Disney Research's ideas for 3D printed toys

Printed Optics: 3D Printing of Embedded Optical Elements for Interactive Devices, a paper from Disney researchers in Pittsburgh, details a set of toymaking techniques involving 3D printers. Some of them (like "a bug-like figure with glowing eyes that display different graphics") are intriguing in the extreme. I like the way they're thinking about 3D printed micro-channels as a means of moving light around within a solid toy. Here's the BBC's summary:

One application involved the creation of air pockets in the shape of thin hollow tubes of various lengths which were arranged to resemble the shape of a cartoon heart inside an animal-shaped figurine.

When illuminated from below using a light emitting-diode (LED) the tubes looked as if lots of tiny lights had been built into the toy and programmed to shine in sequence to resemble a beating heart.

Another example involved creating "light pipes" as a 3D-printed alternative to optical fibre.

The engineers said the pipes could be easily shaped to fit a toy's specific form, with joints placed at specific places allowing them to be linked to other light pipes. They said this would have been much harder to achieve with traditional fibre.

Disney develops 3D-printed lighting for toys


  1. These descriptions are reminding me of those little vac-u-form wax toys that one could see being made under a mechanical glass dome. Usually at bigger amusement parks or science centers in the late ’60s

    1. A smell I can still call up from my childhood memory.  One of my favorite plastic resin aromas.

  2. It’s neat to do this via 3D printing, but it’s worth noting there are some toys already doing this. The Disney/PIxar Cars toys for iPad already have channels like this and use lit-up areas of the ipad display to shine through the toy (e.g. to light up headlights). The new Skylanders toys have pieces that light up, and I think in some cases they are doing this, but in others I think they may have an LED within the toy itself.

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