Review Article | Published:

Chemistry from 3D printed objects


3D printing technology has started to take hold as an enabling tool for scientific advancement. Born from the marriage of computer-aided design and additive manufacturing, 3D printing was originally intended to generate prototypes for inspection before their full industrial production. As this field has matured, its reach into other applications has expanded, accelerated by its ability to generate 3D objects with complex geometries. Chemists and chemical engineers have begun to take advantage of these capabilities in their own research. Certainly, the most prominent examples of this adoption have been the design and use of 3D printed reaction containers and flow devices. The focus of this Review, however, is on 3D printed objects, the chemical reactivities of which are of primary interest. These types of objects have been designed and used in catalytic, mechanical, electronic, analytical and biological applications. Underlying this research are the efforts to add chemical functionality to standard printing materials, which are often inert. This Review details the different ways in which chemical reactivity is endowed on printed objects, the types of chemical functionality that have been explored in the various printing materials and the reactions that are facilitated by the final printed object. Finally, the Review discusses new avenues for the development and further sophistication of generating chemically active, 3D printed objects.

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M.R.H. wrote the article. Both authors contributed equally to all the other aspects of the article.

Competing interest

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Matthew R. Hartings.



A chemical needed to initiate polymerization. In some instances, initiators do this by generating radicals under mild conditions.


Upon absorbing light, a photosensitizer can cause a change to a nearby chemical. In some instances, photosensitizers are used to generate radicals on initiators.

Printing paste

A viscous fluid made from particles suspended in a solvent.

Thermoplastic filament

A polymer that displays malleability at higher temperatures and is a solid at lower temperatures. For the purposes of fused deposition modelling 3D printing, a thermoplastic must be able to extrude through a nozzle at elevated temperatures.


An instrument that forces a fluid through a nozzle. For the purpose of 3D printing, the fluid can be a thermoplastic (fused deposition modelling), a gel or a paste (robocasting and/or direct ink writing).

Twin-screw extruders

Devices used to homogeneously blend a polymer with another substance. During this blending process, the polymer is heated above its melting or glass transition temperature while two screws, which interpenetrate one another, continuously mix the components.


Water-based substances with increased viscosity caused by the interaction of macromolecules within the mixture.


The act of changing a powder into a solid material through application of heat and pressure without completely melting the powder.


The homogeneous mixture of a thermoplastic and other material (another thermoplastic, inorganic nanoparticle, polymer particle, and so on) made at elevated temperatures capable of melting the matrix thermoplastic.

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Fig. 1: Examples of 3D printed objects.
Fig. 2: Additives that imbue chemical reactivity in 3D printed objects.
Fig. 3: Overview of reactive materials that can be used in various 3D printing techniques.
Fig. 4: Technical details of different 3D printing approaches.
Fig. 5: Examples of printed object geometries that exploit chemical functionality.