A 3D Printed Series Which Plays On Some Of Our Most Recognised Words

Not only a play on words but a play on a generation of digital shortcuts, Thomas Wirtz’s collection, ‘By The Way’ uses 3D printing to create labyrinth-style typefaces with some of the most recognised words of this century.

Watch the process:

We live in an art where everything can be digitalised, machines do human jobs and we have the world, literally, at our fingertips. Thomas’ series of 3D liquid filled structures use modern words and modern processes alongside a distinctly ‘old-school’ process: science. “I discovered my liking for physical and chemical processes when I started studying design”, he tells us, however he doesn’t class his artwork as scientific – rather, a playful approach to the objects around us.


They are inquisitive and unpredictable: depending on which way you shake them the internal liquids creates different patterns. The hand holding it as at once observer and creator: we play both roles – we are in control of which way we twist and turn the block yet we are fascinated by the reactions that occur as we do so.

A refreshing, intelligent critique on society as well as a relatable, approachable series of artwork ‘By The Way’ is the kind of thing we would want by our beds and as a talking piece on our tables.


We spoke to Thomas about his project, what makes him tick and his appreciation of science.

The Plus: How did you get into digital printing?
Thomas Wirtz:
During the implementation period of my project, I had created my typeface and I had analysed a range of physical effects, and I was eager to put both together. This step was harder than I thought, as I had to test different sizes for each model. In that situation, a good friend of mine convinced me to buy a 3D printer, which allowed me to not only test different model sizes in a short time, but also – and more important – to create a modular system of characters.


TP: Where did the idea for the project start from?
The basic idea of the project was to conduct a free experiment, and to see where it would lead me. I had to start somewhere, and so I started out with a simple glass of water that I manipulated step by step in little experiments. The range of possibilities was so vast that sometimes, I didn’t know which turn to take next. I tried to translate my disorientation into graphics, and that’s how my labyrinth-typeface came into being. Ultimately, analogue experiment and typeface design have developed in parallel. They join in the course of the project.


TP: What, for you, is the fascination with the digital vs. analogue?
Both fields have advantages. Digital design schemes allow faster variation, a more efficient workflow and easier reproduction and distribution. Analogue designs, on the other hand, are more approachable. They engage more senses and offer other possibilities of interaction. Often, projects focus on the most realistic simulation of analogue effects by the use of digital algorithms. A part of my project therefore deliberately addresses the reverse question: How far can purely digital effects (for example time expansion) be translated into the analogue world.


TP: The result is reminiscent of a science experiment; do you have an interest or a background in science as well as art?
Most of my works deal with this type of experiment, and that’s how I gained some basic knowledge. However, I wouldn’t describe the result of my project as scientific because I’m an amateur in the fields of physics and chemistry. It is more a kind of playful approach to the objects that surround us, for example the items you find in the fridge or the things you observe while cooking.


TP: How do you manage to create the intricate patterns with the same typeface?
My typeface deliberately touches the limits of readability – in favour of a consistent pattern of paths. In order to get there, I had to intentionally break many rules of typeface design. Normally, the simple form of a character with its spaces and offsets contributes to a quick and unique identification, and thus to readability. In my project, the focus is on the attention value of the effect that happens inside the typeface. The reading of the signs happens in a second step. This was the only way to create a consistent pattern that offers “free movement“ for a great number of effects and still stays variable in its composition.


TP: What were the difficulties you faced within the project?
During the course of the project, I faced a lot of challenges. Creating the set of rules for the typeface design was one of them, followed by the laborious experimental setups and the creation of the right-sized models. However, I think the greatest of all challenges was the transport of the effects via the use of digital media. That’s also why there wasn’t only a film, a book and a website accompanying the project: I also produced an experimental kit. It makes a big difference whether you look at the effects in a photo, or whether you try them out, touch them, move them or set them on fire, so you experience the effects and you interact with them. In this analogue way, it’s however difficult to share the results with others. And now, we could start discussing the advantages and disadvantages of analogue and digital all over again.