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January 7th, 2014

World’s First 3D Printed Book Now Available

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by David Rogers

3D Printing of On Such a Full Sea

Image Source: Penguin.com

There’s no doubt that 3D printing is a hot buzzword right now, and in some cases the new technology is living up to the hype. From cars to hearts (the former now available, the latter coming soon!), the technology seems to be the wave of the future.

However, as traditional printers we wonder if the added dimension can still be labeled ‘printing’? Some in the print industry have weighed in with a resounding ‘NO!’ (“3D Printing needs a new name”), but the name seems to be sticking around, at least for now.

Regardless, despite the common word, book printing and 3D printing have safely kept their distance from each other… until now. Today, Riverhead Books released the first 3D printed book, produced in conjunction with 3D Printing company Makerbot.

“A Physical Object that People Would Want to Keep and Have”

Before your imagination goes into overdrive with images of the most elaborate pop-up book you’ve ever seen, it should be noted that the book itself is a standard hardcover book that has a 3D plastic case. Riverhead, a Penguin Group imprint, calls it the world’s first 3D slipcover. In fact, the design seems to be in line with our prediction that the deluxe edition book will be the future of book design (perhaps the 3D version should be dubbed the deluxe deluxe edition?).

The book designer echoed this sentiment when speaking to TIME.com about the new design.

“A couple years ago, we thought this was the end of print and we’d just be going cheaper and cheaper and cheaper until [the physical book] disappears, because you could just get the e-book. With these special editions, I can’t say 100% but I do think that we are trying to create a physical object that people would want to keep and have, probably as a response to the growth of the e-book,” said Helen Yentus, art director at Riverhead. “There’s a lot of pressure to innovate. For us, at least in my mind, this has turned out to be a really successful result of that search.”

The honor of being the author of the first 3D printed book goes to Chang-rae Lee, who is also known for his debut novel “Native Speaker” and his most recent book, “The Surrendered.” The latter was nominated as a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

But as we wrote previously, the special edition books won’t be for everyone. As the TIME article points out, the slipcover won’t fit onto a normal book case without facing forward, and it can perhaps be viewed as one of the first “coffee table novels.” But you’ll probably want to display it in one of these methods anyway after you shell out $150 for the deluxe edition. This is compared to $27.95 for the “regular” hardcover version.

So, as we all sit daydreaming about 3D printers printing themselves on an infinite loop until they take over the world, we’ll have to wait to see if the technology retains the “printing” label. Regardless, it’s pretty cool to see this new technology help advance the art of book printing.

*Note: If you are interested in learning more about how the actual 3D slipcase was made, Makerbot has made the video below that chronicles the process from the book design through the finished product. Additionally, from watching the clip (and doing a bit of research), I also discovered Riverhead Books produced the deluxe edition of “This is How You Lose Her” by Junot Diaz, which was featured in our original article on special book design linked above.