Seamless Blossom (2012)

Seamless Blossom (2012)

Moving on from internationally published steampunk smart phones, Richard Clarkson designed Seamless Blossom, the world’s first inflatable 3D print. This project was undertaken in 2012 under supervision of Tim Miller. It was in preparation for the DeSFoRM 2012 conference at VUW and in collaboration with Stratasys, the printer manufacturer who provided the technical know-how. The cutting edge technology was offered to VUW for research purposes and due to a first-right-of-refusal agreement with Stratasys, the project couldn’t be published until 2014.

The online reaction to its publication in 2014 showed that even with a two year delay, the topic and its implications for industry application of advanced 3D printing technology was as relevant then as it was in 2012, if not even more so. At core77, SolidSmack and 3D printing industry blogs, the writers were unanimous in recognizing its potential for changing the way we create and make products in the future. The presentation at DeSFoRM was followed up by an invitation to exhibit at ACADIA in 2013.


Richard decided to use this new technology and create an object that challenged the perceived/historic antagonism between digital and organic: an artificial flowering blossom. The development process required intricate computer work for the complex bladder design required to create the inflatable structure. Also copious material testing, to determine which material ratios were suitable to provide flexible and supportive structures. Once he had optimized the bladder design he had the freedom to create endless variations of petals, showing the potential use of 3D printing for customized mass producing purposes.

Research, industry and the public domain

This project was a case-study for the fine balancing act required to make valuable industry connections, how to make the most of their support systems and to finally present the achievements to the world. Course supervisor Tim Miller and VUW staff liaised between the students and Stratasys. First-hand knowledge of industry etiquette and creative freedom within the university environment nurtured a procreative relationship between the students and Stratasys.

What’s so special about inflatable?

The fact that now one printer cannot only print two materials at the same time, but it can also use these two materials at varying content percentages to create materials with different qualities of hardness and flexibility. This expansion of material qualities also expanded the applications for 3D printing, which made this such an exciting and challenging project in 2012.

Challenging perceptions

Nature has perfected the process of building support structures at the same time as the flexible details. Just think of moving leaves like on the Venus fly-trap and Mimosa Pudica (shyplant). So far our attempts at re-creating structures like that have been crude and simplistic by comparison: kites and umbrellas for example: separate support structures and flexible components that ultimately deteriorate or fail.

Until now. Modern 3D multi-property printers now can print in different characteristics during one process, thus creating objects where support structures and flexible external features form a natural unit.

Materials and processes – close up


This project was created exclusively in Solidworks.


The two new materials provided by Stratasys for its Connex 3 printer were Tango Black and Fullcure 720.

Project Level

Post-Graduate, Course name: Creative Digital Manufacturing INDN 441, supervisor Tim Miller.