Could You Print Me Some Skin, Please?

My intention for this blog post was to write about “her,” a Spike Jonze film that left me pondering on his creative and out-of-the-box ways to tell a story. So, as I looked on the website dedicated to the film, I found a link to the filmmaker’s blog. And suddenly I was reading about 3D skin manufacturing printers.

3D printing is the hype! It has significant potential for developments in medicine. No donor or factory-made artificial parts are needed. The printers are relatively cheap, and can be programmed with almost any variation of designs. However, efforts at producing skin, have so far failed because the final product does not look realistic enough.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool have been working on developing a synthetically produced skin that is matched individually based on gender, age, and ethnicity, using a 3D printer.

As sci-fi as it sounds, it is already possible to print synthetic skin — but the draw back is that it is manufactured only in one tone. The challenge a team of researches from Manchester and Liverpool Universities are facing is to figure out “3D image processing and skin modeling techniques that can copy a person’s skin so that it appears natural, whatever light it is shown in.” (University of Liverpool, 2013).

The trick is to develop a surface that reflects diversity, similarly to real skin which has moles, freckles, veins, and wrinkles. We might not be aware of it, but our skin takes on a deferent shade when walking in daylight, as opposed to being is artificial light. And this is the complexity that needs to be worked out in order to make synthetic skin appear seamlessly realistic.

“Using a 3D camera will also allow geometry to be taken into account as the perception of skin is often influenced by factors such as shadows.
The first strand of the project will be to perfect 3D camera technology and subsequent image processing that can almost exactly match an individual’s skin tone and skin texture under varying light sources.” (University of Liverpool, 2013)

The researchers will actually be taking 3D images of skin types of hundreds of individuals in order to build a generalized database. One of the functions of this database would be to provide services to more remote areas where there are difficulties accessing calibrated 3D cameras. Hopefully with a 3D printer, and access to a bank of skin types, doctors will be able to produce a close match of skin type chosen from a design bank.




Developing natural-looking, 3D-printed skin. (2013, November 27). Developing natural-looking, 3D-printed skin. Retrieved July 7, 2014, from

her: A Spike Jonze Love Story. (n.d.). Her Official Site. Retrieved July 7, 2014, from

Wile, R. (2014, January 22). CREDIT SUISSE: The 3-D Printing Market Is Going To Be 357% Bigger Than We Initially Thought. Business Insider. Retrieved July 7, 2014, from



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One thought on “Could You Print Me Some Skin, Please?

  1. I will admit, I do not know much about 3D printing. Nevertheless, this post made me think about what the future brings for people consuming 3D printing. Yet, when it comes to including the skin tones of diverse people is something that I do not know how to feel about. It makes me think about what purpose it serves to print someone’s skin. Is it to benefit society? If so, how? Hopefully the researchers in Manchester and Liverpool are able to answer these questions in the future since a lot of eyebrows will be raised about 3D printing.


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