We can now 3D-print 'hair'

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have come up with a technique to create thin, hair-like strands of plastic on a 3D printer.

The way it's done is similar to, and inspired by, the way that glue guns produce thin strands of plastic. "You just squirt a little bit of material and pull away," said Gierad Laput, a PhD student in Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII). "It's a very simple idea, really."

The difficulty is that 3D printer heads aren't designed to be rapidly pulled away. So Laput and his colleagues built a system where the print head and the bed that holds the object being printed can be moved rapidly sideways, allowing them to create the hairs they were looking for.

Cut, Curled or Braided

The resulting process isn't fast, however - it takes about 20-25 minutes to put hair on 10 square millimetres. But it can be done without special hardware, and the resulting hair can be cut, curled or even braided. Dense-close-cropped strands can even form a brush.

So far the team has added hair in various different colours to a number of 3D-printed objects. They've put hair on a troll head, whiskers on an elderly wizard and a tail on a horse. Next, Laput and his colleagues plan to use more sophisticated materials to produce hair with magnetic or other properties.