A research team at Columbia University has successfully 3D-printed a block of wood, complete with a realistic internal grain using a voxel technique.

The digital wood replicates olive wood and has been 3D printed on a Stratasys J750 PolyJet printer, which is equipped to print multiple colours using voxels. A voxel is the pixel-equivalent in 3D printing.

The sample wood block was first sliced to 27 micro-metres (0.027mm) in width using a CNC mill, following which the ultra-thin slices were photographed using destructive tomographic imaging.

All 230 images were fed into the Stratasys J750, which allows the designer to specify the desired quality for every voxel; this particular printer allows up to a maximum of 760 billion voxels.

Elaborating on the process and the outcomes, the research team comprising of Fabian Stute, Joni Mici, Lewis Chamberlain and Hod Lipson, says that the digital wood 3D-printed by the machines has a close resemblance to the original sample, both externally as well as internally.  

While their current experiment is able to replicate the grain and colour, the researchers believe that the voxel technique could, in future, be used to reproduce material properties as well, such as stiffness.

The possibilities in manufacturing are limitless; however, more technological advancements are required to maximise the potential of voxel printing.

Currently, the designer has to have the expertise in various design tools and processes.

The researchers foresee a future when voxel printing will be so widespread that the image files for 3D printing can be downloaded as easily as the 2D stock images available today.