’ve mentioned bioprinting when The Fifth Element came up, although its TV premiere was made in Almost Human. In the final episode of season one a case of murder is being solved, however in the end it turns out that the victims are not humans but printed humanoids.

Altered Carbon, this years’ Netflix premiere mentions bioprinting as well. Printer shown in the series allowed to print a full-scale and functioning human body. In addition to the ability of changing consciousness premiered in the show, this technology made it easy for the main hero to pretend to be someone else.

HBO, apart from the series starring the mother of dragons and a very uncomfortable chair, offers us a show in which printing human bodies is possible. Despite its western-like style, Westworld takes us to a fake, created world where rich customers can do anything they want with printed and lab-preprogrammed hosts. The question is are the hosts just machines, or should they be considered humans?

It would be extremely strange if there wouldn’t be anything said about 3D printing in The Big Bang Theory. After all, where else would you look for any fresh technical news if not in TV show featuring fans of science, Star Wars and Marvel comics? Screenwriters decided to make a whole episode dedicated to 3D printing, showing it in a typical for the series, satirical way. Main characters of the show after buying a 3D printer decide to make a whistle. They manage to print in in 3 hours, what is considered to be a great saving in comparison to actually going to a store and buying one for 25 cents. However the main purpose of the printer is to create superhero statues.

Big Bang Theory

You already know that 3D printers are absolutely necessary in the Marvel heroes workshops. How does the DC universe cope with this issue? In Arrow’s hideout we’ll find one too. We don’t get to know what is it used for exactly, but we can assume that it helps in developing new weapons and gadgets that are used to serve justice.

Season two of Scorpions brings us a plot similar to the one used in Chinese zodiac or Ocean’s 8. The show tells a story about a group of friends with very specific sets of skills. What else could they use for creating a fake antique vase if not a 3D printer?

Black Mirror, a legendary TV series known and valued for its specific way of showing disturbing visions of our near future is a real mine of 3D printing motives. There are plenty of examples, however the most figurative one is in the episode six of season three, where artificial bees are replicated using 3D printers. There is also a whole printer farm shown which stimulates the viewers’ imagination. Season four is a 3D printing galore. In the opening episode printing people using their DNA is shown, and in the season finale that leaves almost no place for doubts (spoiler-free, we know it’s not fair!) during the scene in the laboratory there are a couple of working printers using some kind of paste. That lets us wonder what are they printing…

Black mirror

New Netflix family science fiction series – Lost in Space – mentions 3D printing too. We get to know the history of the colonist family, whose ship crashes on an alien planet, and we can see how they print tools and spare parts but also firearms along other things.

3D printing made its way into animated series. In The Simpsons episode 536 elections are in progress. It’s typical for the series that those elections have to be turned into comedy. One of the candidates revealed near the end is a printed Lisa Simpson.

Let’s stay a while in an animated climate. The robot Bender featured in Futurama reminds himself about his childhood dream of becoming a folk singer. He takes a photo of the world’s most famous folk artist’s guitar and prints out a perfect replica for himself. With an instrument like that he’s more than sure that nothing stands in his way of becoming a famous singer.


Another source where we can find 3D printing or technology based on it are computer games. Games itself are quite a breakthrough as a new kind of storytelling, which engages the spectator and allows him to shape the plot on his own.

In the second part of a famous trilogy from Bioware – Mass Effect – in the opening scene we can see the body of our main hero being retrieved from the space void. Afterwards it’s being recreated and reanimated with the help of advanced technology. Although we don’t come across the word ‘3D printing’, the process used to heal commander Shepard is similar to bioprinting, which we’ve already seen, for example, in The Fifth Element.

Mass effect

In Deus Ex Human Revolution an almost exact same motive is used as in Mass Effect. Main character – Adam Jensen – is heavily injured. To save his life the use of augmentation – replacing destroyed body parts with artificial –  is necessary. We don’t have a chance to see how augmentations are made but the creators of the game with the cooperation of another company made a model of a hand based on Adam Jensen’s hand. Moreover it’s ready to be downloaded to print by yourself and assemble prosthesis for your own use.

3D print behind the scenes

Except for 3D printers that we can see on movie screens, 3D printing plays another important part in movie industry. And what’s it exactly? About all props that used to be made by hand only, now with 3D printers available, are not as much time consuming and way cheaper.

The use of 3D printers wasn’t so popular during the making of The Lord of the Rings to use it for making props, but while making The Hobbit trilogy it was one of the main tools used in preparing costumes. It not only reduced time, but also the cost of production – for example the cost of an eye mechanism for goblins was around 50$ and took one day to complete with 3D printers, while using traditional production methods it would take around 2 weeks and cost significantly more.

Earlier we have already told you about 3D printers in Marvel’s productions. The famous Iron Man suit from the second movie of the sseries was made using only 3D printers. It was the first use of 3D printers to make the whole suit, but it was necessary, because there were several copies of the suit used during the making of the movie.

Iron man 2

In Interstellar most of the scenography was created with 3D printing. The movie bases its plot on a group of scientists who discover a wormhole and intend to use it to save humanity from the looming climate crisis. All the spaceships and their interiors were made with 3D printers.

A lot of props and costumes were printed for the Guardians of the Galaxy. Weapons of main characters, parts of ships and Star-Lord’s helmet also contain many 3D printed elements in them.  Whole armour of one of the antagonists – Korath – is a one big print. Also one of the new Marvel movies – Black Panther – used 3D printers to make the suit of the main character. It looks like additive technology will be used even more in Marvel’s productions.

Guardians of the Galaxy

An interesting use of 3D printing took place while making Maleficent. Since it is extremely hard to take measurements of a horse, prop makers decided to scan the horse and afterwards print the armour that will perfectly fit the animal.

Not only action movies use 3D printers. Animated movies like Coraline, The Boxtrolls and ParaNorman are created entirely with 3D printed objects.

The conclusion is quite simple: 3D printing is not so inaccessible as it looks for quite a while now. The idea of additive technologies appears either on book pages or on movie screens for a long time. And it’s only the beginning, not all possibilities that 3D printing offers have been exploited and the imagination of designers is unlimited. Who knows what will we see or what will we read in the upcoming years. We will definitely look out for every next popcultural usage of 3D printing.