4D Printing? What are you Talking About?


Years ago it was almost impossible to think about printing in 3 dimensions. Now 3D printers are not a news anymore. Printing in four dimensions is the news.

On march, during the celebration of its centennial anniversary, BMW unveiled its vision for the next 100 years of driving.

According to BMW, by 2116, we will drive 4D printed self-driving cars with augmented reality windshields and shape-shifting fenders.


It is amazing but it seems like a car in a science fiction film (the word “4D”  recalls us the movie “Interstellar”).


What is 4D printing ? Is it science fiction? Do we have to wait 100 years ?

1) Four-Dimensional printing is an extension of three-dimensional printing. Objects printed will be able to change over the time, they will interact with and adapt to the environment. Therefore, 4D-printed objects incorporate a fourth dimension,time. Materials will alter their properties and behaviours based on external stimuli such as changes in temperature or pressure.

2) I am sorry, it is not science fiction. Two examples.

Just few weeks ago, an Italian researcher (Andrea Camposeo from San Vito dei Normanni) based in Lecce (Puglia) with his project “xPRINT” won a prize of € 2mln funded by the UE. The aim of the project is to develop a 4D printer and to exploit 4D-printed objects for new computing/calculation systems.

Few months ago a team at the Wyss Institute and Harvard SEAS has developed a new microscale printing method to create transformable objects. The method was inspired by the way plants change shape over time in response to environmental stimuli.

This orchid-shaped structure is printed with a hydrogel composite ink containing aligned cellulose fibrils, which enable anisotropic swelling. A proprietary mathematical model developed by the team precisely predicts how the architecture will swell and transform in water.

Photo: Harvard University

After printing the 4D orchid is immersed in water to activate its shape transformation.

The picture (credit Wyss Institute at Harvard University) show the transformation of a 4D-printed hydrogel composite structure after it is submerged in water.

orchidea printed

3) No,we do not.

For instance, the Italian project mentioned above will last five years. The 4D orchid is real.

Furthermore, looking at the report “Global 4D Printing Market Outlook 2027”,  research work is ongoing on the 4D printing technology and is expected to be commercialized by 2019.  Also, it is expected that the 4D market will grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 40% during 2019-2027.

The fourth dimension is no more science fiction! 

Carlo De Netto