If the designs printed with the 3DSystems ChefJet look good enough to eat, it's because they are: this new 3D printer prints in sugar, everything from cake toppings to candies to drink accessories. The ChefJet, for just less than $5,000, and its creations were on display at CES 2014 in Las Vegas.
We particularly loved ogling several spectacular geometric shapes and a wedding cakes created in conjunction with celebrity chef Duff Goodman from the TV show "Ace of Cakes." Goodman baked the cake, then 3DSystems supplied the 3D models that Goodman printed and tastefully arranged on top. Unfortunately the gorgeous blue-and-white cake was there for display only. But we did get to snack on a few smaller-sized sugar candies in various flavors, including a mouth-puckering sour candy and a chocolate-flavored sugar that tastes not too different than actual chocolate.
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The ChefJet itself is a huge machine, bigger than a kitchen oven, that prints single-color objects up to 8 by 8 by 6 inches. The higher-end sibling, the ChefJet Pro, prints objects up to 10 by 14 by 8 inches in full, detailed color, and will cost just less than $10,000. Both printers will be commercially available in the second half of 2014, according to the company.
Designer and architect Liz Von Hasseln, the co-creator of the ChefJet, told us that she and her husband Kyle were tinkering with their Cube 3D printers from 3DSystems to see what other kinds of materials the printers could handle. They soon realized that, with a few modifications, the printers could print sugary creations that were safe to eat.
After a few months experimenting with materials, the Von Hasselns figured out a few different flavored mixtures that were both structurally sound and extremely tasty. They opened Sugar Lab, a company where people could order 3D printed sugary creations. Soon after 3DSystems contacted them with an offer to buy the company and turn their modified Cube printers into their own line: the ChefJet and the ChefJetPro.
With one of these machines, you don't need a steady hand to create sugary masterpieces anymore — all it takes is a vision and some time with a computer-aided design (CAD) program to create a digital model you like.
If you'd rather not design from scratch, the printers come with a "recipe book" of ready-to-print designs called "The Digital Cookbook." 3DSystems' own online community and marketplace, Cubify, is also a good place to start looking for models. Once you get a design you like, instead of painstakingly recreating it every time you bake, all you have to do is send it to the ChefJet printer and it'll print the design for you.
However, the ChefJet isn't exactly a consumer must-have. With prices of $5000 and $10,000 (exact prices have yet to be announced), most people won't think the ability to create the perfect dessert is worth that kind of price. Never fear; because most at-home cooks don't need to create sugary objects up to 8 by 8 by 6 inches in size, Liz Von Hasseln told us that 3DSystems will eventually develop a smaller ChefJet targeted toward the average consumer.
The ChefJet isn't the first 3D printer to print edible objects. There are several printers that can print in pure chocolate, and a Barcelona-based startup is currently developing a printer that can create ready-to-cook pizzas, chicken nuggets and pasta called the Foodini. NASA is also looking into a pizza-printing 3D printer for use in space.