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Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

Bad Hair Day? Try Printing It Instead

Carnegie Mellon University

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are printing 3-D hair.

The three-dimensional printers, which translate objects from a digital file into hard, typically plastic objects, have been harnessed to make whistles, shoes, automotive parts and medical devices. But hair is a new, softer, more pliable frontier.

CMU's development team says producing 3-D hair is similar to and inspired by the way stringy strands come out in small bits when a glue gun is used.

The hair-printing technique was developed by Gierad Laput, a Ph.D student in Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

“We just wanted to extend what people can do with 3-D printers,” he said. “All of the 3-D printed objects that we see so far are limited to very rigid objects.”

The plastic hair is produced slowly, strand by stand. The printer takes about 25 minutes to produce 10 square millimeters of hair. Just a few hours to cover an entire human head, Laput said. 

Credit Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University
A 3-D printed horse with 3-D printed hair.

They developed the technique using a fused deposition modeling printer which uses a plastic filament that passes through a heated nozzle. To create the hair, the researchers applied molten plastic from a side angle and pulled away quickly.

Researchers said it can be cut, curled or braided, and they’ve added the hair to the heads of troll dolls and the tale of a horse. With the right color, it could be natural looking, they said.

The researchers will present their findings at a science and technology symposium in North Carolina next week that outlines how anyone with a 3-D printer can make his or her own hair.