Full-color model in paper, made by an Mcor IRIS 3D printer.
Courtesy of Mcor Technologies. Full-color model in paper, made by an Mcor IRIS 3D printer.

For architects, 3D printing is an increasingly popular tool that offers the potential to realize ideas in a variety of materials. Plastic (ABS) and cornstarch (PLA) are the most commonly used substances, although it is also possible to print in other materials such as ceramics, metals, or concrete. Ireland-based Mcor Technologies now offers 3D printing capabilities in an even more familiar material to architects: paper.

As Forbes and The Economist have reported, Mcor printing not only provides new capabilities—such as full-color, life-like modeling—but also promises 3D printing at 5 percent of the material cost of current methods. Founded by brother engineers Conor and Fintan MacCormack, Mcor offers selective deposition lamination (SDL) technology, which produces models from many A4-sized sheets of paper with adhesive in between each layer. For architects, the most common analogy is a (very) high resolution contour model.

One of the most intriguing functions is the ability to print "full-bleed" 3D models: Just like full-bleed 2D printing, Mcor machines cut excess material with a tungsten-carbide blade, removing the white borders and leaving startlingly real objects behind—without the burn marks that are so prevalent in laser cut paper models. Examples of realistic prototype models include reproductions of buildings, products, organic objects, and human heads.

Mcor's low price will doubtless turn many heads in the design professions. "We wanted to upset the status quo," Mcor CEO Conor MacCormack told Forbes. "It's one thing that the prices of the machines are coming down, but the material prices are going in the opposite direction, we really felt that inhibited people from printing."

Mcor has partnered with office supply company Staples to offer paper 3D printing in their retail stores. It won't be long before architecture students rush to their reviews with full color paper prints—in three dimensions.

Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.